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This paper intends to present a short literature survey on cultural diversity among preschool teachers and children and some case studies that illustrate the situation in a Slovenian kindergarten that accepts children of foreign citizens. The paper concludes with the statement that Slovenian kindergartens should have more tools to do something for children of foreigners who work or study in Slovenia and/or for people whose culture is different from ours.

Basic concepts

Literacy is becoming a very frequently used word and it no more means just the ability to read and write but includes also competences in the areas of culture, languages, media etc. Literacy represents permanently developing ability of individuals that they use agreed systems of symbols to accept, understand, create and use texts for their life in families, in schools, working environment and in the society (Nacionalna strategija za razvoj pismenosti, 2006,7).

Different words like ‘multicultural’ and ‘intercultural’ have been used to describe the changes in society. Both terms describe a situation where there is more than one culture in a country. While the term ‘multiculturalism’ is sometimes used to describe a society in which different cultures live side by side without much interaction, the term ‘interculturalism’ expresses a belief that we all become personally enriched by coming in contact with and experiencing other cultures, and that people of different cultures can and should be able to engage with each other and learn from each other (Intercultural education in the primary school, 2005).


Development of intercultural literacy in Slovenia and/or EU

Many authors emphasise the importance and the need to develop intercultural literacy, and suggest that this should start already in the early years. They list a number of reasons why all the countries should develop the cultural literacy.

The paper on education to foster intercultural understanding and solidarity in Europe (2016) claims that intercultural literacy is necessary because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric, attacks on refugees, border fences, hesitation to help people who seek asylum, attacks in European cities show, because of racism, xenophobia, islamophobia etc. The document states that appropriate educational, regulatory and legal measures will reduce the hatred expressed by such actions. The education has a major role to build inclusive learning societies by creating awareness, knowledge and understanding of European fundamental values. These values should be introduced in all levels of education and taught as early as possible. Besides learning about ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural differences the education should include history education and develop a sense of belonging, acquaint young people with their rights as European citizens, and with the impact that EU has on their life in a democratic society. Such education can be provided especially by formal and informal education, and by family learning.

Sharing diversity (2008) reports that the political importance of intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity in Europe is increasing from the following reasons: migration flows, EU enlargement; globalization, geopolitical changes, new means of communication, expansion of media content; an increase of debates on value systems, rise of incidents of discrimination, racism, and populism. Examples of ethnically diverse communities because of migrations are in Slovenia the so-called erased people, in Austria and Germany large numbers of migrant workers, asylum-seekers in Italy and in other Mediterranean countries, stateless people in some of the Baltic countries. There are also many recognized minority cultures that already have some rights, e.g. in Slovenia (a law on the Roma Community, 2007) in Estonia (Integration Action Plan 2008-2013). The main agents that support the more intercultural atmosphere in Europe are different ministries (responsible for minorities, ministries of education, of foreign affairs), exchange students, artists or media professionals and semi-public bodies like advisory councils for national minorities.

The national approaches to intercultural dialogue (Sharing diversity, 2008) in the education sector are based on civic education that is taught in all EU countries and on intercultural education in some countries. There is a tendency to start the intercultural education already in the kindergarten and continue in the primary and secondary education however this aim has not been achieved yet. Intercultural development activities are found in higher education, sometimes as specific courses or in the context of international academic exchanges. The development of intercultural competencies and skills as part of an overall political vision or national strategy on life-long learning processes - starting from kindergarten, extending into primary and secondary education and reaching far into the different areas of professional training and life-long learning programmes - has yet to be achieved.

Intercultural education as a policy objective has been identified in some EU member states such as Finland (Programme for Global Education, 2007) or Italy, (Ministerial Memorandum on Intercultural Dialogue and Democratic Coexistence, 1994). Intercultural dialogue guidelines for schools have been developed in countries such as in Austria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the UK; Lithuania targeted higher education in a 1999 White Book. The schools try to include such guidelines in education by language learning, intercultural projects promoting tolerance, developing curiosity for other cultures and learning about their traditions, including main celebrations and symbols. Among the most known is the Dutch plan School Culture (2007), The Austrian Intercultural Learning in Schools database or the Danish project This Works at our School (2006-2007). The main activities are focused on creation of teaching materials, courses for teachers and public campaigns.


Early intercultural education

Early intercultural experiences and learning are suggested (Ponciano, Shabazian, 2012; Phoon et al, 2013) because preschool children form their identity already in the first years of their life and because early years are a critical time when young children develop the moral values and ethical standards of their society.

Löfdahl and Hägglund (2012) claim that the Swedish preschool education emphasises that children should accept and understand values in cultural diversity and that preschool is a place that can prepare children for increasingly internationalized society. Children are taught of their own cultural heritage and appreciate the culture of others by learning about cultural traditions, social and linguistic norms and customs, about food etc.

There are not many studies of how early childhood pedagogy can address intercultural diversity. A study on Teaching and Learning in Culturally Diverse Early Childhood Settings (Mitchell et al, 2015) aimed to explore culturally responsive teaching and learning in three diverse education and care centres. On the basis of interviews, video episodes and learning stories they found that teachers developed some strategies for intercultural education especially by considering family values and including them into their practice. The teachers were observing what and where each family needed, and taking time to listen to parents and children. The teachers demonstrated a culture not only of questioning, but also of listening and a willingness to change. The three centres enabled first languages to be used and cultural practices to be understood and incorporated as a basis for good communication, learning and development. This was enabled by employment of staff from different cultural backgrounds, inviting children and families to contribute their knowledge and expertise. What this project has contributed to this field of knowledge is how teaching and learning in culturally diverse early childhood settings are practically implemented and supported through a national curriculum framework.

Intercultural education in the primary school (2005) emphasizes that young people should be enabled to appreciate diverse cultures that developed in Ireland because of the bilingualism in Irish and English, minority religious groups and the increased immigration. Intercultural education is for all children irrespective of their ethnicity. Many of the skills, attitudes and capacities that will be crucial to the child later in life will begin to be developed at a young age. Among the most important elements of intercultural education are languages. It is very important that teachers develop the child’s intercultural capacity by discussions with children than by simply telling them what is right and what is wrong. Intercultural education happens through the “hidden curriculum” of the world in which children live. According to this document it is important that not only teachers but also other school staff and management appreciate the values of cultural diversity and try to develop an inclusive and intercultural school. Barker et al (2016) present a number of the possible activities in a culturally inclusive classroom environment: how to encourage children to speak about the origins of their name, how they came to be given it, or what it means. This can create interaction between children and start a discussion about diversity. It is important to celebrate similarities, as well as discover differences among children. Teachers should promote computer and information technologies as an easily accessible method of student-lecturer interaction, particularly electronic bulletin boards, course mailing lists, and other online mediums, include details of their own cultural background and any cross-cultural teaching, learning or research experiences. They should tell their students that they are committed to understanding cultural differences, make an effort to learn something unique about each student. The teachers should define ground-rules for appropriate classroom conduct to eliminate classroom incivilities and should not tolerate racist, sexists or culturally insensitive comments made by students.


Cases of intercultural education in Slovenia

The language in the majority of Slovenian kindergartens is Slovenian and although Slovenian parents have rather favourable conditions to include their children in the kindergartens there are no financial benefits for foreign citizens except for those who work in Slovenian firms. The public kindergartens are based on the Slovenian national Curriculum which does not include the use of foreign languages but requires the use of Slovenian. Besides, also kindergarten teachers are not well acquainted with English language during their studies.

The languages seem to be among the most difficult obstacles for foreign citizens in Slovenian kindergartens. La petite academy (a small kindergarten in the centre of Ljubljana) has up to now had quite a number of foreigners: from Brazil, Serbia, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Columbia, etc. Some parents came to Slovenia for a temporary or permanent work, the others married to Slovenian citizens, some work in embassies etc.

Also in our kindergarten teachers try to include the cultural diversity by language learning, intercultural projects promoting tolerance, developing curiosity for other cultures and learning about their traditions, including main celebrations and symbols.

Although some preschool teachers can speak English, Spanish or German it was clear from the very beginning that the kindergarten cannot offer any linguistic help to those who speak Portuguese, Estonian, French or Hungarian. The teachers were able to learn just some most necessary words. However foreign languages never caused any real troubles. The kindergarten teachers helped foreign children with body language and by mimics and children also very quickly learned basic Slovenian words. Several foreign children who stayed for a longer period (a year or two) learned Slovenian as if they were born here.

The children of foreign citizens were quickly accepted by Slovenian children and the teachers did not notice any exclusion of children even if their Slovenian was rather poor. In the opposite, Slovenian children were interested in the foreign languages which they spoke and even more in the events when foreign parents organised international happenings like a play in Spanish, an hour of poetry in Portuguese, listening to English songs etc. They also liked pictures of foreign countries or some typical food brought from those countries and/or made by mothers of foreign children.

We have up to now had only one difficulty with languages, namely when a child who has been in Slovenia for more than a year and speaks superb Slovenian (her parents say that she speaks her native tongue with Slovenian accent) suddenly stopped speaking Slovenian. We discussed this with her parents and were told that the family laughed when they listened to German spoken with Slovenian accent. The problem was soon solved so that the family did not laugh at the child any more.

Our experience with religious tolerance is different. Since the kindergarten uses the Slovenian national curriculum, we do not include religious issues. However the curriculum itself suggests that the children are shown churches as a place of culture. When we asked the parents if they agreed that we include in the annual plan also a visit of a nearby church that happens to be the place where Slovenian greatest poet met his love, we faced a rather strong opposition from some of the parents.

Relevant authors suggest that intercultural education requires activities focused on creation of teaching materials, courses for teachers and public campaigns. These activities are still rather poor in Slovenia. An overview of the teaching materials for intercultural education is limited to some books and courses of Slovenian and English language; there has been a cross-border programme on intercultural education for older students but there are very few other materials like e.g. intercultural projects promoting tolerance, developing curiosity for other cultures, learning about foreign traditions, including main celebrations and symbols.

Courses for teachers are probably even less usual. The syllabi of three Slovenian public universities do not contain courses on intercultural literacy and this is also not a frequent theme of informal education.



On the basis of these data it is rather clear that relevant authors think that it is necessary to acquaint children with intercultural literacy. We could also make conclusions that the practice does not coincide with the theory. By describing some cases of intercultural happenings in a kindergarten that enrols quite some foreign citizens it is not possible to claim that this is typical for the whole Slovenia. The facts that foreign citizens do not have any financial advantages if they include their child in a public kindergarten, that they cannot expect that the children will learn English and/or other intercultural competences (because the teachers do not know them and the curriculum does not contain them) make one think that the intercultural literacy in the kindergartens is still in the starting period. It would be necessary to develop teaching materials and corresponding activities to promote intercultural education.


Barker, M., Frederiks, E., Farelly, B., Shallcross, L. 2011. GIHE Good Practice Resource Booklet on Designing Culturally Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environments. Nathan QLD Avstralija: Griffith Institute for Higher Education.

Intercultural education in the primary school. 2005. Dublin: NCCA.

Löfdahl, A., Hägglund, S. 2012. Diversity in preschool. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38 (1).

Mitchell, L., Bateman, A., Ouko, A., Gerrity, R., Lees, J., Matata, K., Xiao, W. 2015. Teaching and learning in culturally diverse early childhood settings. Hamilton, New Zealand: Wilf Malcolm.

Nacionalna strategija za razvoj pismenosti. 2006. Ljubljana: Andragoški center RS.

Phoon, H.S., Lee, M.N., Abdullah, Y., Abdullah, A. C. 2013. Unveiling Malaysian Preschool Teachers’ Perceptions. Asia-Pacific Education Research, 22(4): 427–438.

Ponciano, L., Shabazian, A. 2012. Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood.

Dimensions of Early Childhood, 40 (1).

Sharing diversity. 2008. Bonn: European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research.

The paper on education to foster intercultural understanding and solidarity in Europe. 2016. Bruxelles: LLLPlatform.