1 Why Intercultural Teaching?

Intercultural teaching is often most closely associated with supporting the growing numbers of international students in our classrooms. While the movement towards internationalization is a large part of the growing priority placed on intercultural teaching, the reasons for embracing intercultural teaching as a central pedagogical practice extend much more broadly. In this chapter, we will discuss the partners and motivating forces that encourage us towards intercultural teaching.

Our Partners: Who Benefits from Intercultural Teaching?

International students: At the end of 2019, 498,735 international students were studying at postsecondary institutions in Canada (CBIE, 2020). These students, while often highly successful in their previous learning contexts, may struggle as they encounter new academic contexts where the expectations of how to learn remain implicit (Blasco, 2015). Additionally, these students are often viewed through a deficit lens, which positions them as lacking core abilities needed for success (Killick, 2018; Ryan, 2005), and they may experience racist treatment by faculty or other students (Stein & Andreotti, 2016).

“Internationally-educated” domestic students: In addition to students who study on student visas, and who are therefore formally classified as international students, we find significant numbers of other internationally-educated students in our classes. This student group includes refugee-background students, and students who immigrate to Canada through other immigration pathways and later pursue further education in Canada. These students may be overlooked, as they do not typically receive special services for international students. Yet, they may be studying in the Canadian education system for the first time, and may experience similar challenges to international students.

Generation “1.5” students: 

In addition to our growing international student population, new Canadians add to the linguistic and cultural diversity in our classrooms. For example, in the 2018-2019 academic year, 195 languages were spoken by Surrey School District students (with Punjabi, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic as the five largest language communities).

These students arrived in Canada during their childhood or adolescent years, attending Canadian schools while receiving ESL support.  While these students access postsecondary education at high rates and persist through to degree completion, they may also receive lower GPAs, partly as a result of their status as English language learners (Roessingh and Douglas, 2012). This hinders their opportunities to pursue graduate education.

Indigenous students: While over half of Indigenous people between the ages of 25-64 in Canada have obtained a postsecondary qualification, a persistent attainment gap of 22% between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students remains (Assembly of First Nations, 2018). Indigenous student success is hindered by a lack of respect for culture, a lack of reciprocity, and a failure to create learning environments relevant to the needs and goals of Indigenous learners (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001). Student success is enhanced by learning environments where strong personal relationships between faculty and Indigenous students are developed (Gallop & Bastien, 2016).

Domestic students: Employers are increasingly asking for graduates with well-developed social and emotional skills; this skillset includes the ability to work effectively in intercultural contexts and with culturally diverse teams (McKean, 2018). In many classrooms, however, the deep interaction between domestic and international students that promotes the development of interculturality is missing.  This interaction can be supported through the structured classroom teaching initiatives that take place within the larger scope of intercultural teaching (Arkoudis et al., 2013). Additionally, the shifts towards inclusive pedagogies that occur within intercultural teaching serve to benefit all students, not only those from the non-dominant culture (Ryan & Caroll, 2005).

Our students’ communities: Our students’ families and broader communities are often key partners in their academic success (Sleeter, 1996). Students may pursue higher education with the explicit intention of benefitting their family or larger community, and so successful outcomes of intercultural teaching practice have benefits that extend beyond the individual student.

In summary, the partners in our intercultural teaching practice include all students, as well as their broader communities. Additionally, we as faculty, as well as our institutions, are have an key interest in intercultural teaching practice, as we seek to achieve educational sustainability in the context of our internationalizing institutions and classroom environments.


For reflection:  How has the discussion above expanded your understanding of the scope of intercultural teaching?  Are there additional partners that you would add to the list above?

Sustainable Internationalization

The Canadian Government’s international education strategy, as articulated in 2014 and 2019, positions Canada as a destination for incoming international students, encourages outbound student mobility, and emphasizes fostering global partnerships (Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD), 2014; Government of Canada, 2019).  Knight (2015), writes that “internationalization at the national, sector, and institutional levels is the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions, or delivery of postsecondary education” (p. 2). A key question in the internationalization process, however, is the sustainability of internationalization for all stakeholders.

From the perspective of educational sustainability, integrated attention should be given to the economy, environment, and equity in designing educational processes and programs. Educational sustainability looks for ways to legitimately address the interests of all stakeholders in the educational process, while also ensuring that concerns for equity are addressed (Edwards & Orr, 2005). While the economic benefits of internationalization for Canadian postsecondary institutions are often highlighted, the educational sustainability perspective emphasizes that when internationalization creates inequity for any student — whether domestic or international — it creates a call for change towards processes, relationships, and ways of being that are more sustainable.

The Association of Canadian Deans of Education (2016) developed an Accord on the Internationalization of Higher Education. The Accord calls for Canadian institutions to practice internationalization in ways that foster healthy relationships between all stakeholders, promote social justice and equity, and encourage reciprocity and intercultural engagement.  These sustainable ideals can fail to be achieved, however, when stakeholders feel insecure in their understanding of internationalization, or create systems that contain, rather than promote, cultural diversity (Ilieva et al., 2014).

Sustainable visions of internationalization create a vision of learning spaces where both faculty and students are able to thrive. Achieving this vision involves creating an environment where faculty and students are able to have holistic and reciprocal intercultural relationships.  It also requires the creation of learning environments that are inclusive and allow diversity to flourish, and curricula that incorporate multiple perspectives and address questions of social justice (Ilieva et al., 2014). These are the same practices that are fostered by effective intercultural teaching, when the full range of its practices and implications are addressed.  In other words, intercultural teaching promotes sustainable internationalization, particularly when equity and transformation are incorporated into its aims and practices. The definition and components of the form of intercultural teaching practice that promotes sustainable internationalization and responds to all key stakeholders will be addressed in the following chapter.



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Kirkness, V. J., & Barnhardt, R. (2001). First Nations and higher education: The four Rs – respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility. In R. Hayoe & J. Pan (Eds.), Knowledge across cultures: A contribution to dialogue among civilizations. Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong. http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/IEW/winhec/FourRs2ndEd.html.

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McKean, M. (2018). Are Canada’s business schools teaching social and emotional skills? Conference Board of Canada. https://www.conferenceboard.ca/docs/default-source/education/9999_bschools-rpt.pdf

Roessingh, H., & Douglas, S. R. (2012). Educational outcomes of English language learners at university. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 42(1), 80–97. http://journals.sfu.ca/cjhe/index.php/cjhe/article/view/182449/182509

Ryan, J. (2005). Improving teaching and learning practices for international students: implications for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. In J. Carroll & J. Ryan (Eds.), Teaching international students: improving learning for all (ebook). Routledge. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Ryan, J., & Carroll, J. (2005). “Canaries in the coalmine”: International students in Western universities. In J. Carroll & J. Ryan (Eds.), Teaching international students: improving learning for all (ebook, pp. 3–10). Routledge. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Sleeter, C. E. (1996). Multicultural education as social activism. SUNY Press; eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). https://ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=5285&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Stein, S., & Andreotti, V. O. (2016). Cash, competition, or charity: international students and the global imaginary. Higher Education, 72(2), 225–239. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9949-8

Surrey School District. (2018). Surrey schools fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.surreyschools.ca/ ParentServices/ParentInfoBrochures/Documents/Surrey%20Schools%20Fact%20Sheet.pd


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