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Monday, October 24, 2016

Recognizing and Appreciating Diversity in South Africa

           During the past few weeks, the students in my class have been learning about South Africa, its culture, its many languages, its geography, its history, and more. This unit has been interwoven into many subjects, helping students gain a better understanding of and appreciation towards the country they live in. I have loved being in the class during these lessons for many reasons. One reason is that it has been interesting comparing South African history lessons in a South African school to American history lessons in an American school. In my own experience, U.S. history can often be presented in a very egocentric way in some schools back home. I think that it is important to address the struggles that our country still faces as well as to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity in cultures and lifestyles across the U.S. and the world. Living in a fairly homogeneous town, I grew up with a very limited understanding of diversity and my education classes, among other experiences, at BC as well as my experiences at St. Joseph’s have helped me realize how important it is to help students understand and embrace diversity early on. In my class at St. Joseph’s, my CT has done a great job with this. For example, she often reminds students that although St. Joseph’s is a Catholic school, it embraces all forms of religion and she encourages students to share their diverse beliefs with the class. During her history lessons, she discusses how moments of South African history have influenced different people of different cultures in different ways. I really appreciated the way she taught these lessons because it helps students understand the past and current struggles that their country faces in a way that acknowledges the variety of effects the history has had on such a diverse population.

           Another reason I have enjoyed being a part of the class during these lessons is because it has helped me learn more about each student and his/her culture, beliefs, and experiences. After observing and helping out with a few history and geography lessons, I decided to teach a lesson on what diversity is in a more relevant sense. Although students had been learning much about their country as a whole, I thought it would be important to help them understand how diversity applies to every single person, including each and every student in the class. We started by going over what we have learned about South Africa so far – its nine provinces, its major cities, and its eleven official languages. We then started narrowing in on Cape Town, its different towns, different neighborhoods, and different schools. Together, we came up with a list of what can make people different. The students started with physical differences: skin color, eye color, hair color, age, height, weight, etc. I then encouraged them to think about differences that you might not be able to see on the outside: family structure, religious beliefs, jobs people may have, types of homes people live in, languages, hobbies, etc. While creating this list, the students began discussing ways that make each one of them unique. For example, one student mentioned how her parents speak very little English and that she speaks Xhosa (one of the eleven official languages in South Africa) at home. Another student mentioned that he lives with just his dad and that his mom lives in a different home. Many other students shared similar, yet unique experiences of their own, realizing that while two students may be connected in some ways, they also have many differences between them. The students then discussed reasons why they think diversity is a good thing and why they like being unique. We concluded the conversation with an activity which gave students an opportunity to draw their home, their family and friends, and/or the things that they like to do and then share these drawings with the class. Many talked about the people that they consider family and what they enjoy doing with these people.

           This was definitely my favorite lesson and class conversation so far at St. Joseph’s. Not only was it interesting for me to learn about each student, but it also gave the students the opportunity to think about how they are all unique and why they can celebrate this diversity rather than be ashamed of it. In a country where there are still significant political and social issues surrounding race, class, and gender, I think it is important for youth to begin having these discussions so that as they grow up, they will hopefully be able to recognize the social injustices that exist and feel empowered to help mitigate these issues. For this reason, I would definitely like to teach this lesson on diversity again in the future. I also think it would be interesting to compare the conversation on diversity I had with the second graders at St. Joseph’s with the same conversation I may have at different schools in the U.S. I feel very grateful to have had this particular experience here in South Africa and would love to observe the similarities and differences in perspectives on diversity from students of different parts of the world.


  1. This is such a great lesson idea! It is so creative, and as you mentioned, could be applied to almost any classroom setting anywhere in the world. I hope that your SP was impressed with this lesson plan! It'd be great to use for a BC lesson when you get back!

  2. Hi Anna, this sounds like such a cool lesson! I love that it’s both a way to get to know students and to address diversity in the classroom. I’ve noticed also that in classrooms in the US that I’ve been a part of that history can be presented in a biased way and diversity is not always necessarily addressed. This seems like a really positive way to start a dialogue about diversity that can be continued throughout the year.


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