What is cultural competency? What does cultural competency mean in education?


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Here’s one definition adapted from what others have said:

Culturally competent means possessing the knowledge, skills, and values required to achieve a better understanding of, and enhance relationships with learners of different cultures.

I wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s more topical than ever. Another is that it’s potentially confusing.

Mainly though, I wanted to compile my notes for myself and put them somewhere where I could remember where they were.

This is also to remind myself how I arrived at some definitions in the process of trying to get some clarity on the issue.

My context is education. So, for better or worse, I started with NZQA. I went looking to see what others had already said and done. This led me to Unit Standard 26953 which has a health focus.

In the explanatory notes, it says under note 7:

  • Culturally competent means possessing the knowledge, skills, and values required to achieve a better understanding of, and enhance relationships with, members of different cultures.

If you swap out “patients” or “health care clients” from the health context and substitute in “learners” you get something like my definition at the top of the page.

I like the fact that the definition references knowledge, skills and values.

These three components make up almost any kind of professional standards framework. This includes the new Foundation Learning Professional Standards Framework that I have been working on for the TEC. It’s laid out slightly differently, but it’s the same three things:

  • Ō tātou uara – What we value.
  • Ō tātou mohiotanga – What we understand.
  • Ā tātou mahi – What we do.

This means that cultural competency should permeate every part of who we are and what we know and do as educators. It’s not something you can separate out and put in a box.

There’s more. The same NZQA document also states that:

  • Māori cultural competencies refer to the practical steps for providing services and relating to Māori in a manner that recognises and respects Māori values and beliefs, as outlined in the Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service publication referenced in explanatory note 4 above.

The notes reference an expert that many of us in education are already familiar with – Professor Mason Durie. He describes cultural competence as about:

…the acquisition of skills to achieve a better understanding of members of other cultures.

Some further digging – this time on the ACC website – led me to this explanation, also by Professor Durie. He reinforces what he says above and adds another element. This is that the goal of culturally competent care in Health with Māori clients is to do two things:

  • Improve understanding and relationships, and thereby;
  • Achieve better clinical results.

I think clinical results transposes to education as outcomes, broadly defined. And assuming that this is workable and makes sense, I think that you can do several things from here.

One is that you can link the definition to specific cultural or indigenous groups. Another is that you could assume that what works well for one underserved, priority group possibly serves the mainstream as well. And the other is that you could link it to a set of outcomes, whether broad or specific.

I’m gonna leave off specific outcomes for now, but here’s what it might look like if you specify two groups identified by the TEC as priorities using some of the wording discussed above.

  • Māori cultural competencies refer to the practical steps for providing education and relating to Māori and other learners in a manner that recognises and respects Māori values and beliefs in order to achieve better teaching and learning outcomes.
  • Pasifika cultural competencies refer to the practical steps for providing education and relating to Pasifika and other learners in a manner that recognises and respects Pasifika values and beliefs in order to achieve better teaching and learning outcomes.

Would some version of this approach work for ESOL learners? What about for a “united nations” group of mixed ethnicities? What about Deaf learners?

I say yes to all.

So… a couple of other questions… What if you wanted to bring a high-level, big government focus to this? Or what if you wanted to bring a more personalised regional, even iwi-specific focus to this?

Then you could add some wording like “… as defined by XYZ” or “as outlined in ABC” and reference where these outcomes have already been articulated. Fill in the blank yourself. No big literature review required.

I’m sure that government agencies, specific iwi-facing organisations working in education and others can tell you what the outcomes need to look like for the learners they are concerned about.

What’s the point of this exercise…?

Well, it could be just semantics. However, because of the mixture of serious interest plus confusion about what cultural competency means, I think the following truism applies:

A problem well stated is a problem half-solved. (Charles Kettering)

I’m not proposing any answers here. I think these will vary depending on context.

However, if I’m serious and want to move forward with this in an educational setting, I need specific answers to at least these questions:

  • Who are the learners that I’m concerned about?
  • What are their values and beliefs?
  • What are the teaching and learning outcomes that I want to achieve?
  • What are the knowledge, skills, and values I need in order to achieve a better understanding of and enhance relationships with, these specific learners?
  • How does my improved understanding of my learners, values, beliefs and outcomes translate into practical steps for teaching and learning?
  • How do these factors influence or possibly transform the manner in which I teach or otherwise support their learning?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education is a wicked problem (AKA What’s broken in education and how do we fix it?)



This is a soapbox rant

Click away now while you can. You have been warned…

Houston we have a problem

From primary school to higher education something ain’t right… Like Neo, you know there’s something wrong. Even if it’s hard to pin down.

Actually, there’s no shortage of description.

Just google “education broken” for a quick look. Nearly everyone has something to say about what’s wrong.

And there’s no shortage of prescriptions for fixing the problems either. But these tend to be complicated, contradictory and emotionally charged.

Learner problems

What I see in my own work is that we have learners of all kinds in all educational settings struggling with things like reading comprehension or understanding what’s required in assessments.

Most learners can read, but many lack the literacy skills needed to succeed in their studies, let alone in the real world of 21st work and community life.

That’s aside from the fact that many of the assessment tasks seem trivial or meaningless.

And then there are numeracy issues.

This is not just the inability to deal with fractions, decimals and percentages.

We’re all crap at those…

But basic maths as well. And an inability to apply maths outside the classroom.

In fact, I have an unsubstantiated nagging worry that a lot of classroom-based maths and numeracy training doesn’t actually transfer at all to the real world.

And what about all the factors that we associate with poor literacy, numeracy and low employability?

Learners with drug, alcohol and behaviour problems… Enduring cycles of family poverty… Poor housing and other societal factors. Second and third language issues… Learning-related anxieties… The impact of repeated academic failure…

And that’s just the tutors.

Damn it! I mean the learners. It’s the learners.

Tutor problems

Teachers, tutors and trainers face their own problems too.

This includes overload and overwhelm, not to mention problems with the content that they have to teach while somehow trying to address their learners’ issues at the same time.

Add in layers of bureaucracy, compliance and professional development and you start to see why tutors are so stressed.

Why wouldn’t you go back to an industry-based job after a few years?

Or sell real estate instead.

I don’t really want to get bogged down in the specifics of description or even prescription.

Well… maybe I do a little.

But what’s interesting for me is how complex this has become.

And we haven’t even got to the organisational problems yet.

Wicked problems

What we are facing in education is what’s known as a “wicked problem”. This is a technical term.

A wicked problem is one that:

  • Is essentially novel and unique.
  • Is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  • Has no given alternative solutions.

We don’t know how to deal with the exponentially increasing and unceasing acceleration and increase of technology and knowledge.

We don’t know how to deal with the impact of this in our own lives.

We certainly have no idea how to deal with the impact of this on education in the 21st century.

Characterising education as a wicked problem which is hard to understand until after the formulation of a solution helps me understand the phenomenon that people can only tell you what they don’t want as a solution.

For example: “No…! Don’t fix it like that”.

I call these negative solutions.

This is when one or more possible solutions to a problem are eliminated, but can’t actually be eliminated until they are fully developed and also weren’t initially obvious at the start of the exercise.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is time-consuming and frustrating.

No Stopping Rule

Another characteristic of a wicked problem is the following:

  • It has no stopping rule.

A stopping rule is a rule that tells you when to stop doing something. For example, if you’re gambling at a casino, a stopping rule would be something like “I’ll stop when I run out of money” or “when I’ve played five games of roulette”.

Not only do we not know what to do next in education, but I’m not sure that we know what the conditions would look like that would tell us that we fixed it.

Or even fixed some part of it.

There is no Omega point.

And given that we’re on some kind of exponential curve of accelerating change including technological growth that now permeates every aspect of life and work we may never know what it looks like to “fix” education or when we’ve “got it right”.

At least not in the ways that we think we could at the moment.

One shot…!

What’s more, any solution to a wicked problem is a kind of ‘one-shot operation.’ This is compounded by the fact that solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.

You can see this in history partially thought out, half-solutions that get proposed, funded, rolled out with enthusiasm and then thrown out, scaled back, defunded or otherwise scrapped.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the nature of the problem.

Actually, it might be someone’s fault. But let’s not get on that train.

It’s a mess

This kind of problem is also known as a mess. Yes, that’s also a technical term.

This is when every problem interacts with every other problem. It’s a set of interrelated problems.

A system of problems.

(I wish I’d thought of that turn of phrase myself, but I lifted it from a Wikipedia entry).

If you want to look at the problem, you can’t really separate out the variables without losing the bigger picture.

In the past, when I’ve done professional development work with tutors I’ve referred to the problem of low adult literacy and numeracy as an ecological problem.

I didn’t use those words exactly. I called it a kind of swampy mess.

A swampy mess is something that ecologists understand but educationalists often don’t.

For example, in a swamp, you have to study the frogs, the mud, the old rubber tires, the decaying vegetation, blood-sucking mosquitoes, rotten tree trunks, slime and muck and all of it as a system.

When we’re looking at low literacy and numeracy our conversation might need to include poverty, colonisation, technology, poor schooling, anxiety, and fill-in-the-blank with a lot of other things.

In this kind of swampy mess, everything is complex.

Here are some things you’re likely to find when you’re dealing with a mess like this. See how many you can recognise from your own experience in education:

  • There is really no unique “correct” view of the problem;
  • People and organisations have different views of the problem and often pose contradictory solutions;
  • Most problems are connected to other problems;
  • Data are often uncertain or missing;
  • There are multiple value conflicts;
  • There are all kinds of constraints including ideological, cultural, political and economic;
  • There is often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking (i.e. many possible truths are possible rather than a black and white view of the problem);
  • There are many possible intervention points;
  • Consequences are difficult to imagine;
  • There are considerable uncertainty and ambiguity;
  • There is great resistance to change; and,
  • Problem solvers might be out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

Not finished yet…

The wicked problem and swampy mess are further compounded by another set of problems which I don’t have time to get into right now but I’d love to at some stage:

  • Groupthink.
  • Analysis paralysis.
  • Activity inertia.
  • Non-agile thinking and solutions.
  • Inability to “ship” any kind of solution.
  • Dysfunctional teams.

I realise that I haven’t said how to fix education. And I realise this was promised in the title.

Whatever the answer, I don’t think it’s another prescription.

Perhaps, more of an approach.

Talking about NZ’s embedded literacy and numeracy approach with Indonesian vocational teachers at AUT


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Recently, I had the tremendous privilege and pleasure of spending a day at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) talking about literacy and numeracy with a group of vocational teachers and tutors from Indonesia.

The group was large. The image above shows half of the team and I need to paste in a second photo below so you can see the other half. Here we go…

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My sincere thanks to Dr Adrian Schoone at AUT for inviting me to join these teachers for a day in their busy schedule. Adrian also deserves credit for the two photos above.

These vocational teachers and other support staff were here on a two-week study tour in October looking at how we teach trades and vocational education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

And as part of our introductions and whakawhanaungatana (getting to know each other), I asked them all to place themselves on a giant map I had projected on the wall.

As you can see below, they came from all over Indonesia – from the West to the East.

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For my part, it was a brief and hopefully fun introduction to literacy, numeracy and the embedded approach that we’ve developed here over the last 10 years.

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We had a play with some of the online tools that we have in New Zealand for literacy and numeracy as well. Luckily, AUT had a computer lab big enough to house us all for an hour or so.

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My students for the day were friendly, engaged and worked hard to transcend some of the language barriers between us.

One of the most interesting things for me was realising how integral approaches from Te Ao Māori are now to any discussion I want to have about this work.

Concepts like ako and tuakana-teina seemed to really resonate with the group and their own cultures.

In fact, some had questions about how they could incorporate aspects of their own indigenous ways of knowing and being into their teaching practice.

Just on that note, according to Wikipedia:

  • there are over 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 700 living languages across the vast Indonesian archipelago.

So these weren’t questions I felt could readily answer, but hopefully, they will open a door to further positive discussion back home.

This, in turn, should feed into the work these excellent teachers are doing to invigorate and reinvigorate vocational education in Indonesia.

Overall, it was an excellent day,  I loved spending time with this group and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

To my new friends and colleagues:

  • Assalam ‘alaikum. I wish you all the best with your work in Indonesia and hope our paths cross again at some stage.

 

 

Nearly 80,000 words later…! All collections for the NZCALNE (Voc) are now live on Pathways Awarua.


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If you follow my blog, you’ll know that over the last eight months I have only posted content relating to the new NZCALNE (Voc).

Well… we’re done. I finished the writing a few months back, but I’m very happy to report that all seven collections including all the new and revised content are now live on Pathways Awarua.

If you’re already registered, you’ll automatically have access to all of the new content. If you’re not, you can enrol as a new tertiary educator.

This has been a mammoth writing project with something close to 77,000 words of new and updated content.

I kinda feel like I’ve said everything I want to say about the NZCALNE (Voc). My sincere thanks to the awesome team at Pathways Awarua.

What’s next…? Probably, more of the same, but I’m open to ideas. Let me know.

Cheers, Graeme

 

Teach Better Now – Assessment 7 of the NZCALNE (Voc)


Teach Better Now – Assessment 6 of the NZCALNE (Voc)


Teach Better Now – Assessment 5 of the NZCALNE (Voc)