This tool concerns teachers’ competencies for newcomer education and concentrates on three essential aspects: Identities, interculturality and interaction. The tool aims to support teachers working with newcomers, with (some) experience and for complete beginners. It is meant to introduce teachers to basic concepts, to problematize the way(s) they can be understood and to make teachers reflect on their concrete applications. This tool is based on the most up-to-date scholarship on the three aspects of identities, interculturality and interaction.
Educating newcomers involves crossing different borders: linguistic, psychological, methodological and, perhaps most importantly, intercultural boundaries. For this tool, the idea of interculturality is central, and we use it in a critical manner. Some decision-makers, scholars and practitioners might think that the notion is somewhat passé, and might use other words such as diversity, cross-culturality and the like. However, we believe that many share similar understandings of interculturality as proposed here, but put them in a different conceptual box. Interculturality is an essential aspect of working with newcomers as it can help us rethink identities and interaction within this specific context.
It is important to note that the idea of interculturality has been with us since the beginning of times. People have always interacted across borders, be they national, regional, linguistic, religious and/or social (Pieterse, 2004). It is thus far from being a new phenomenon, as we tend to believe today. What is different about interculturality in our era is its omnipresence and the speed at which it can take place. Yet ‘our’ interculturality is probably not better than that of the past. Contact with others does not always mean understanding, engagement with them and cooperation. Even though we are said to communicate and interact across ‘cultures’ at an exponential rate, it is clear that our accelerating world does not always resemble McLuhan’s Global Village where the movement of information, objects and people is positive, and can lead to more encounters and interactions (Wolton, 2013: 163).
Education is probably one of the best places to learn about, practice and reflect on interculturality – something we rarely have time to do outside this context. Interculturality is both part of school life (diverse students, newcomers) as well as an essential component of teaching-learning (all school subjects contain references to intercultural encounters, explicitly and/or implicitly). In a world where racism and different kinds of discrimination and injustice are on the rise, time spent at school should contribute effectively and urgently to preparing students to be real interculturalists who can question these phenomena and act critically, ethically and responsibly. Time at school should also be used by teachers to develop their critical and reflexive engagement with interculturality, and to help each other get better at it. The role of school leadership is essential in providing teachers both the space and the time for working on this important issue.
In order to reflect on teachers’ competencies for newcomer education, a certain number of basic concepts need to be discussed and negotiated. In what follows, we examine the following concepts: culture, identities, diversity, social justice and intercultural competence. Please note that we are not offering static definitions in what follows. What we propose is to revise some of the assumptions that we might share about their meanings and what they entail when working with newcomers.