Cultural literacy involves the capability of participating interactively and empathetically in culturally diverse communities. A research team led by Tuuli Lähdesmäki has worked in the DIALLS project, creating an open-access Cultural Literacy Learning Programme. The programme has already involved more than 10,000 school children across Europe.

In research literature, literacy has, for long already, referred to much more than just an ability to read written text. The concept of multiliteracy takes into account how meanings are produced and read as mediated by pictures, voice, spaces, and gestures, for instance.

The concept derives from some researchers’ observation already in the 1990s about an increasing need of schools to understand and teach literacy in the broad sense.

The researchers substantiated this notion with reference to the ways of communication becoming increasingly technological, digital, and multimodal. Another argument pointed out the demographic changes in societies: Classrooms become more heterogeneous in terms of students linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

In less than three decades, the world has become increasingly digital and diverse.

The diversity in itself is highly multidimensional.

There are no explicit or clear definitions for the character of national identity, for instance, or positions related to ethnicity, language, religion, or gender.

According to the DIALLS researchers, the concept of literacy should be further expanded. In the contemporary world, people need the capability of participating in culturally diverse communities: there is a need for cultural literacy. In the DIALLS project, cultural literacy is defined as a social practice that is essentially based on an interactive and empathetic approach toward other people as cultural individuals. The concept is founded on an anthropological understanding of culture.

Learning of cultural literacy takes place most naturally in interaction with other people. Creative activities offer a favourable space for interactive encounters and collaborative learning.

DIALLS has received funding from the European Union’s H2020 Programme. In the project, research into cultural literacy is linked to cooperation with schools and teachers. The project has developed a Cultural Literacy Learning Programme, which was piloted in seven countries in 350 classrooms during the school year 2019-2020.

Based on the piloting and related research, the project has yielded an open-access Cultural Literacy Learning Programme for three different age groups of children and youth. The learning materials and teacher’s tools of the programme are freely available on the project’s website. Research findings on the project show that the programme enhances children’s and young people’s interaction and empathy skills.

Tuuli Lähdesmäki

The writer is an Associate Professor at the Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies, University of Jyväskylä.

 

 

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