Multiculturalism is the most ambitious project in human history. The challenge is to try to blend people with diverse religions, histories, cultures, and languages, without homogenizing and destroying the source cultures.

While Western countries have embarked on this project out of their initiative, we have regions like Cyprus where this cultural exchange happens naturally. The island of Cyprus is a border region, where European and near-eastern populations mix.

Language diversity in the classroom is a topic of fervent conversation, as these various peoples attempt to coexist. Here are a few lessons that we can learn from Cyprus:

1.  Leave some of the baggage behind

Since the last decades, we have been sailing in uncharted waters. Most school systems in history were designed from the ground-up, to function in a mono-cultural setting. It is a relatively new idea to try and preserve student’s mother languages, instead of enforcing one standard for everyone.

Sure, there have been multicultural empires before, but when it came to education, only one language was taught.

Given that we have three centuries of inertia when it comes to classical mono-cultural schooling, we have to be willing to keep what works and discard old methods that are not relevant anymore.

We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but also not cling to methods that do not serve us well in modernity. At the end of the day, multilingualism in education is here to stay.

2.  This is not a new problem

Of course, no matter what the curriculum is, the teachers will have to prepare the children for their futures. In a way, this is not a new problem.

Language diversity does indeed create novel challenges, making it easier for some students to graduate, while others will fall behind. Yet, that challenge is present with any type of public school.

When you try to make a program for all the kids in a country, you will have to accommodate both excellence and mediocrity. If you lean too much in any direction, the program will fail.

For example, let’s say that your top 10% of students are not being stimulated enough. They have finished everything in the schedule and want to delve deeper. What do you do? If you increase the difficulty of the subjects, you will indeed help these 10% achieve greater results.

However, what do you do with the other 90%? Do you accept them falling behind as a reasonable outcome? Of course not. No matter the country, if you want to educate everyone, you must meet in the middle.

Private schools may be a suitable alternative for high achievers, but not everyone can pay for them. Overall, you must play to the middle and design solutions that benefit the largest number of students.

3.  Use the web

There is hardly of aspect of human life that the internet and globalization have not changed. Some changed for the better, while others for the worse. Still, these are realities of modern living, so you must use them to your advantage in multilingual education.

Let’s start with the internet. In a very short while, if you wanted something translated, you would have to find a dictionary in that language and search, word-for-word, the entire text. This process was slow, labor-intensive, and time-consuming. It is not a long-term solution that you can incorporate into learning.

However, nowadays, the internet allows you to translate in real-time, and these tools are free. In addition, the 2020s have also seen an upsurge in AI development. We are not that far away from real-time translators, where your earpiece converts everything that is being said into your native language.

We also have education aids that can be found online. There are sites where you can purchase courses, which feature much better explanations when you compare them to school manuals. You can also buy a research paper online, in areas where you feel less prepared.

Overall, students should not use the Internet to do their work for them. It should be a supplement, not a crutch.

4.  Use globalization to your advantage

Schools in Cyprus are not just facing a bilingual split, like the one in Canada. The majority culture is Cyprus-Greek-speaking, but you also have Armenian, standard Greek, and Turkish, and the list is growing as the population diversifies.

If we were talking about two languages, it would have been much easier: simply split the curriculum into Greek and another language. But if you did that, you would be excluding the others who do not speak these two languages.

Obviously, no country can afford to have 5-6 school systems running in parallel, each with its own language.

So, what did Cyprus do? Well, they used globalization to their advantage, partly solving the issue of language diversity.

Due to the increase in global culture and connection to western media, many young people are fluent in English. As a result, Cyprus, and most nations, use English as their language of study. This is nothing new, as Europe used to employ Latin as their academic language. That is the reason why so many names in science sound so strange and foreign.

After Latin, high culture was spoken in French, and now, in English.

English is the natural option for students who do not speak the main tongue, and Cyprus is using the global spread of this language in its education.

The bilingual split between the native language and English should continue in higher education as well. Here, students have the extra advantage of using the web as well. For admissions essays, it is possible to search for the best writing service for college, if they are students who did not grow up in Cyprus and are just looking to attend universities.

5.  School vouchers and teachers

Finally, we have a solution that is not employed in Cyprus on a mass scale, but it could produce positive results.

Nothing is stopping private schools from teaching in Armenian or Turkish. The problem is one of standardization, that the government has to make 1-2 curriculums that will apply to the entire island. But what if you took the money that should be spent on that child, and created a school voucher?

You can let people decide on which school they want to attend and pay for private schools with vouchers. This is not increasing costs, because the money would be spent anyway.

Private schools can be more tailored to a specific culture. This can help also regarding religious and cultural divides, which are highly polarizing in any society.

Private schools are consistently overperforming public institutions because it is a more personalized, culture-shock-resistant solution.

Conclusion

Overall, most school systems around the world were developed three centuries ago, in the context where most countries were mono cultural. An update is needed, to meet the needs of pluralistic and globalized societies.

We can make use of what we have. From online education aids to implementing English as a second language. Maybe, we even need to reconsider public schools in general and provide the resources for proper school vouchers and private education options.