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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


WOLHUTER, CC. The positive accommodation of cultural diversity in Canadian education: An object lesson for South Africa?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp.346-360. ISSN 2224-7912.

Events in the modern world regularly remind the observer that a universal formula for the peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures has not yet been found. Approaches to intercultural coexistence have an unmistakeable educational dimension. In South Africa the accommodation of cultural diversity in education is also the subject of major controversy, as is evident from, for example, the policy on religion in education and the never-ending series of court cases about Afrikaansmedium schools. A widely accepted approach used in reforming and improving education systems is that of international-comparative perspectives, i.e. learningfrom the experience of other countries and other education systems. Canada is not only one of the culturally most diverse countries in the world, but is also widely hailed as a model for the accommodaton of cultural diversity and an occupant of the moral high ground in respect of human rights in this regard. In this article Canada's approach to cultural diversity in education is analysed, and the results of that exercise are then projected onto the South African screen. The evaluative theoretical framework employed is that ofthe United Nations Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights (1948) and the UNESCO Convention ofthe Rights ofthe Child (1989). Canada's demographic diversity consists of three dimensions. The first being that ofpeople belonging to the First Nations (i.e. the original population) versus later arrivals. The second dimension is the Anglophone-Francophone faultline running through the Caucasion majority of the population (people of European descent). Thirdly there are the recent immigrants from the non-Western world. On the Francophone-Anglophone issue, the Canadian constitution rules that citizens have the right to education through the medium of any of these two official languages, on the condition that there is sufficient demand for education in that language in the geographic catchment area of a school. According to statistics, both the French and English languages succeed in maintaining their position throughout Canada, not only in provinces where they are the majority language, but also in provinces where they are the minority language. Neither of these languages is losing ground as a second language in schools. Schooling was made compulsory for children of the First Nations peoples in 1911, when the notorious Residential Schools were established where these children were educated with the aim to assimilate them deliberately into Western culture and alienate them from their own culture. The last of these schools closed in 1996. In the 1970s the assimilation policy was replaced by a policy ofmulticulturalism. First Nations peoples were henceforth free to send their children to mainstream schools, or to schools managed by the National Indian Brotherhood. Nonetheless, the report ofthe Haldane Commission of Investigation into the education of the children of First Nations peoples (2012) reports persistent discrimination experienced by the children of First Nations peoples, and also a higher school drop-out rate among such children. In respect ofthe accommodation ofthe cultures ofthe recent immigrants in Canada, the country can be commended for creating space for the languages of said immigrants. They are used not only as languages of learning and teaching, but are also taught as foreign languages in schools, where Anglophone or Francophone children can also study them as foreign languages. However, the same cannot be said for religion - Canada has followed the road ofthe rest ofthe developed world in trying to create an artificial separation of religion and education, a policy which can be criticised on many grounds. The academic progress ofthe children of at least some groups among the recent immigrants is also not on a par with that ofthe children from more settled communities. In this article it is argued that the position of Afrikaans in South Africa may be compared to that of French in Canada; the position of indigenous African languages in South African education to that ofthe situation ofthe First Nations peoples in Canadian education, and the position ofthe recent stream of immigrants into Canada with that of their counterparts in South Africa. The conclusion is drawn that Canada's handling ofthe Francophone-Anglophone diversity does indeed offer an object lesson for South Africa's handling of Afrikaans in education. The same cannot be said of Canada's provision of education to First Nations children; hoewever, even from these policies valuable experience can be gained that might have relevance for South African education. The Canadian experience and policies on the educational issues surrounding the handling of the recent immigrants, their commendable accommodation of linguistic diversity, as well as their illconceived policy in respect of religion in education, as well as the unequal progress and achievement of these children compared to the children of Caucasian parents, might contain valuable lessons for South Africa.

Keywords : education; education and culture; education and language; education and religion; multicultural education.

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