Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives
Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles
The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.
The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.
The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".
Chapter 5: Cultural Issues in Teacher Education: From Multicultural Context to Inter/Cultural Journeys (Emilia Afonso Nhalevilo)
Universitdade Pedagogica, Maputo, Mozambique
The notion of a multicultural context in schools is increasingly becoming a characteristic around the world. It requires both trainers and students to be open to the world and to different cultures. It is in this context that the PEERS program has been implemented at the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud), in Switzerland. The program’s main goal is to promote the international mobility of teachers and students for the benefit of education and research. The goal of the PEERS project between the HEP Vaud of Switzerland and the Universidade Pedagogica (UP) of Mozambique was to enhance teachers’ preparation for teaching in a multicultural context and to use this context as a resource in achieving interculturality. Methodologically, I selected a narrative method to report and reflect on the PEERS project experience.
In introducing this chapter, I refer to two perspectives that this article takes. In doing so, I intend to help the reader to understand the standpoint and context from which I write. The first perspective involves issues regarding the concept of culture, and the second concerns the methodology and representation of my data and results.
In terms of the concept of culture, the debates are very common. Culture, per se, may be seen as an indefinite or even confusing term.←93 | 94→ From the growing of biological matter to civilization, social status, and shared attitudes, there is space for multiple interpretations of its meaning. This paper will not discuss the different meanings of the term “culture.” Instead, I will interpret the meaning of culture as values, symbols and interpretations of the elements of culture. In education, various countries have taken different approaches in order to address cultural differences in school settings. Banks (2001) identified nine perspectives taken in a school context that speak to cultural differences. These perspectives vary from assimilation to cultural pluralism. According to Banks, assimilation assumes that ethnic minorities lose their ethnic differences in order to become full participants in the national culture, since reinforcing their ethnicity would delay their academic growth and contribute to ethnic tension. By comparison, cultural pluralism presupposes that schools promote ethnic identities by reflecting the ethnic characteristics of students. One of the objectives of this perspective is to preserve different ethnic groups and to prevent students from feeling alienated. Beyond the multicultural settings that characterize schools in both Mozambique and Switzerland, we were challenged by the idea of turning a multicultural context into an intercultural journey. Interculturality, as described by Ngoenha (2013, p. 124), means “dialogue between cultures, that cultures can and must bring […] ways of thinking and of living, without the pretention to be the unique universality possible.” With this in mind, I labeled the term intercultural “journey,” to convey a sense of dynamic dialogue that diachronically enriches both intervenients in the dialogue. The journey is dynamic, as a static view could render our dialogues into two or more monologues. As Ngoenha writes, “it is impossible to convert two monologues into a dialogue” (2013, p. 168). I also termed it “journey” because of the idea of transformation, implying that our aim is not to essentialize (to find an essence in each culture and set it uncritically as unchangeable and unquestionable), but rather to understand multiculturalism and to learn how it can support our endeavor as current or future teachers.
In terms of the methodology, broadly this paper takes a qualitative research approach and is framed by the interpretivist paradigm.←94 | 95→ Interpretivism is an alternative to the positivist paradigm that requires researchers to grasp the subjective meaning of the social world (Bryman, 2004). The interpretivist paradigm contrasts with the positivist views of what constitutes research. The basic assumption is that while the positivist researcher claims objectivity and “advocates the application of methods of the natural sciences to the social reality” (Bryman, 2004, p. 11), the interpretivist “shifts from the idea of a research paper reflecting the reality of a particular context to the idea of the research paper as a narrative and storytelling” (Willis, 2007, p. 155). I chose narratives to report on the events and outcomes of the project. In using narratives under the interpretivist paradigm, I recur to the postmodern turn in research that claims that no method of representing data and research is privileged (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005), thus making use of narratives as a method for scientific publications. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) say:
Narrative inquiries are always composed around a particular wonder, a research puzzle. This is usually called the research problem or research question. However, this language and wording tend to misrepresent what we believe is at work with the narrative inquirers. Problems carry with them qualities of clear definability and the expectation of solutions, but narrative inquiry carries more of a sense of a search, a “re-search,” a searching again. Narrative inquiry carries more of a sense of continual reformulation of an inquiry than it does a sense of problem definition and solution (Clandinin & Connelly, p. 124, 2000).
Clandinin and Connelly’s views on narratives and inquiry frame the epistemological way I used to represent our experience during the first phase of the PEERS project involving HEP Vaud and UP. Apart from the requirement that students produce a project from the experience, we did not have a clear definition of a problem to explore. Our project had a sense of continual reformulation of an inquiry, of discovering from our multicultural context ways in which differences would illuminate an intercultural journey. Our vision or goal was to take as much from the journey as possible, to enable us to grow professionally.
I have organized reflections of the project around events and pieces of the narrative that I call lessons. These lessons were extracted from the visits we made to different places in Maputo and Lausanne. Denzin and Lincoln (2005) refer to the image of a qualitative researcher as←95 | 96→ a bricoleur, “as a maker of quilts, or, in filmmaking, a person who assembles images into montages” (2005, p. 4). I subjectively selected some of the places to make the meaning like one in a montage where different images are put together or overlaid to create a picture (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). These places were neither the best nor the most important that we visited. Each place, however, was a contribution to our growth during the project. The places chosen are just examples from among others that constituted important events in the project. By employing narratives, I embrace the standpoint that writing is a method of inquiry, a way of knowing, a method of discovery (Richardson, 2000), a way of interpreting and of reflecting on our professional practice. Thus, writing becomes both data and method (Timothy, 1999).
In selecting certain events and places, I was aware of the need to hear multiple voices. There were my own multiple voices (as a teacher, as a Mozambican, as someone welcoming foreigners, and of course as a woman and mother) and others’ voices (students, teachers, artists, Mozambicans, Swiss, youths, etc.). As Clandinin and Connelly say, “we need not to see our participants as univocal, not tied to one theoretical structure that would leave them with the appearance of being uni-dimensional” (p. 147, 2001). Considerations on polyvocality, on how to incorporate participants’ multiple voices, led me to consider issues of representation. Denzin and Lincoln (p. 200, 2005) assert that representation is a crisis facing qualitative studies (the others being the crisis of legitimation and of praxis). The representational crisis makes the links between the text and the lived experience problematic (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). In other words, how will I represent people, facts and stories in the narratives? The basic assumption is, as Gumet writes in Slattery (1995, p. 78), that “meaning is something we make out of what we find when we look at the text. It is not the text.” Or as Richardson and St. Pierre (2005) assert, language is not the words we may read but, the meanings we make out of our own context, dependent on the discourse available to us. Utilizing multiple interpretations, I make use of different fonts in my text, while agreeing with Lincoln (1997), who reminds us that “we will never get it totally right.” For example, I have chosen to represent the text from Maria’s diary and Rafael’s report on the experience in italics. With this←96 | 97→ in mind, my representations in the narratives are intended to invite the reader to engage in a dialogue with my writing. Rather than converging our views in one single point or image of our intercultural journey, I encourage crystallization (Richardson, 2000), instead of triangulation. In triangulation, we use different methods to validate a point of view or data collected. In the case of crystallization, we allow for multiple meanings, viewing the text more in the way of a plurilogue than a monologue.
2. The participants
A year passed while we negotiated the PEERS project between HEP Vaud and UP. Travels and many emails had brought us to the moment of our meeting. The group was made up of three students from HEP Vaud, three students from UP, and two lecturers from both universities. From the Mozambican group, we had two art students (Manuel and Rafael) who spoke Portuguese and local languages; one language student (Esperança), who was able to speak in Portuguese, French, and a local language; and myself, a lecturer fluent in Portuguese, English, and a local language. Esperança left during the second phase of the project due to personal issues. From Switzerland, we also had two art students (Gael and Maria), one student attending a primary school teacher training course (Fanny), and the lecturer. The Swiss students spoke French and could communicate in English – albeit with more difficulty than others –, while the lecturer spoke Portuguese, French and English. Language differences would challenge us. We could never speak in a single language that everybody could understand, and required constant translations between Portuguese, French, and English. Yet these challenges in communication often brought about numerous amusing episodes as well.
On the day of their arrival in Maputo, the student participants from Lausanne, Fanny and Maria, looked very tired, while Gael looked more alert and ready for whatever would come next. We got to the accommodation and a tentative plan was made for the week they would←97 | 98→ spend in Maputo. I noticed some uncertainty in the eyes of Manuel and Rafael, the art students from Mozambique, who could understand neither English nor French, the language most spoken at first. I calmed them by saying things would get clearer as we engaged in our activities. Anxiety ran high.
3. The Project
We decided on the aim of the project: To use the multicultural encounter as an intercultural journey. This was not clear-cut from the beginning for most of us – we decided upon the idea as we became involved in the activities. But the fact that it had a rather eclectic formulation allowed us to determine specific objectives in accordance with our own geographic areas and interests. Our activities mainly included visits to different places in the city, as well as a visit to the Universidade Pedagogica (UP) of Mozambique, including the Center for Mozambican Studies and Ethnoscience. Places included a church, museums, schools, and markets. Only later we decided to include the dump, a place that Maria proposed. Each student would concentrate on what he/she would find to be useful to his/her personal project that addressed specific objectives, while the lecturers concentrated on giving meaning to the overall experiences using the framework of intercultural theory. According to the general aim of the project, the Swiss students were required to produce a project from their experience in Maputo that would be assessed as part of their unit at HEP Vaud. The Mozambican students had to produce a piece of work that would deal with their multicultural experience. The question we were all looking to find answers to was: What meaning can I give to the cultural differences in each country?←98 | 99→
3.1 Lesson One: At the Dump
Maria persistently explored ideas for her project. She questioned what its theme should be. Being an artist, she considered making the project an artistic perspective of Maputo. She finally came up with the idea of the lixeira. Lixeira is a Portuguese word meaning “dump place.” In Maputo, the Hulene lixeira is a huge area where all the waste from the city is discarded. It is located in Hulene, one of the highly populated and relatively underprivileged suburbs of Maputo. Calls to relocate the lixeira to a new place have emerged, as there are many people living in its vicinity, making their living environment and health an issue. In spite of the challenging conditions, many people have found work there; collecting and separating waste in order to sell it to companies to be recycled.
We parked the cars on one side of the road and some of the lixeira’s workers approached us. After negotiating the requirements to visit, we entered the lixeira. It was my first time visiting it, and I was amazed by its sheer size and by the kindness of the people working there. The lixeira is a community in all senses. There are rules that govern activities in terms of which type of waste one is allowed to collect and which territory belongs to whom. They coordinate over different matters with friends or groups working there, and also liaise with the Municipality Council. I felt ashamed by my naïve previous idea that the people working and living in the lixeira had no rules and were not friendly to strangers.
At the lixeira there are all kinds of waste. Parts of baby dolls, shoes, food remains, and many disposable diapers and plastic bags littered the area. I wondered about the stories behind a painting that still looked in good condition to me. The picture portrayed a river with green vegetation on both sides. Why had the owner gotten rid of it? Maybe he/she was moving and had lots of stuff that needed to be thrown away, or maybe it was in the bedroom of an old person who had left this world. Or maybe it was thrown away just because it was very old and the owners had had enough of it. Many more unknown stories surrounded us. The bottles of wine, pieces of cloth, cans of coke, drinks, etc., and bags, pieces of chairs and beds and tables – each item, I thought, had a story behind it. While I←99 | 100→ was busy with all the waste and inventing stories and realities around it, Maria was concentrating on the people. She asked some of the workers to pose for her camera. Maria called our attention to the contrast: the smoke moving in the background (there is always smoke from small fires in the lixeira), the silence from the waste, the noise from the neighborhood, and the standstill picture of the workers. The workers accompanying us were all youths in their early twenties. Maria later produced an artistic film that was shown at an exhibition at the Universidade Pedagogica. The visit to the lixeira had an impact, not only on Maria’s project, but also on all of us. From our visit to the lixeira, I, along with our students, developed a new understanding of places like the dump.
Rafael, one of the Mozambican students wrote in his diary:
I had a great learning experience with the workers at the lixeira because everyone makes a bad judgment of them claiming they are beggars. But in reality that is not what they are, they only collect solid waste, which they sell for subsequent recycling. Sometimes they are also seen as street kids, but deep down they are good people who struggle every day for life. I’m very happy to have made friends there. It was not as I expected. I confess that at first I was skeptical about visiting the place and meeting these people, but I discovered that they are friendly and humble people. I was touched when some of them revealed they would like to change their lives if they have a viable option, and one as he revealed he wanted to be in the army. I gave my wishes so that he can achieve his long-awaited dream.
3.2 Lesson Two: At Primary School in Boane
Fanny was very excited about visiting a primary school in Maputo. She wanted to become a primary school teacher and loved working with kids. We drove for 30 minutes before we arrived in Boane, a neighborhood district of Maputo. The road to Boane is filled with people selling fruit and vegetables. Boane is an agricultural area that is pleasantly green, and many people travel there just to buy fruit and vegetables. But on that day the highlight of the trip was a snake fighting with a squirrel just beside the road. I travel to Boane often and was surprised to see this, as it is not something one would see on a daily basis. I jokingly told the group: many people still think that Africa is about bushes, snakes and←100 | 101→ monkeys, but that is not the truth. I stressed that the snake show was not an ordinary event. We all had a laugh.
We got to the primary school. The school is located on high-level land from which we could appreciate a beautiful landscape. As we abandoned ourselves to the pleasure of the landscape, for some time we all forgot the purpose of our trip, which was to visit a primary school.
The principal welcomed us into his office and told us about the school’s main challenges, including the lack of didactic materials and very weak support from parents in helping with homework. On the positive side, he told us how the percentage of girls attending schools has increased in recent years.
We decided that we would visit classrooms in groups of two. I went to a grade 1 class with Fanny. The kids seemed quite young and were sharing desks, and in many cases sitting two to a single chair. They all had uniforms but these seemed very old and discolored. But their smiles were still full of color. The teacher asked the kids to open to page 12 of the textbook. It took almost 5 minutes for the kids to locate the page and get organized before they were interacting with the teacher on the matters in the book.
Fanny wrote in her diary:
I attended a Portuguese lesson in a primary class. The teacher proceeds to parrot games throughout her lesson, which is that the students repeat after her. When a student gives the correct answer, all students heartily sing: “You know, you know very well, very well!” This song of encouragement reminded me of how the learning environment is not the same as in Switzerland in public schools. There, the pupils receive a sticker for a correct answer. Contrary to receiving a sticker, students in this class sing a praising song!
I was on the other side, thinking of the textbook in use. For example, the page the teacher asked them to open had a picture of a boy holding something in his hands, something he was about to eat. The teacher asked the kids what the boy was holding and all of them responded “biscuit.” The teacher insisted that they should look closer. All of her attempts to get the “right” answer were in vain. She finally told them that it was a piece of cheese. Although in some parts of the world cheese is something very common, this is not the case in Mozambique. I was not surprised←101 | 102→ that none of the pupils “guessed” that the boy was holding a piece of cheese. Then, the teacher explained what cheese was and how it tasted.
The Ministry of Education in Mozambique has been making a huge effort to contextualize the curriculum and the textbooks. For example, in 2004 the Ministry introduced the Local Curriculum, which is supposed to address local issues and content in primary schools. But as evidenced by our observation, there is still much work ahead in order to get textbooks contextualized. Rather than being critical to the teacher and the textbook being used, I was empathetic with the efforts that have been made. The PEERS project provided a moment for reflection on education in Mozambique. Since that day, my mind consistently returns to that class in Boane, as I try to make sense of my own practice and agenda in teaching. I transport the image of that class in an instant, and bring these kids to my own class at the Universidade Pedagogica. In seeing them in my classes, I better understand their challenges and dreams. I am more connected.
3.3 Lesson Three: Capulanas Through the Eyes of Gael
Capulanas are one of my preferred pieces of clothing. A capulana is a rectangular piece of cloth that can be used in different ways: as a skirt, a headscarf, a bed sheet, a scarf, or as a baby bag. Capulanas are always beautiful, and it is hard to resist buying more to add to my collection. In my culture, a capulana is equivalent to respect, so in every ceremony (wedding or funeral, for example) one has to wear at least one capulana. In Nampula, where I was born, a capulana can be seen as an indicator of social status. There, an educated woman must use at least two capulanas at the same time. There are those who show off social status by wearing four capulanas, or more even, to go shopping or elsewhere. In Mozambique, we say that a woman has to have at least one capulana in her handbag at all times. She may need it if it suddenly gets cold or rainy. If you visit Mozambique, one of the common images you will definitely see is women in capulanas.
I had asked Gael what he would like to write about for his project. He was fascinated by the architecture in Maputo. Most of the buildings in Maputo have Portuguese-style architecture. He would spend time←102 | 103→ looking at the buildings and admiring them. Gael’s project was certainly a surprise to me. He painted Maputo buildings, imagining they were capulanas. This vision was amazing, something very special imagined with care and love – for the city and for the Mozambican people. Indeed, something very intercultural! Later, at the UP’s exhibition, Gael’s work delighted the eyes of many visitors. Many of them, like me, were very used to Maputo buildings and to capulanas but had never thought to “triangulate” them. From that exhibition, Gael’s name will be linked to the Universidade Pedagogica in a special way in the future, as the themes of his painting have been proposed for use on the cover page of textbooks for long-distance learning at UP.
3.4 Lesson Four: Switzerland
Manuel, one of the Mozambican students, was a man of youthful disposition. He would often tell me about his family struggling to survive and his efforts to keep up with his obligations, including paying his tuition fees. He was, however, always in a good mood. At the same time he was kind of a dreamer. Once in a while, I would ask him about his project for the PEERS program, and his response was puzzling. He would assure me that he was in contact with the group abroad and that he was trying to make sense of the experience, guessing what Switzerland would look like. One day, he came to find me at the faculty, and, smiling, he showed me his painting.
It was cold on the day we arrived in Switzerland in May, coinciding with my birthday. The landscape, however, warmed me, as did my excitement, my curiosity, my expectations, and the feeling of arriving after more than 24 hours travelling. I was warmed, too, by the smiles with which the Swiss team greeted us. Six months earlier, we were together in Maputo, and now it was like meeting old friends. Though we had spent little actual time together, we had shared many experiences, in my home, in church, at the cultural show, and numerous other places. I was happy to meet with them again.
My first visit to HEP Vaud was marked by the fact that I had language limitations. I cannot remember the last time I was in a place←103 | 104→ where I could not understand the language. This situation made me reflect on my own project on bilingual education. This project involved the Center for Mozambican Studies and Ethnoscience (CEMEC) in collaboration with a Non-Government Organization based in Gaza province, south of Mozambique. My reflections in Switzerland strengthened my vision about bilingual education and assured me of the need to find ways to expand and to deepen the project. I imagined the hall at HEP Vaud as being a classroom where everyone was speaking a language I could not. I imagined the man, who asked me in French something I could not understand, as being a teacher in my class, with me as a pupil. It was like being muted and deafened. Fanny evoked similar reflections of being in a place and not speaking the language. She wrote:
Through this project, I also experienced the fact of finding myself in a country with a language and a culture different from mine. So I think I can be more empathetic and perhaps set up the appropriate support for these families.
As I write the last lines of this narrative, my memories run between Maputo and Lausanne. Lausanne, a beautiful city, was very neat. Perhaps too neat for me. I felt cold and missed how noisy the city of Maputo is. I was missing the warm weather of Mozambique. It had been a very intense week, experiencing a new environment, from the physical aspect to the spiritual aspect. It was time for me to travel back to the noisy, sunny, and somehow messy Maputo, my city.
4. Final Remarks
In my initial comments about culture in this chapter, I shared that our aim was not to essentialize any of the cultures. Our idea was not to look and find an essence in Swiss culture or in Mozambican culture. Our aim of interculturality was rather to understand our similarities and differences←104 | 105→ in a true dialogue in order to prepare us better in our endeavors as educators. In that sense, I found Fanny’s notes in her diary very pleasing:
In my home we received two students [Manuel and Rafael] from the same culture but with very different worldviews, attitudes and behaviors. It was a very rewarding experience. Indeed, I think that, often, when one meets a person from a different culture from ours, we tend to quickly categorize. Manuel would get up to clear the table and ask to help with the dishes, while Rafael would keep an attitude regarding the role of men and women in housework. It was very interesting. I observed these two very different attitudes, and that allowed me to see that each individual’s personality is an element to take into account when making the experience of otherness. Indeed, each person’s experiences depend on his or her own values. Moreover, this experience has shown me something I was not aware of before about Mozambique. Indeed, I also had the experience of otherness with people with whom I shared the same culture. I observed that sometimes, despite the fact that our culture is very different, if values such as tolerance and respect are present, we can create friendships. It made me realize that sometimes one can get along better with people with very different social codes from ours, than with people with social codes similar to ours. In fact, I built some great friendships with the three Mozambican students, and perhaps even more than with those of Switzerland. Having had this experience of otherness, I can see what it brought to me in terms of international relations. Indeed, it offers the possibility of building relations with people of other cultures and developing interests that continue communication between countries. Fathi Triki cites the importance of this relationship: “The purpose of any international relationship is to achieve, in one way or another, some consensus that can assure the global community legitimacy that tries to establish perpetual peace.”
I like the fact that the experience did deconstruct her idea of a fixed culture for every Mozambican or any other culture.
In this narrative, I made as if the stories in our project (PEERS-HEP Vaud/UP) were mine. I told the story from my point of view. However, when telling the stories, I did not assume that the meanings and significance I placed on the events were the same as the other participants’ in the project, or as the readers’. I told the stories hoping that each of us could make his or her own meaning, crystallizing events, but having in mind the search for an intercultural dimension of the multicultural encounters. In this journey, my definition of validity is not that of objective reality, but of self-reflexivity, a kind of self-enlightenment (Lynn & Lea, 2005)←105 | 106→ that may lead us to see the project not as an end, but as a means to aspire to new journeys, as Fanny illustrated well:
This experience allowed me to build true international friendships, and I want to live a new experience. Indeed, I plan to undergo training to teach French as a foreign language in Maputo, knowing that I could build friendships easily with people very different from me, and get to communicate, laugh and philosophize about life.
Writing the narratives made me re-visit not only places related to my work (primary schools, for example), but also concepts and pre-concepts, including intercultural encounters. I am reminded of Erickson, who makes a distinction between cultural boundaries and cultural borders. According to Erickson, “a cultural boundary refers to the presence of some kind of cultural difference. A border is a social construct that is political in origin” (2004, p. 41). In our group, we experienced differences as boundaries. Reflexively, I ask how we, as teachers, have been able to treat cultural differences as boundaries, and not as borders, in both countries. And it is with this question that I choose to end this chapter, as a way of conveying that the PEERS project represents more a “sense of continual reformulation of an inquiry than it does a sense of problem definition and solution” (Clandinin &Connelly, p. 124, 2000).
I would like to thank my colleague and partner in the project, Moira Laffranchini-Ngoenha. Without her leadership and collaboration, the project would not have gone so far. This chapter uses some of the students’ work. I would like to thank Gael, Maria, Fanny, Rafael, and Manuel for their commitment to the project.←106 | 107→