Intercultural communication within multicultural schools: Educational management insights

Intercultural communication within multicultural schools: Educational management insights

Ch Van Der Linde

Most advanced countries comprise various heterogenous and multilingual cultures. In particular, South Africa, well-known for its past system of apartheid, is undergoing radical educational reform in its newly integrated multicultural schools. As a new millennium approaches, the educational manager in South Africa and elsewhere must be able to communicate effectively with diverse cultural groups. The focus of this article is intercultural communication within a multicultural school situation. The writer has made an extensive review of the literature concerning intercultural communication within multicultural schools. This has been supplemented by exploratory visits to Malaysia, the United States of America and Canada and a case study of intercultural conflict in a South African school. It was found that although cultural identities should be preserved and respected, educational managers should concentrate on cultural universalia. They should also obtain a thorough knowledge of intercultural communication. In this respect, guidelines for effective intercultural communication are provided.


Most advanced countries comprise various heterogenous and multilingual cultures.

In the United States of America, there are over 180 ethnic groups. According to Klope (1995: 3), more than 100 languages are spoken within a school system in cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The country has experienced a major transition since the 1960’s. Until the mid 1960s the United States bore similarities to the past apartheid system in South Africa, such as primarily segregated education (Scott, 1992: 281).

Canada evidences a history of confrontation between the English speaking and French speaking groups. Furthermore, schools in reservations provide schooling for Native Canadians.

In 1980 the Malaysian population consists of 55,3% Malay, 33,8% Chinese and 10,2% Indian people (Gonzalez, 1988: 846 – 847). Prior to independence in 1969, four languages, English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil were used as media of instruction in schools. South Africa has at least 20 cultures or subcultures (Smuts, 1996:46) and 11 official languages. At his inauguration, President Nelson Mandela referred to the “rainbow nation of South Africa”.

In the twilight years of the twentieth century, the new democratic South Africa, well-known for its past system of apartheid, is undergoing radical reform in the sphere of education in particular, and transformation in socio-economic circumstances in general. The country is experiencing a transitional period. During such a period, culture shock or “transition shock”, that is the movement from the known to the unknown, may effect individuals in new circumstances so intensely that they may experience “generalized trauma” (Klope 1995:206; 207). Changing social conditions requires new ways of dealing with people, fresh ways of interacting and communicating with people of other cultures.

The above corroborates the view of Sigband and Bell (1994:78) that there has never been a more acute need for effective intercultural communication worldwide than at present. This is also true of schooling in South Africa. In a pluralistic South Africa, few people, and definitely no educational manager, can avoid intercultural interaction. The focus of this article, therefore, is intercultural communication within a multicultural school setting.

Aim And Research Methods

Educational managers require a better understanding of intercultural communication thereby enhancing interaction between the educational manager on the one hand, and parents and pupils from another culture on the other hand. In this regard, the following questions were formulated:

What is culture?

What is the purpose and nature of communication in general and intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms?

What is the difference between covert and overt messages?

Which obstacles exist in the communication process?

Which guidelines are there for effective intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms? To address these questions, the article has a twofold aim. Firstly, culture and communication in multicultural schools are examined. Secondly, guidelines are provided to enhance intercultural communication which will allow meaningful relationships between people of diverse cultures. These aims have been reached by the following methods. A literature study of recent monographs, journals and research reports concerning intercultural communication in multicultural school situations was undertaken. This was followed by visits to Malaysia (1992) and America and Canada (1994) because these countries have experienced similar educational problems on the area of intercultural communication in multicultural schools and classrooms. Furthermore a case study of intercultural conflict in a South African school, the Potgietersrus debacle (February 1996), was completed.

Intercultural Conflict In South Africa: The Potgietersrus Incident

Although a situational experience, a widely publicized ideological dispute took place in 1996 at a South African school, Potgietersrus Primary School, as a consequence of socio cultural change or part of a social change process that contributes to an altered situation. In January 1996, a black parent sought to enroll his children at the above-mentioned school which had previously been a school for white children only. This was the first time that the school had been approached by black parents. A dispute broke out between black and white parents and between the white governing body of the school and the prospective black parents. On demand from the white parents, the black pupils were refused admission to the school. The case was referred to the Supreme Court of the country.

The friction between the different parties was clearly illustrated by the nonverbal behavior of the right wing white parents who dressed in the distinctive clothing of a right wing extremist group, the Afrikaanse Weerstands Beweging (AWB) and carried arms. It was also clear in the hostile glances exchanged by black and white parents. The white parent body of the school based its case on the claim that Potgietersrus Primary had a Eurocentric culture and the culture of the black parents and their children was Afrocentric. The school claimed a vast difference between these cultures and, therefore, the white parents were “entitled” to preserve and protect the dominant culture and ethos of the school.

In a multicultural society, the values of different social groups differ markedly because of the divergent multiplicity of religion, culture, language and political views. Diversity may fragment societies as was the case in the above mentioned incident. When one culture makes contact with another, each tends to protect itself against infiltration and subversion by the other. This results in polarization into opposing camps referred to by the parties on either side as “us” and “them”. Once this happens, the two sides are ripe for a conflict, which is fed by differences between groups, which are further accentuated and elevated to absolutes. Conflict generates emotion that breeds hostility between groups, especially when one party gains at the expense of the other. A typical example of this behavior is the well-worn practice of denying minorities access to desirable jobs and positions and opportunities to obtain a good education. Closer cultural contact all over the world has inter alia emanated from minorities’ demands for the same personal rights and privileges that the more dominant groups enjoy. The desire for quality education on the part of the black children by their parents was obviously the case in the Potgietersrus episode. It comprises an example of conflict resulting from closer contact between diverse cultures in a previously segregated education system. Similarities existed in Malaysia as exemplified by the April 1987 intensification of racial polarization (Gamer, 1982: 214; Ahmed, 1989: 369371).

Cultural Diversity And Cultural Conflict Samovar and Porter (1991:46) defines culture as follows:

“Culture is the medium; there is not one aspect of human life that is not touched and altered by culture. This means personality, how people express themselves (including shows of emotion), the way they think, how they move, how problems are solved

Culture is the spiritual programming of thought. It creates a consciousness of mind, a regulation of conduct, an understanding of the individual’s place in the world and an opportunity to transfer this knowledge to posterity (Rensburg, 1992:2). Jacob and Jordan (1993:16) describe patterns of behavior as “mental phenomena, meanings shared by members of a social group”.

Although cultures differ, some might assume that others think, reason and perceive in the same way as themselves (Klope, 1995: 205). Inevitably, this viewpoint is an indication that such a person does not have any knowledge of cultural differences. This presumption may cause considerable misunderstanding. On the other hand, Park (in Klope, 1995:4) states that differences may “…cause people to regard each other as strange or barbaric”. The latter indicates a manifestation of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism takes place when a certain group see their own group as “We alone are the people” and all others as inferior. Rather Mach (1993:13) suggests that people’s unique cultural identity should be preserved while still taking other cultures into consideration. He writes that technical unity is possible worldwide but with due allowance of cultural pluralism.

The ‘culture’ debate has focused attention on the importance of communication between people of totally diverse cultures. Formal learning, according to Klope (1995:124), “…tends to be highly verbal”. It is important to keep in mind that the same words and behavior may mean totally different things in different cultures. People might, therefore, misunderstand each other completely if they do not know each other’s cultures well. Obviously, this could be problematic. Furthermore, Jacob and Jordan (1993:16) warn that it is virtually impossible to know any culture in all its subtle, multifarious variety. Because culture and education are interwoven phenomena, culture has a powerful effect on education. According to Tiddy (1987:49) human resources in education “…have the potential to be powerful influences for social change, towards a more equitable and just society.”

The importance and implications of effective intercultural communication stretch far beyond the boundaries of what could be understood from the outside. To appreciate its significance requires an examination of culture and communication within the multicultural organization (in this case the school). Research suggests that educational managers frequently do not know much about effective communication in general. Whetton and Cameron (in Puth 1994:37) explain:

“Despite the availability of information about the communication process and organizational resources being dedicated to foster more and better communication, most managers still indicate that poor communication is their biggest problem.”

Puth (1994:3) maintains that communication can be called the lifeblood of any organization. Effective communication is particularly important in the multicultural organization. This makes sense if one considers that misunderstandings sometimes occur even in everyday communication. Miscommunication might, thus, occur more frequently in multicultural schools and classrooms than in homogeneous classes. Ineffective communication between different cultures could lead to misunderstanding if those for whom communication is intended and their values, views and background are not considered.

How does the above argument inform one’s understanding of intercultural communication? Schools are cultural sites whose curricula are cultural artifacts. The problem is that any school has the responsibility to maintain culture and to pass it on. This is specifically evident in subjects such as history, geography and languages. This is a difficult and controversial area for discussion, not least because of the problems in defining ‘culture’.

The aforementioned problem illustrates two sides of the coin. On the hand there is the one party’s need for better and equal education; on the other hand the other party’s need to preserve their culture. It should also kept in mind that people naturally seek out the companionship of their own cultural group. They look for similarities (Samovar and Porter, 1991: 275-282).

The Nature And Purpose Of Communication

Human beings are surrounded by differences in communication but at the same time human communication has much in common. According to Klope (1995:16), all cultures

share a similar process of conveying meaning and feeling; and make use of two patterns of human interaction namely mediated communication, where a device of some kind like a telegraph comes between the speaker and the receiver, and oral communication. This article focuses on the latter.

The word communication is derived from the Latin word: communis” This can be translated literally as an attempt to obtain mutual understanding (Alfonso in Theron and Van der Westhuizen 1992:145). It cannot be denied that there is a strong connection between communication and abstract thought. Rasperry and Lemoine (1986:23) define communication as “…sorting, selecting, forming and transmitting symbols between people to create meaning.” It is the key to all information. Without communication, no knowledge can be conveyed. The way in which people use information as well as their interaction with other people can contribute to an increase in knowledge. Communication involves speaking and listening, the exchange of information and the creation of channels through which individuals feel free to express their opinions and ideas and to develop themselves.

Communication is an everyday experience. It is a vital component of all spheres, also in the multicultural school. It is, however, a complex multidimensional process. Communication is not always clear and communicators may be trying to achieve a number of objectives with a single message. Communication is the basis of social interaction. Without communication there can be no transfer of feelings or attitudes, no explanations, consultations or praise. To a certain extent the type and quality of the interaction will not only determine the effectiveness of the learning action, but also the attitudes, interest and partly also the personalities of learners. Although cultures differ, “they share the same process of transmitting meaning and feeling.” There exists a plethora of data in the literature on the ways of how people communicate. This article however, would not be complete without a cursory description of communication in general.

Communication involves a transmitter, a message, a medium and a receiver or recipient. In the process of communication, signs are conveyed from one person to another via one or other channel such as jungle drums, sign language, letters and speaking. If those who receive the signs interpret them correctly, ascription of meaning occurs, which can lead to effective learning. In other words, if the message is not correctly interpreted, misunderstandings occur, which hamper the ascription of meaning and, subsequently, learning.

Riches (1994:246) warns that modern thinking about communication moves away from the pattern of source-messagechannel-receiver model to the view of communication as a shared experience involving whole personalities to a varying degree. In Puth’s view (1994:11) the paradox of communication is that although communication is natural and easy, it is difficult to communicate effectively and to ensure that meaning is shared. A prerequisite for any successful relationship is that meaning should be shared. Riches (1994:26) stresses that communication involves the meeting of minds through actions, reactions, questions and answers. It involves the collective activity of sharing experiences at verbal and nonverbal levels”. It can thus be seen as a shared experience”. Clampitt (in Hannagan 1995:277) uses the dance metaphor to describe communication:

“Dance involves patterns, movement and creativity. It can be enjoyed by participants as well as observers. There are as many styles as people … Styles change … But dance always will be part of the community. Once a dance is performed it can never be recaptured in the same way again … It may be one of the highest and unique forms of human expression. So too is communication.”

The dance metaphor illustrates the complexity and diversity of the communication process. This view is supported by Hannagan (1995:277) who remarks pertinently that there is no simple explanation of communication.

Communication in multicultural schools In order to be an effective educational manager, one must be able to communicate with a wide cross-section of society. In South Africa this includes numerous cultures. A proper knowledge, appreciation and understanding of cultural differences is preferable rather than only acceptance and integration. According to Riches (1994:262) all schools “…should establish a positive communication policy, based on sound theory, making sure that this policy is communicated”. Sigband and Bell (1990:76) claim:

“The way to achieve better communication … is through knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of cultural differences rather than through acceptance or integration”. In the light of this, the author maintains that knowledge about the reasons why people communicate and the nature of communication in multicultural schools and classrooms is of pivotal importance.

Through effective communication people can avoid misunderstandings or resolve existing misunderstandings. According to Grobler (1994:14), people are social beings who can only lead a significant existence through their relationships with other people in a community or society. The school is also a social institution. A school without communication is unthinkable and educational management could not take place without it. All facets of communication are directed towards the aim of the school. Communication is a means of conveying certain needs, attitudes and feelings in order to acquire cooperation and achieve objectives.

Effective communication is obviously more difficult in a multicultural school situation than in a homogeneous school and classroom. It is therefore essential that the manager of the multicultural school and classroom should be well acquainted with the communication process, the principles of effective intercultural communication and obstacles which block messages.

Kim and Ruben (1988:305-306) define intercultural communication as a communication process in which the communicator’s patterns of verbal and nonverbal encoding and decoding differ markedly from one another as a result of cultural differences. Not only do the languages differ, but also the group’s understanding of the world. Therefore people naturally seek out communication of their own cultural group. Often similarities can be transcultural such as class-based similarities.

Factors affecting communication

Factors that can contribute to the incorrect interpretation of the message are differences in language and culture between the transmitter and the receiver. As a result of differences in interpretation, the same symbol can have different meanings for different cultural groups. The phenomena of culture, cognition and communication are interwoven. In a multicultural situation where the transmitter’s language and culture differ from those of the received, it is essential that the transmitter conveys his or her message in a particularly clear manner. In an education situation where more than one culture is involved, successful communication is a prerequisite for the effective transfer of knowledge. This obviously refers to intercultural communication. A blocking of the message will occur more often in the multicultural situation than in the homogenous school situation.

A blocking may be due to “noise”. The “noise” that is referred to should be understood as obstacles hampering and interfering with the communication process and the intended meaning of the message. In multicultural school situations these would include, in particular, negative attitudes, prejudices, ethnocentrism, problems in understanding of the language and some forms of nonverbal communication such as unfamiliar nonverbal codes and also competing messages. Aspects which could be identified as “noise” in the Potgietersrus incident were prejudices, ethnocentrism, problems in understanding a “new” language and aggressive nonverbal language. A blocking may also be due to covert messages. Overt messages are open, explicit and obvious. Covert messages are quite common and are regarded as suggestive or subtle communication. They involve an implicit message that is hidden in the communication.

Through communication convictions, values and attitudes are conveyed from one person to another. According to Du Preez (1983:11) the school determines the standards for evaluation. Long after the learning content has been forgotten, the values that the pupil acquired during his or her schooling will continue to exert an ongoing influence. Du Preez maintains that it is difficult to establish everything that the teacher announces in class. The school manual does give the content of the syllabus and provides guidelines for teacher and pupil.

Communication and the hidden curriculum

Klope (1995:113) refers to Van Dijk who discovered that many prejudices we hold, are traceable to children’s books and textbooks. He found, for instance, that history, geography, and social science textbooks constantly contain materials with degrees of ethnocentrism, stereotyping, racism and prejudice. The mother country of the author regularly is seen as more positive than or better to the “colonized” Third World or black nations. Among others, the hidden curriculum is “hidden” in text books. Klope (1995:104) refers to a study of textbooks and children’s books, where minorities were found to be often stereotyped. These books are also often based on dated images.

“…When we meet someone who in our mind represents a certain group, we see the person as a member of the group and apply to that person all the qualities we normally associate with that group.”

Du Preez examined 53 school manuals produces for white and black high schools used in South Africa between 1980 and 1981. She distinguishes between master symbols and counter symbols. Master symbols are generalization that dramatically strengthen sociocultural values. They include stereotypes which are the concepts (myths) that can direct the world-view of individuals, groups and communities and determine their behavior (Du Preez 1983:89). Counter symbols, which can also be stereotypes, are developed when master symbols are questioned by members of the community and are exchanged for an opposing set of symbols (Du Preez 1983:9). Here are two pairs of master and counter symbols that Du Preez (1983:73) encountered in South African manuals (Afrikaans and English):

Master symbol/s: Whites are superior to all blacks who are in fact inferior. Whites are threatened by blacks. Counter symbol: Blacks and Asians are threatened.

Master symbol: South African rightly belongs to the Afrikaners. Counter symbol: The whites are intruders in South Africa.

These master and counter symbols could still be responsible for obstructing the communication process in multicultural school situations in South Africa.

Verbal And Nonverbal Communication

Intercultural communication can take place by means of verbal and nonverbal communication.

Verbal communication takes place by means of symbols (words and punctuation) in an oral (spoken) and/or written form. The transmitter conveys the message via symbolic language symbols that have meaning for the receiver. Sound and words that have meaning are written and spoken in different ways, at a particular rate, with specific emphasis and in a certain tone of voice.

Barlund (in Samovar and Porter, 1991:176) defines nonverbal communication as follows as the various: “…critical meanings generated in human encounters are elucidated by touch, glance, vocal nuance, gestures or facial expression, with or without the aid of words… People observe each other with all their senses, hearing, pause and intonation, attending to dress and carriage, observing glance and facial expression, as well as noting word choice and syntax. Out of the evaluation of kinetic, vocal and verbal cues, decisions are made to argue or agree, to laugh or blush, to relax or resist, to continue or cut off conversation.”

Communication can thus take place through what one does not say or do. Ralph Waldo Emerson (in Simons, Vazques and Harris 1993:62) said, “What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.”

In the Potgietersrus incident symbols (words and punctuation) were not the only means to convey messages between the different parties. Nonverbal communication were powerful means of communication as already mentioned.

Nonverbal communication is culturally conditioned (Riches 1994:259). In the multicultural school situation, nonverbal symbols unique to different cultures must be correctly understood and interpreted otherwise potential problems may arise. Teachers will be able to read students’ nonverbal messages more accurately if they have an understanding of nonverbal communication. They will also be more accurate in their nonverbal messages sent to their pupils and parents. This is equally applicable to communication between the principal and his/her staff if they belong to different cultures. People in multicultural school situations should therefore know and respect each other’s nonverbal cultural codes. As Tortoriello, Blatt and De Wine (1978:23) remark “Probably more feelings and intentions are communicated nonverbally than through all the verbal methods combined”.

Further Obstacles to Communication

Thiederman (1990:40), Puth (1994:51), Riches (1994:251) and Samovar and Porter (1991: 275-282) mention certain factors that could hamper communication. The following factors are particularly applicable to the multicultural school or classroom:

Attitudes and dispositions

Children are influenced by their parents and teachers from an early age to respond positively or negatively towards a certain object or person. Klope (1995:101) defines attitudes as general, internalized predispositions to behave in specific ways as evaluative responses to objects, incidents, and human beings. Participants in communication can have different values which may reflect deep emotions, prejudices and beliefs and individuals may refuse to understand and recognize other people’s viewpoints. Superiority or inferiority, prejudice or arrogance.

This could also include undue emphasis on status and remaining aloof and superior.

Differences in perception The perceptions that we have of a person influence our communication with that person. This could be due to a person’s experience and background. – Prejudice and subjectivity According to Klope (1995:105) people have an inclination to prejudgment. The manager who is prejudiced only sees or hears what he/she wants to. In this case there could be barriers of indifference or prejudice.

– Stereotyping

Stereotyping involves categorizing other people and events according to observed similarities between them. – The “halo” effect

According to this a person is evaluated as a whole on the basis of a single characteristic or event. Withholding of information because knowledge is seen as power


Ethnocentricism occurs when one cultural group measures the words or behavior of another group against their own cultural standards without attempting to understand. Cultural differences


Cultural differences may influence the meaning that different people attach to a certain concept, because sometimes people of a particular culture are not prepared to see a thing from the perspective of someone else’s culture.

– Cultural groups’ purpose of

communication differ Cultural groups’ purpose of communication differ and can be wrongly interpreted. Some cultures believe in clearing the air by talking about problems. Others believe that it is inappropriate to talk things over because nothing should be allowed to disturb the harmony between people.

Language and semantic problems People interpret messages inter alia in terms of their backgrounds and in relationship to the particular context or situation. Words and symbols may mean different things to different people.

Misunderstandings and misperceptions It is often postulated that if an individual cannot speak English, he/she will be incapable to understand what is said in that language. However, it is much easier to understand any language, than to speak it. In South Africa with its 11 official languages, the educational manager must be very careful not to make this mistake in the multicultural school situation. Natural reserve fear or lack of confidence

People might presume that individual are haughty whilst it is a personal characteristic to be naturally reserved. Furthermore, the person might be frightened or experience a lack of confidence or fear.

Ineffective listening Rogers and Roethlisberger (1952:44) stress that ineffective listening is the greatest barrier to effective communication. The good listener must try to determine the real message of the sender belonging to the other culture.

According to Puth (1994:50) obstacles tend to occur in clusters. They are also interdependent. When one obstacle is identified, you will most find others related to it. Dalmar Fisher in Puth (1994:50) correctly noticed that obstacles to effective communication can be beneficial diagnostic instruments because identification can point out the successful approach.

Guidelines For Effective Intercultural Communication

Certain guidelines should be kept in mind to ensure effective communication in multicultural school situations. Effective communication is the key to successful management of the school as an organization. Drawing from the work of Riches (1994:258), Kruger (1990:22-30), Partin (1995:12 & 80) and Samovar and Porter (1991: 275-298) a number of principles of importance to the educational manager in the multicultural school are identified:

1 Acknowledgement of culture followed by situations and conditions. During communication people must set aside all reservations if they are to understand the other party fully. Cultural differences make it difficult to achieve this objective. A flexibility in communication must be developed. This means to know when to use a formal style and when to speak softer or more loudly. Samovar and Porter (1991:296) recommend the development of a repertoire of interpersonal approaches. The physical environment and human factors should be taken into account. The time must be right for a specific discussion, as well as the position of the body. For some cultures it is necessary to sit down for an important discussion. The educational manager must be in a receptive frame of mind. He/she should set the tone for mutual interchange between pupil and teacher.

2 The educational manager should try to understand the child as well as his/her colleague’s background and areas of experience, such as social conditions and family involvement. By encouraging people to talk about these things, the manager can acquire more insight about diverse cultures. Develop empathy by trying to understand properly. Knowledge of religious, cultural, business and social practices of other cultures is essential.

3. An educational manager should try to become completely involved with the receiver of the message. He or she must look for a common verbal and nonverbal code. This includes who talks about what with whom and also how and when this takes place. Taboos must be respected. When speaking, he/she must try to engage his/her eyes and give the discussion his/her full attention. Pupils or colleagues who belong to a different culture must not wonder whether he/she is only making the effort because they belong to a different group but should feel confident that he/she is genuinely interested in them as individuals.

4 The extralinguistic universalia like politeness, friendliness, fairness, sincerity and showing of respect are important. Sympathy and empathy with the person of another culture’s unique situation is of pivotal importance.

5 A message must be conveyed. A message carries feelings, attitudes, values and opinions that one person wants to convey to another. Even the clearest message could be ambiguous based on cultural miscommunication. It is therefore important to take the receiver’s feelings, attitudes and persuasions seriously. Avoid a patronizing or, authoritarian approach toward the receiver.

6 It is important to build up a relationship with the receiver. If teachers are open they will teach better. If pupils feel that they “belong”, they will be more motivated to learn. During a lesson use examples that include persons of a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

7 Avoid ambiguity. It leads to ineffective communication. The message should be logical, clear and well organized. There should be only one real meaning. Even the clearest message could be ambiguous in an intercultural situation.

8 It is essential to analyze the transmitter’s communication skills. Know yourself. Hidden agendas and ideas interfere with communication. The way in which one communicates must be acceptable to others. The manager should continually analyze hisher own world-view, communication skills, attitude and credibility. There is a need to distinguish the understanding and relate to the “other” ie “others’ world views”.

9 It is important to analyze and evaluate the people who receive the message. If necessary the educational manager should send another message. The communication system should enable everyone in the school to feel that they are valued members.

10 Feedback is essential. Pupils and personnel should be encouraged to become actively involved. They should accept that the opinions they hold on a particular topic really matter. It is also a good idea for pupils from a different group to be asked how they wish to be addressed as a group.

11 Pupils should be encouraged to talk to each other about controversial topics because this helps to create a feeling of mutual trust. The educational manager should be neutral and guide the discussion in a direction that will provide solutions for problems. No-one should dominate the discussion or enforce his or her opinion on anyone else.

12 Effective listening is of pivotal importance. It requires “getting inside the sender’s point of view” (Riches 1994:258). The history of the relationship between sender and receiver also influences the receiver’s power to listen. In the multicultural school situation, the teacher must try to listen effectively to the learner of another culture in order to get the “right” message.

13 Effective teachers in multicultural school situations communicate that they expect all students regardless of sex, ethnicity or culture to succeed. They genuinely communicate that each learner is capable, unique and valued.

14 Finally, the educational manager should be sensitive to verbal nuances and nonverbal behavior.


Schools, and particularly multicultural schools are far more complicated than they appear to be. In this regard, the events at Potgietersrus Primary in South Africa highlight the importance for educationists worldwide to gain insight into intercultural communication skills in multicultural schools. Potgietersrus Primary School did not keep in mind that a pluralism of viewpoints is possible, that is a Eurocentric viewpoint and a Afrocentric viewpoint. They do not stand for mutually exclusive opposites. According to Miller (1993:12 and 13) in every culture people are responsible for the choice that is most resonant with their “vision of a just, peaceful and joyous world”. Teaching and its associated communication within a multicultural school and classroom can sometimes be problematic, but also presents great challenges to the educational manager. Moreover, the cultural heritage of each pupil is a firm base from which he or she can venture into an association with other children (Coutts, 1992: 98). Staff and pupils who accept and appreciate each other despite cultural differences, will maintain a high standard of education. By using effective communication skills, educational managers can play a major role in this process. Each individual in a multicultural school is unique and specific differences and values may therefore exist within a culture. The diverse cultures must be used as an enrichment of all learners involved.

However, it would be naive to believe that effective intercultural communication could be a panacea for the cultural problems in the new South Africa and elsewhere. However, in a new millennium, communication skills can make a considerable contribution to effective teaching in multicultural school situations. In order to succeed in this aim, understanding of people of other cultures’ needs and an attempt to predict the impact of a message on the receiver’s feelings and attitudes and adjustment to attune to his or her vocabulary interests and values are necessary (Riches 1994:262). By learning one or more new languages in a multilingual setting, the manager can help to prevent ineffective communication and teaching will become more effective. Klope (1995:12) however, warns that if we understand another person’s language but we are not able to react with the appropriate expressions our communicative competence is not adequate. A rich repertoire of verbal and nonverbal behaviors appropriate to the intercultural situation as well as affective capabilities to react sensitively to fellow communicators from other cultures is a necessity. Finally, people of different cultures must try to find common ground. Although there are many differences between cultures, people generally have much in common. Withdrawal occurs when no similarities can be found and reservations cannot be set aside. This is fatal because then no communication can take place. Thus we must therefore concentrate on cultural universalia. In order to built bridges between different cultures, the words of Whitney Young Jr. (in Thiederman, 1990:1) could guide as a compass:”We might have come over on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”


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Call for Manuscripts

The editors of Preparing Middle Level Educators: Practicing What We Preach (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.) are developing a text to provide instructors and professors of middle-level education with an array of instructional strategies, activities, and assignments for enhancing instruction in middle level methods courses and inservice programs. The editors are soliciting succinct descriptions (1 to 3 pages) of best practice that have proven successful in teaching middle level concepts or components. For a detailed call and complete guidelines, please contact Dr. Samuel Totten, University of Arkansas, College of Education, 107A Peabody Hall, Fayetteville, AR 72701; Telephone (501) 575-6677; or e-mail:

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