Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the overall experience of an organisation for both its employees and clientele. Organisational leaders are responsible for cultivating and sustaining a shared work culture and values, as well as charting the course towards collective goals.
When it comes to the context of schools, this principle holds equally true. Much like the corporate world, schools need to be helmed by a leadership team with a key responsibility to provide guidance and cultivate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices. Their goal is to ensure that everyone within the school community, from students and families to teachers and staff members, feels not only valued and included – but also heard.
How can a diverse, integrated environment be beneficial to the learning and development of students? Researchers have long been interested in diversity in education, and how it functions as an essential component for enhanced learning.
The imperative of diversity in education
The contemporary educational landscape requires cultivating a sense of belonging among students and educators in school communities. When students have a strong community and sense of belonging at school, a range of benefits follow, including greater academic motivation and better mental health outcomes (McKim, 2022). Research correlates motivation and academic performance with feelings of belonging (Osterman, 2000). If one of the goals for high school students is to get them ready for college, one study demonstrated that college students’ self-reported level of school belonging in high school positively corresponded with academic achievement in college (Laldin, 2016).
Further underscoring the importance of fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion within our schools, a growing body of research has since discovered that attending schools which comprise individuals from various backgrounds and cultural experiences, including factors such as diversity in ethnicity and socioeconomic status, is beneficial for students. By simply interacting with those with different life experiences from theirs, students are exposed to new ideas and challenges that lead to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving.
Real world example: The IB’s approach
The International Baccalaureate (IB) serves as an example of integrating DEI in the classroom, through their approach to incorporating inclusive principles in programme design, as well as policies to support equity and inclusive education practices in all IB World Schools. The IB programme curricula draws upon the full range of learning and incorporates real-world experience to highlight contributions and histories across cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, identities and perspectives. This is the IB’s way of promoting representation across cultures, nationalities, identities and experiences, encouraging students to develop wider perspectives alongside critical thinking skills. Every point of the curriculum is considered and structured in a way to allow students to feel they belong, while helping to reduce or remove cultural bias.
Tailoring DEI for APAC schools
CS Sanger’s 2020 report Diversity, Inclusion, and Context in Asian Higher Education emphasises the growing importance of diversity and learning in an Asian context and highlights the need for proactive inclusion to maximise the benefits of diversity. The report also holds that diversity, matched with intentional strategies of inclusion, facilitates powerful learning outcomes for all students.
According to Sanger, benefits of learning in diverse environments include enhanced communication, argumentation and problem-solving skills. Diverse classrooms also contribute to students’ emotional intelligence, improving empathy and perspective-taking in ways that prepare them to thrive personally and professionally.
As detailed in the earlier section, IB’s approach is especially applicable in a region as culturally and ethnically diverse as Asia Pacific, which requires a more nuanced understanding of its social landscape and a multifaceted approach to DEI. By implementing an inclusive country-specific curricula, educators promote cross-cultural understanding, such as celebrating events and festivals from diverse regions. Schools also foster a classroom environment that allows for respectful discussion of diverse perspectives and provides professional development opportunities for teachers to enhance their cultural competence and awareness. Collaboration with local governments, community groups and NGOs also provide unique opportunities to create a more inclusive and equitable experience for students.
Exposing students to multiple cultural narratives and ways of knowing, whilst encouraging positive interactions with those from different backgrounds serves as a dual-pronged approach to achieving positive outcomes for students. Over time, these interventions develop open-mindedness, or the ability to view things from multiple perspectives, and allow for more engaging conversations and interactions in and outside the classroom.
In conclusion, fostering diversity and inclusion in education is not merely a concept but an evidence-based commitment to empowering young minds. By embracing diverse perspectives and promoting open-mindedness, school leadership and educators alike can create a school environment where students become well-rounded global citizens.
School leadership holds the key to bridging the gaps – to champion diversity in education, cultivate young minds and inspire the next generation of leaders to take on the world’s greatest challenges and realise their full potential.
About the author
Dr. Claire Michèle Rice serves as the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the International Baccalaureate Organization. In this role, she provides the strategic vision and guidance on communications, promotes relevant DEI practices, and leads the development of the necessary DEI processes and tools to guide the work of all IB departments in this area. In her role, she will also work with IB schools to support their DEI effort.
Dr. Rice, a Ph.D. in Comparative Sociology, has over 28 years of experience as an educator, teaching in various disciplines, and serving as the Department Chair at Nova Southeastern University’s Conflict Resolution Studies program.