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In its Strategy for the Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Finland 2009–2015 (Ministry of Education 2009: 44), the Ministry of Education requires that higher education institutions actively take part in supporting the multicultural higher education community and civil society. It further requires that the activities of higher education institutions be ethically sustainable and support students’ prerequisites to function in a global environment as well as to understand the global effects of their activities. This poses many challenges for higher education in general and teacher education in particular.

A huge challenge for teacher education is how to avoid ethnocentrism and one-sided Western perspectives in education. As Järvelä (2010, p. 147) writes, Western academe have always considered themselves as the supreme source of knowledge (also Andreotti, 2008, p. 24; Spivak, 1993). However, when educating teachers to work in a multicultural environment, which is a reality in most of the societies today, Finland included, it must be asked whether the one-sided Finnish or European perspective to issues is sufficient or the only relevant one. The new Basic Education 2020- proposal (Perusopetus 2020, p. 48) emphaises supporting the development of students’ cultural identity. It is justifiable to ask how teacher education could provide teachers with competences to support the cultural identities which are not familiar to them or part of the teachers’ own traditions. It cannot be expected that teachers would equally well know all the cultural traditions of their diverse students. Mediating the students the idea that one culture or cultural identity is not superior to others is important. However, it is still very easy to fall down an ethnocentric trap. For example, in the new Basic Education proposal (ibid., p. 48) the concept of ‘tolerance education’ is still used, even though the idea of tolerance indicates an ethnocentric discourse where otherness is determined from the perspective of our ‘own’ group and the others are seen as ones who need to be tolerated (see also Lehtonen and Löytty 2003, p. 88). It is also the fact in Finnish teacher education programmes that the staff and students are still mainly Finnish-born. Järvelä (2010, p. 131) asks whether there is structural suppression in our academic environment that discriminates representatives of minorities. Is there a hidden curriculum in academic institutions that makes it very difficult or even impossible for some students to apply and study in the programmes? This thematic would provide an interesting and important research area, which has not been explored much so far.

On the other hand, when discussing international and global aspects of education, there is also the possibility of forgetting the diversity in our own country. To improve teachers’ intercultural competence, such study units as multiculturalism in Finland and teaching Finnish as a second language (S2) should be included in teacher education programmes, as more and more teachers are dealing with this issue.

On the basis of this study, new questions and possible research topics also arise concerning the nature of intercultural competence and its learning process.

Various types of action research on the content and methods of both in- and preservice teacher education would be needed. What I found especially interesting would be to study further the nature of reflection and transformation during teacher education: What are the most significant transformative learning experiences during teacher education and how far can we go in teacher education to provide those experiences? There is also an interesting methodological challenge when we study transformation: What would be a meaningful method by which to study different types of reflection and transformation? Should we study the learning process when the transformation has been triggered in the middle of the possible crises to get immediate reactions? Do people forget something essential when they tell about the process afterwards, or do they see it in a very different light than when it was actually happening? Action research that dealt with the ethnocentric structures of teacher education would definitely be needed as well.

Another interesting perspective to studying intercultural learning would be to choose the research subjects very differently from how it was done in this study. It was pointed out in this study that motivation and self-directed learning are important for the development of intercultural competence. What about those people who are not so willing to obtain intercultural experiences or reflect on their experiences? Is it still possible for them to learn intercultural competence?

A longitudinal study on intercultural learning would also be important. How differently do people think and feel after several years and how do the ideas of intercultural learning differ when someone is 25 or 40 or 60 years old? As pointed out in this study, the transition period from education to work was challenging for many teachers. It would be interesting to study what happens to intercultural competence and societal awareness in school or other educational institutions.

Does it strengthen and develop or does it disappear?

An interesting research topic concerning intercultural learning – and competence – would be to focus on the significance of religion and spirituality in that process. As mentioned earlier, in this study I discovered that some teachers with strong religious beliefs face challenges in the process of intercultural learning.

To give an example, it was easy for some to accept a certain kind of diversity (e.g., ethnic), while it was more difficult to accept certain other differences (e.g., those related to religion and sexual orientation). It would be interesting to find out how religious beliefs affect the process of intercultural learning and whether the process is somehow different for those who do not have a strong conviction. The relationship between intercultural education and religion has been approached from different perspectives. Coulby (2008, p. 310) argues that there is something essentially anti-intellectual about religion as it totally privileges belief over knowledge and experience. He emphasises the challenges and problems that e.g. institutionalisation of religion poses to intercultural education. On the other hand, it can be argued that privileging knowledge over belief is also one kind of ethnocentrism. There are also authors (Cush, 1999) who argue that religious education could make a significant contribution to intercultural education; as religious education is concerned with attitude formation, it can assist e.g. to develop a positive attitude towards other people, beliefs and religions.

There are also some psychological studies of the relationship between religion and prejudice, and especially sexual prejudice (Batson, Denton and Vollmecke, 2008; Goldfried & Miner 2002). According to Mak & Tsang (2008, p. 379) religiousness is one important predictor of sexual prejudice. They point out that the phrase “ love the sinner, hate the sin” is popular in many religious circles.

From the perspective of intercultural learning and intercultural education this idea is problematic, because the antipathy towards homosexual behavior may have serious consequences to human rights on the societal level (Ibid., 390). On the other hand, there are attempts to depolarize the debate between religion and sexual orientation (e.g. Bartoli & Gillem, 2008; Kirkley & Getz, 2007) and show that respecting diverse views is possible.

The diversity in our society will not disappear. According to Parekh (2006, pp. 167–168), cultural diversity fosters such vital preconditions of human freedom as self-knowledge, self-transcendence and self-criticism and creates a climate in which different cultures can engage in a mutually beneficial dialogue. Teachers who understand diversity as a potential and resource for learning instead of a burden have the potential to develop a similar understanding in their students. Teachers who understand education in its wider societal and global context and actively aim at promoting social justice in education have the potential to educate students who can actively transform their own life and society. I end this thesis by quoting Paulo Freire (1972, p. 39), whose words beautifully describe my understanding of the

characteristics of the interculturally competent teacher:

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.

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