Encyclopedia of Education and Information Technologies

Living Edition
| Editors: Arthur Tatnall

Intercultural Education in the Digital Age

  • Miri ShonfeldEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60013-0_105-1



Intercultural education and multicultural education are interchangeable terms that intend to educate people to appreciate living and knowing diverse cultures, by learning with students from different backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures. Some writers suggest that there are differences between the two terms, but a recent study argued that they have many areas of overlap and that the different use of the terms is mainly caused by the fact that multiculturalism is the term widely used in the United States, whereas interculturalism is more frequently used in Europe (Holm and Zilliacus 2009). The entry considers the subject matter of intercultural education per se and the contribution of information and communication technology (ICT). It describes various policies and visions that promote learning about others and models of working collaboratively together. The focus will be on the digital area and how ICT contributes to the possibilities open to educators, policy makers, and practitioners to create innovative intercultural education. It will show a few examples that stress the value of ICT to increase opportunities for intercultural education.

In the digital era where globalization and migration are part of education, it is difficult to define cultures and determine how much it is related to nationality, religion, or identity. Culture includes traditions, heritage, language, religion, ancestry, aesthetics, thinking patterns, and social structures. As noted by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization):

The current era of globalization, with its unprecedented acceleration and intensification in the global flows of capital, labor, and information, is having a homogenizing influence on local culture. While this phenomenon promotes the integration of societies and has provided millions of people with new opportunities, it may also bring with it a loss of uniqueness of local culture, which in turn can lead to loss of identity, exclusion and even conflict. This is especially true for traditional societies and communities, which are exposed to rapid ‘modernization’ based on models imported from outside and not adapted to their context. (UNESCO 2017)

The digital world could in one way destroy cultures but in another way can revitalize them (Resta et al. 2018). The Internet is creating a new culture and helping globalization to spread, but it also provides new opportunities where people can learn how to express their culture. The Internet seems to decrease distance between cultures in one respect and increase cultural destruction on the other. In terms of languages, it might promote the dominance of one language, but on the other hand it raises the importance of language awareness (Finkbeiner and Knierin 2015). Therefore, knowledge and the acceptance for diverse cultures are much more important now than in the past.

Intercultural Education

There are four goals in education for an intercultural approach. The first is accepting the narrative of the other side and what this narrative implies as legitimate, without necessarily agreeing with the narrative. A second goal is to critically examine the contribution of the “my” side when there is conflict and what this entails, including the suffering of the other side. The third goal is to feel empathy for the other’s suffering and to build mutual trust. The fourth goal involves an attempt to resolve conflicts in non-violent ways (Salomon 2000).

There are several stages in the ladder of goals for intercultural education. The first stage is a fatalistic acceptance of the presence of the other, as a solid given, unchangeable as a “necessary evil,” sometimes out of hope or belief in the temporariness of the situation. The second stage is calculated, logical tolerance, which overpowers recoil or disgust of the other, usually out of a basic commitment to the values of humanism and political correctness. The third stage is the “anthropological” recognition of the other, out of curiosity and empathy, usually accompanied by a certain sense of superiority. The fourth stage is a sincere and genuine dialogue with the other, based on equality and mutual respect. The fifth stage is willingness for intercultural interaction between oneself and the other; and the sixth stage is a cultural merger, partial or complete (Tadmor 2003).

Wurzle (1988) presents a seven-stage model of education with an intercultural approach: the first stage, the beginning of monoculturalism; the second stage, the beginning of intercultural communication; the third stage, intercultural conflict, a crisis that may arise as a result of intercultural contact; the fourth stage, educational intervention designed to heal the rift created during the conflict phase; the fifth stage, following the learning, the upsetting of the balance and confidence of the absoluteness of one’s culture; the sixth stage, the formation of a new awareness toward oneself and toward the other; and the seventh stage, the integration of an intercultural perception.

In order to implement intercultural education, a structural change is needed which includes a change in the curriculum, learning materials, teaching and learning styles, perception and behavior of teachers and principals, and goals, norms, and culture of the school. In order to be able to bring about a significant change in the education system, intercultural education must be comprehensively implemented; this involves (1) integration of content, (2) building knowledge, (3) reducing prejudice, (4) egalitarian pedagogy, and (5) empowering the school’s culture. In many countries those conditions are absent.

In a study conducted by Shapira (2008) in four schools with immigrant children, there was no trace of actual training to work in an intercultural system and about one-third of the staff members had attitudes that made it difficult to cope with the absorption of migrant children. Attitudes toward parents ranged from prejudicial to negative remarks toward the immigrants and attempts to bring them closer – often from a paternalistic perspective – and attempts to “educate” them. It seems that these attitudes are similar to those which were common in Israel in previous years.

Policies on Intercultural Education

Countries adopt a variety of approaches toward ethnic diversity in their societies: (1) assimilation, (2) liberalism, (3) regulation/division of power, and (4) intercultural policy. The first model – assimilation or the melting pot – tends to eliminate diversity in favor of a common denominator between the various groups that make up the society. The use of such a policy in the United States, for example, was aimed at immigrants who came from different parts of the world. Another example is the melting pot in Israel in the 1950s, in which they tried to change the culture of immigrants, believing that only such a change would enable them to fully integrate into society. In this model, the state and its various organizations play a central role in the change processes which are designed to integrate newcomers or different ethnic/religious groups into society.

The liberal approach adopts cultural neutrality. The demands of the liberal state from its citizens amount to the acceptance of the basic democratic rules of the game, and the national identity, in this case, becomes essentially procedural (Habermas 1992, 2001). The ethnic-cultural identity, like religion in a secular state, reflects a preference, however important, that the state’s citizens can express in their personal lives, but it is not really the state’s business (Kymlicka 1995). It is the state’s role to ensure equality among all its citizens and to prevent any form of discrimination derived from their cultural diversity.

Countries such as Canada and Australia have transformed their national definition into a multicultural identity designed to contain the different groups within them. The Australian government has adopted a national agenda for multiculturalism built on a three-tiered approach: the right to preserve cultural identities, the right to social justice and equality of opportunity, and the need to realize the economic potential and capabilities of all Australian citizens. Nonetheless, cultural diversity was limited by the insistence that the various groups comprising Australian society should be committed to the nation, to accept the basic principles of Australian society and to the recognition of the right of others to express their culture and worldly views. This fundamental statement was translated into symbolic representation of the various groups and their access to services and resources. In Canada too, where multiculturalism became an official policy in 1971, four main goals were formulated: supporting ethno-cultural groups’ culture, helping these groups overcome obstacles of integration into society, encouraging meetings between various groups, and assisting immigrants in learning the official language of the state (Kymlicka 1995). At the heart of Canada’s multicultural policy is the assertion that all citizens have the right to preserve their culture and share it with others because their culture and language deserve to be preserved and strengthened with the assistance of state institutions and that all government institutions should adopt a policy that enables all the various groups to integrate into society and to encourage understanding and respect for diversity in Canadian society.

In African countries diversity is part of life since they are divided into different tribes. In Ethiopia, for example, the government officially adopted multicultural policies in 1991. Those were aimed at recognizing and allowing members of distinct groups within that society to celebrate and maintain their different cultural identities as a way to promote social cohesion. However, research done in schools calls for better implementation of multiculturalism (Solomon 2011).

In Britain, a committee was established, the Parekh Commission, whose main goal was to transform “multicultural emotions” into an informed process of structural changes in the patterns of action of the state and its various institutions. The committee summarized its vision as follows:

We believe it is possible and essential to create a society in which all citizens and communities feel valued, have equal opportunity to develop their skills and live a life full of content, receive a fair share of the collective responsibility and help create a community life characterized by a spirit of brotherhood, common identity and a sense of purpose that is compatible with the love of multiplicity and diversity. (Parekh 2000)

In Germany, diversity is a contested issue due to the government policy of accepting Turkish workers and in recent years, refugees from Africa and Muslim countries. The German government sees intercultural education as an important role for teachers to implement in schools. In addition to policies, they assert that diversity has a potential for getting to know others and their own culture. They support language awareness and stress that studying languages promotes intercultural competence (Kultusministerkonferenz 2013).

Shared education is the policy adopted in Northern Ireland to enable schools that are mainly Protestant or Catholic in ethos to work more collaboratively together. After an initial phase of work, built around the notion that contact should be entirely face-to-face, Austin and Turner (2018) reported on work that started in 2017 when teachers were given professional development on how to use blended contact. No firm conclusions were reached about whether there was an agreed order in which to deploy the three elements of interaction, namely, asynchronous contact through a virtual learning environment, synchronous contact via software that offered real-time interaction audiovisually, or actual face-to-face contact.

Various countries have adopted a policy that can be described as multicultural, which has at the core recognition of group rights and adapting policies to the needs of ethnically diverse groups. But multiculturalism as a public policy provokes objections for the reasons mentioned earlier. Thus, for example, the declarations by British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that “multiculturalism has failed” bring back to the center of the debate not only the usefulness of the multicultural policy but also the alternatives to the democratic management of a heterogeneous state (Dobbernack 2010) and the rethinking of softened models of assimilation (Brubaker 2001).

ICT and Intercultural Education

In recent years, the use of online projects that offer collaborative learning in a multicultural environment and even between hostile cultures has been increasing. Information and communication technologies serve as a significant lever for learning, with affordances for various teaching and learning approaches. The digital environment enables the formation of heterogeneous groups that were not possible in the past due to physical limitations. Such an environment creates learning opportunities with students from different cultures and countries (Austin and Hunter 2013; Shonfeld 2017). It allows for the formation of relationships without the influence of stereotypes that may arise from external appearances (Shonfeld et al. 2013). It can even contribute more successfully than a face-to-face intercultural meeting (Hasler and Amichai-Hamburger 2013).

In general, studies show that extended online contact between groups, in other words, without direct contact, may promote positive approaches among individuals who do not belong to the same group. Such contact may also promote tolerance toward foreigners, immigrants, and people without status and groups suffering from stigmas and reduce hostility between long-standing rival groups such as Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Studies also show that intercultural interaction leads to greater willingness to seek real future contact among group members, including between majority and minority groups (Cameron et al. 2007). In specific cases, a change in prejudice as a result of digital contact was made in relation to Muslims and Christians in Australia (White and Abu-Rayya 2012) and Arabs and Jews in Israel (Walther et al. 2015).

Turner and Cameron (2016) underlined the potential value of blended contact in providing a means for young people to have much more frequent contact than would be possible through face-to-face work. Harwood et al. (2016) refer to the ways that online contact can overcome three of the challenges of face-to-face contact, namely, practicality, anxiety, and sustainability. These findings were confirmed by Austin et al. (2017) who demonstrated that ICT can supplement face-to-face work, notably by providing longer-term engagement between pupils than would otherwise be possible and offering teachers a model which is better able to fit into the demands of a busy teaching day.

Examples of Projects that Use ICT to Connect Cultures

TEC (Technology, Education, and Cultural Diversity)

The TEC model that was funded in Israel harnesses ICT to support intercultural education. It implements a gradual collaborative learning model based on advanced technologies for teachers, pre-service teachers, and pupils from different ethnic groups and religions, yielding constructive dialogue and cooperation between diversified groups and eventually tolerance and mutual respect (Shonfeld et al. 2013).

The collaborative learning model of advanced Internet technologies is implemented within small teams from diverse cultures by the educators of the participating groups, progressing gradually from online communication (written, oral, video) to face-to-face interaction (Hoter et al. 2009). Through collaboration in joint assignments over a period of 1 year, team members get to know each other, develop mutual respect, eliminate stigmas, and reduce mutual prejudices. The in-service educators then implement the program in public schools and thus serve as major agents of social change, having influence on generations of students. Research has shown that the TEC model yields what have stated as “outstanding results” (Walther et al. 2015).

The TEC Center’s goal is to embed the model of online cooperative learning in the school system to change preconceptions, prejudices, negative opinions, and stereotypes that affect Arabs and Jews, and religious and secular Jews in Israel, from an early age. The program’s goal is to develop intercultural relations in cyberspace, connect young children in the school system, and start a discussion leading to understanding between the different cultures in Israel’s divided society.

The ABCs

The ABCs stand for autobiography, biography, and cross-cultural analysis which involves cultural self-analysis of differences and communication. It is a classroom model that develops cultural understanding and intercultural competence (Schmidt 2006). Its rationale is based on the idea that students, who write their biography, interview and write an autobiography of a colleague from a different culture and then carry out a cross-cultural analysis that will improve their communication skills as well as their intercultural competencies. This model moved to a digital platform, the intercultural exchange project, called ICE (the online intercultural exchange program).


CoGI is a collaborative online program between students in Germany and Israel. It integrates the ABC’s model with the TEC model. Students work online to create a product. However, they get to know each other and do the analysis when looking at similarities and differences between the different cultures (Finkbeiner et al. 2019). This project started in 2013 as a collaborative program between 2 instructors with 40 students and continued with more than 100 students and 5 instructors from different institutes.


Soliya is a connect program that uses a digital platform. Its purpose is to empower young people to create connections within and between continents such as Asia, Europe, and North America. The starting point guiding the project is that of global citizenship – one that establishes awareness of the interdependence of individuals and systems – and the duty of responsibility derived from it. From this starting point, there is a need for continuous movement from individuals and communities toward a number of stages: improved intercultural communication, inclusive meetings within cultures, greater cultural awareness, and the realization of shared destiny and the need to find common solutions that will benefit all (Roberts et al. 2013).

The project is based on the development of dialogue which has five goals: (1) developing cross-border communication skills, which means the ability to be constructively involved in different environments in order to achieve a stable solution to common problems; (2) the development of empathy, which is the ability to build relationships and connect with other participants with respect and appreciation; (3) developing critical thinking; (4) promoting awareness, which means the ability to strive to understand and comprehend the basis of feelings, assumptions, values, and biases that shape different positions; and (5) activity. This includes the development of long-term interest in intercultural communication and involvement in opinions, in different cultures and values (Fournier-Sylvester 2016).

The Dissolving Boundaries Program

Following the Belfast Peace Agreement of 1998, the locally elected administration in Northern Ireland and its counterpart in Ireland set up the Dissolving Boundaries program which was funded from 1999 to 2016 and involved some 50,000 young people. Evidence has emerged from evaluation of this project that a blended approach has been welcomed by teachers. In the design of this work, the combination of the contact hypothesis (Allport 1954) and the reach of the Internet was found to be critical (Austin and Hunter 2013; Hasler and Amichai-Hamburger 2013). Moreover, recent research indicated that even a year after the contact came to an end, pupils displayed more interest and knowledge than matched pupils who had not been involved (Rickard et al. 2014). Their findings were confirmed by external inspection of the program (Education and Training Inspectorate, 2010/2011) and external evaluation (Bonnell et al. 2010). Key conclusions showed that pupils gained better understanding of each other and developed enhanced ICT skills. Teachers also gained extensive professional development through having to use ICT to plan joint work with teachers in another jurisdiction.

The E-Partners Program

Lessons learned from Dissolving Boundaries program use of blended contact, with schools that were some distance apart, were used in the development of the E-Partners program which ran from 2013 to 2015 and linked schools within Northern Ireland with the support of student mentors. Austin et al. (2015) reported that blended contact between two academic grammar schools had enabled teachers to appreciate the value of blended contact when faced with the demands of a crowded curriculum and examination pressures. A follow-up study the next year with 28 primary schools working in 14 cross-community partnerships found strong support for blended contact (Austin 2019).

Honey Bee Network: India

The Honey Bee Network comprises a comprehensive multimedia and multilingual database of primary educational resources in native languages as well as information relating to innovations and ideas, including horticulture, biodiversity, and herbal medicine. In the same way that honeybees thrive on pollen from flowers, the Honey Bee Network is designed around the principle of information and knowledge sharing for the common good. By facilitating the cross-cultural and multi-linguistic exchange of ideas, the Honey Bee Network provides an opportunity to tap into the creative component of indigenous knowledge systems. The Honey Bee Network affords geographically disadvantaged peoples an opportunity to share their creations and ideas with their peers in other parts of the country and the global community (Honey Bee Network 2017).


TARASA is a new initiative in Israel which enables everyone and everywhere to preserve and share any memory (text, photo, and video) without any preferences or cataloging. The very attractive and accessible website is based on the idea of relating all the memories to the relevant places and times on a global digital map (TARASA 2017).

The basic concepts of TARASA are that any memory which is meaningful to someone should be documented and preserved, that memories create a community, and that a social digital framework which brings together the memories of various communities can lead to curiosity, equitable reference, and mutual respect. TARASA creates a free space which is especially open to the memories and voices of excluded social sectors which have not been properly represented through dominant collective memories.

Discussion and Summary

The previous sections of this entry show that intercultural education is a moral imperative in a world which is experiencing both migration and population displacement on an unprecedented scale. Most young people are growing up in schools that are ethnically diverse and at a time when the reach of the Internet is making both local and global communication via the Internet inexpensive and accessible (UNESCO 2011).

To address the challenges of developing social cohesion, online interaction and blended contact have been shown to make lasting differences to students’ perceptions of each other (Rickard et al. 2014). In addition to political will at government level, teachers need professional learning to embed this kind of work in their daily working lives. That learning needs to be built around the principle that ICT communication software is not so specialized that only teachers who are technology experts can make use of it. It needs to be designed so that it is within the reach of any classroom teacher so that intercultural education can be developed through a wide range of different curricular topics.

In the broader context of the whole school, leaders need to develop a vision for their institutions that is both outward-looking and inclusive. Every child, irrespective of their ability or special needs, should be able to participate in classes which have an intercultural focus. Moreover, given that some of this work may challenge preconceived views of “the other,” school leaders need to think carefully about how they include parents in intercultural education. Where schools have a strong connection to their local communities, parents can be drawn in naturally to intercultural programs, not least when their children use the Internet at home to extend the work they are doing in schools.

However, there would be little chance of this work becoming embedded in the curriculum without teachers and pupils having adequate access to an ICT infrastructure that provided high-quality Wi-Fi connectivity, hardware, and appropriate software. Different countries adopt a variety of approaches to this challenge.

There remain formidable challenges to this kind of work; examples abound where important projects simply grind to a halt when external funding and support is removed (Austin 2019). Farsighted politicians and administrators need to find ways to embed intercultural education in the curriculum and to be clear about what its outcomes should be.

In far too many parts of the world, the basic infrastructure is not yet in place on a regular basis to facilitate blended contact as a normal part of the curriculum. Even when it is, numerous papers note that ICT is being underused. For example, in Australia, Prestridge (2012) cites evidence that “only a minority [of learners] are reaping the benefits of the information technology revolution” and there are similar concerns expressed for Turkey (Goktas et al. 2008), Norway (Krumsvik 2014), the United States (Foulger et al. 2017), and Spain (Gil-Flores et al. 2017).

However, when we count the cost of not enabling young people to learn about each other, we can see the dangers that can arise from children learning in monocultural settings. Prejudice flourishes when the right kinds of contact with others are absent or limited. Stereotyping of others by class, ethnicity, or religion is often the start of a process which can lead to discrimination and conflict.

Evidence in this entry showed that the use of ICT, particularly as part of blended contact, can make a lasting impact on young people and their teachers (Austin and Hunter 2013; Walther et al. 2015). But it will require sustained political will both internationally and nationally to reap the considerable benefits of this work and ensure that it becomes the norm rather than the exception in schools.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kibbutzim College of Education and MOFETTel AvivIsrael

Section editors and affiliations

  • Don Passey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational ResearchLancaster UniversityLancasterUK