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Considering intercultural competence as an ethical orientation that includes such ideas and characteristics as hope, idealism, a caring attitude and openness towards diversity, it is worth asking how this kind of personal and attitudinal competence can be developed or learned, especially in educational settings.

It has been pointed out that knowledge, or even contact with people from other cultures, does not automatically affect attitudes and behavior. It is even possible that intercultural experiences strengthen our stereotypes and prejudices if genuine dialogue and mutual learning are lacking (Liebkind, 1994). As Salo-Lee (2007, p.

78) points out, the personal qualities may not be easily acquired. However, certain skills, such as the ability to listen to the other, which have been regarded as crucial in effective intercultural communication, can be learned and improved. Determining whether a caring attitude is something that is innate, or whether we can actually develop it in teachers, is a relevant question. Noddings (1998) suggests modelling, dialogue, practice and confirmation as the central educational means by which to support a caring attitude. She argues that the first step is to learn to be cared for, and Noddings places special emphasis on the education that takes place at home.

If these abilities are viewed as something that is more innate than developed or learned, the selection process of new teachers becomes the only possibility of ensuring the existence of interculturally competent teachers in future. The selection process is definitely important; candidates who have prejudiced or racist attitudes are not suitable for educating future generations. However, as one of the aims of this study has been to look for those conditions that make intercultural learning and transformation possible in teacher education, I argue that student selection is not our only, or even favoured, means of influence. My study clearly showed that learning intercultural competence does not necessarily require students to have a multicultural or bicultural background or other remarkable intercultural experiences when they embark upon teacher education. In considering the teachers in my data, most of them mentioned having already had a caring attitude and some sort of sensitivity and an interest in diversity before their education, but these characteristics were also developed and indeed changed during and after teacher education (Jokikokko, 2010).

In the subsequent paragraphs, the development of teacher education is discussed from the following perspectives. First, it is argued that holistic, long-term pedagogical interventions are needed to affect students’ perspectives. Secondly, the pedagogical means such as dialogue, conflict situations, other emotional experiences, self-reflection and the need for practical experiences of diversity are discussed.

Third, the need for adding more societal context to teacher education is discussed.

Fourth, conclusions are drawn on what kind of ‘significant others’ can best foster students’ intercultural learning during their teacher education. And last, the need for in-service teacher education on intercultural issues is elaborated.

If teachers’ intercultural competence is viewed more as a philosophy and way of thinking and acting, it is clearly unlikely that this kind of holistic approach would develop during one or two separate courses on multicultural issues. There is even a danger that stereotypes will only get strengthened in these types of courses, if there is not enough time for reflection. That is why intercultural perspectives should be integrated to many studies throughout teacher education (Jokisalo & Simola, 2009; Virta, 2009). It is easy to argue that Finnish teacher education programmes are already ‘full’ and scattered and that there is no room for new contents (e.g., Räsänen, 2002, p. 27). However, interculturality can be seen as an approach to or perspective on existing contents that does not necessarily entail the addition of new content. Intercultural competence and learning are processes that address our attitudes and way of thinking; it is not a matter of mastering some highly demanded or time-consuming skills. The integration of new perspectives into regular teacher education programmes, however, requires commitment and further training of the staff in teacher education departments. According to Nieto (2005,

1996) and Banks (1999), intercultural and international education means a change in the educational ethos and environment – the attitudes of the staff, the aims, contents, methods, teaching material, evaluation, language policy, counselling and co-operation between school and home. In teacher education this would imply the reconsideration of mono-acculturation and the promotion of various perspectives throughout the curriculum, educational sciences, school subjects and teaching practices.

On the basis of this study, it is evident that even adult learning is not merely affected by knowledge but also by feelings and action. For the research subjects of this study, the transformative, emotionally strong intercultural experiences during teacher education were provided by internships (especially those done in different cultural environments), exchange studies, excursions, arts, films, but also through discussions and debates with teachers and other students. Providing students with experiences and even conflict situations that challenge or force them to think of issues from other perspectives is important. As Taylor writes (1998, p. 51), the conflicts between group members may offer real learning opportunities, providing an excellent medium for exploring differences. A challenge for teacher education would be how to provide students with challenges, dilemmas, conflicts and even crises without traumatizing them. Safety, trust and openness within the group and between the group members should allow teachers to prevail, even in these conflict situations. It is essential that there is opportunity to reflect on various experiences in order to deal with transformative experiences in a dialogical atmosphere. Dialogue (Salo-Lee, 2007, pp. 79–80; 2003, p. 121) entails openness, empathy and trust.

Dialogue both presupposes and creates an atmosphere where understanding can be reached and new ideas emerge (see also Räsänen & San, 2005).

As discovered through this study, teachers in my data were not, for the most part, analyzing the structural and societal contexts of education. From the perspective of critical pedagogy, the most important task of teacher education is to awaken and develop teachers’ societal awareness (see Tomperi & Piattoeva, 2005, p. 259; Sitomaniemi-San, p. 2009). However, as Sitomaniemi-San (2009) points out, research has shown that philosophical, sociological and political studies in teacher education are marginal. Moreover, practical experiences of this area are definitely needed in teacher education. Sleeter and Montecinos (1999, p. 114) point out that teachers who understand that education must be both intercultural and social reconstructionist must be politically literate, meaning that they should be able to make judgements about the distribution of power and resources as well as how to affect these. Sleeter and Montecinos (p. 114) suggest that during teacher education, teachers be given examples of the ways in which power can be shared among school professionals and with other school constituencies. One way to do this would be to engage student teachers in community-based learning projects that are structured around the principles of egalitarian partnership.

As intercultural learning seems to be not only a formal but also an informal process that includes numerous everyday life experiences, it would be important that during teacher education, students be provided with opportunities to reflect on their intercultural learning as a lifelong process and become aware of the processes and experiences that are often unconscious: What has affected their intercultural attitudes, awareness and skills? How has their living environment and culture affected them and, at the same time, limited their way of understanding other perspectives? As Kristeva (1992) has stated, one way to learn to recognize diversity is to understand otherness as a part of one’s own identity (see also Lehtonen & Löytty, 2003; Rastas, 2007). This also became obvious in my research and that is why teacher students should also be given opportunities to reflect on their own otherness during their studies. An interesting aspect related to the importance of self-reflection, that also emerged from the data of this study, was that although we may assume that students who apply for the ITE programme in Oulu are rather open towards diversity even before commencing their studies, it was interesting to notice that regardless of the teachers’ backgrounds and living environments, in some of the teachers’ stories, it appears that certain kinds of diversity are easier to accept and appreciate than others. Although the aim of intercultural education cannot be cultural relativism or the acceptance of anything and everything, students should be challenged and encouraged to look at issues from different cultural, societal and religious perspectives, as well as from the perspectives of human rights, and reflect on their own views and assumptions on that basis.

Prospective teachers definitely need practical experiences of encountering diversity and in my research these practical experiences of diversity were often the ones that caused strong emotional feelings and changes in world view. As Taylor (1994) mentions, critical reflection alone will not lead to a perspective transformation. Transformation needs to take place in conjunction with action and discourse. These practical experiences can be organised during teacher education, for example, by giving students the opportunity to do their practices in multicultural environments. Although teacher ethics was stressed as an essential part of intercultural competence in this study, it is evident that the importance of intercultural pedagogical skills cannot be underestimated in teacher education. It is essential to recognize that good ethical principles cannot compensate for poor professional skills and, conversely, that good professional skills cannot replace a lack of ethical principles (compare Lindqvist, 1985). Almost all the teachers in this study mentioned the need for more knowledge and skills in certain areas relating to pedagogical intercultural competence although ethical sensitivity seems to be the basis for the development of such.

As the willingness to work in a multicultural environment and develop one’s intercultural competences (which I have referred to as goal oriented learning in this study) is important for intercultural learning, teacher education students should also be encouraged to acquire intercultural competence outside teacher education by participating in various informal, non-formal and formal activities that support their intercultural learning. In the teachers’ stories, goal oriented learning appeared in their willingness to visit, live or study abroad and learn languages, to participate in voluntary work and to accept challenges in multicultural settings in the field of education. This kind of action also requires guidance and tutoring as well as places in which to reflect and share the experiences.

From a sociocultural point of view, we should, in particular, consider the meaning of significant others for teachers’ intercultural learning during teacher education. The most obvious significant others in teacher education are other student teachers and university teachers. It seems to be important for students’ intercultural learning that they gain experiences from various lecturers from other cultural backgrounds and teachers who act and think in different ways. However, it appears to be extremely important for teacher education students that they have a lasting relationship with one or two teachers throughout the entirety of their studies. This particular teacher would know their individual backgrounds and needs, and thus be able to support their personal growth and learning throughout their study career. As mentioned earlier, creating a safe and open atmosphere in which everyone has the courage to express their ideas seems to be significant for intercultural learning. In the creation of this kind of environment, and ‘the spirit’ described above, the tutor of the group plays an important role.

Special attention should be given to the significance of classmates for student teachers’ intercultural learning. One starting point is to form study groups that are as multicultural as possible. Creating a safe and open atmosphere in which everyone has the courage to express their ideas seems to be significant for intercultural learning. My data showed that learning through, from and with others by discussing, listening and sharing, is important to teachers. Teachers in my data also appreciated the ‘interculturally oriented spirit’ in their group. However, although the ‘spirit’ encourages and provides conditions for intercultural learning, there is the danger that a group of peers becomes a community where everyone has to think and act in the same way, and where different opinions and voices are not welcomed or even heard. There is also the possibility that the group becomes a closed community that feels either superior or inferior to other groups. In order to avoid this, co-operation and mutual learning between the groups would be crucial.

It is also worth noting that literature can be ‘the significant other’ during teacher education and strongly affect teachers’ intercultural learning. In some instances, novels and biographies can be more educative from the intercultural perspective than so-called ‘scientific’ literature, although this is naturally important as well.

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