Teach our children to respect other cultures

Earlier than most people realise, children become aware of and intrigued by the difference in the way people look and behave.

Research has confirmed that children as young as six months old notice differences in race and family composition.

Now, as our nation grows increasingly diverse and our world is defined as a global community due to the digital age, it is vital that we learn to live respectfully together and benefit from one another’s wisdom and experiences.

However, sometimes fear and differences in race, culture and an alien language prevent people from talking to each other and moving forward together. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
I have recently returned from my first trip to India (my parents’ country of birth) and I was struck by the huge volume of mosques and heritage dating back from the Mughal Empire.

There was a strong Muslim influence. Yet in the midst of political upheaval, they were worshipping next to practising Hindus and Sikhs with no hostility and in-fact considerable mutual respect and tolerance.

Much-needed migration from the sub-continent to Britain happened a lifetime ago and we became a multi-cultural society. However, trepidation among the diverse communities should not still be prevalent four generations later.

While my generation is, at large, still struggling against a deep-rooted mentality that segregation is normal and acceptable, it is vital that we teach our children differently. They must be taught to open their minds to the different cultures in the UK and the world, to ensure a richer life and an altogether better world.

My thoughts come at a time when the Government is being urged to tackle segregation in UK schools. More than a quarter of all state primary schools across England and four-in-10 state secondary schools are ethnically segregated.

I, myself, grew up as a minority. In fact, I was the only Asian child at my first school in Luton.
However, I subsequently managed to get selected to a grammar school (and although still the only Asian pupil) I mixed with a whole host of different children from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Subconsciously, this had a positive impact and, rather than continuing with my parents’ mindset and thus a blinkered outlook, I was able to open my mind, learn from others and intensify my ambition to better myself. I became educated in the wider sense; it instilled a sense of confidence and a purpose that I could get along in this new and exciting world.

Schools play a vital role in building bridges between ethnic groups as it allows children to mix and learn from each other.

They are our best chance for inclusion and developing a sense of community and purpose. We know that contact between groups improves tolerance and breaks down prejudice – and will even contribute to tackling extremism.

All schools must promote social integration/cohesion and the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect for different faiths and beliefs.
The responsibility, however, cannot solely lie with our academic institutions.

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children and, in today’s interconnected global world, one of the greatest gifts we can give them is to prepare them to thrive in the new world marketplace.

We must inspire our children to be curious about the world and to become globally aware. Not just for community cohesion but also for economic cohesion/progress.

We must teach our children to appreciate, communicate and interact with people across different cultures and in other countries.

Cultural exposure doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs to be incorporated into an individual’s lifestyle, mindset and belief system.

Make exposing your children to other cultures an aspect of everyday life; the rich excitement of new cultures, the smells and tastes of foods, the colours and drama of art, the shapes of stories, and rhythms of music.

These fulfilling sensory encounters teach children that the new and different can be wonderful and progressive, rather than scary and strange.

Realise the importance of placing yourself as a powerful role model.

Children become culturally sensitive and respectful when they see adults who are culturally sensitive and respectful, and who take a stand against bias, racism or insensitivity.

By taking a proactive role in enhancing your child’s cultural awareness, you can teach your child to understand and deal with the challenges of a changing world.

We need our children to grow – not be diminished, fearful and closed but valued, open-hearted and open-minded in a world where success comes as a result of ambition and a sense of purpose, regardless of ethnicity.
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