How does cultural conflict apply to the context of higher education in the Canadian context?

Canadian universities have become some of the most ethnoculturally diverse globally, owing to immigration and a massive enrollment of international students (Guo & Jamal, 2007). However, as one would expect, the differences between different cultures are not always appreciated. In education specifically, Canada has had a history of implementing culturally discriminating policies, with conflict also arising among students in the present.
The education system is just one niche that experiences challenges from cultural diversity, and this is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and a reluctance to accept diversity. In this study, we will look at the impact of cultural conflict in education and review the various multicultural policies implemented in Canada’s education system over the years.
History of Multicultural Canadian Education
With the wealth of different cultures present in the country, Canada is often referred to as a mosaic of cultures. There are more than 250 ethnic origins in the country, but it is often easy to forget that Canada had only two founding countries; England and France. These two countries helped develop a framework that we are now familiar with as Canada’s government. The values, legal and religious systems of the two colonizing countries assimilated into one framework for the sovereign nation(.
One century into Canada’s existence, the government sought to protect the dominant cultures. Even ethnic minorities like the Canadian aboriginals played an important role in shaping the nation’s goals. One way Canada implemented this belief is by setting up residential schools for aboriginals. The government also introduced a compulsory school system in the 19th century. When a governing body compels parents to send children to school, it is often to impose on the society some certain beliefs (Osborn, 2000).
At the time, the education programs were mostly organized by people with links to Christian churches. The stakeholders believed that values like loyalty, citizenship, and respect for authority could only be developed with a Christian education. Unfortunately, while such policies proved more harmful to minority ethnicities and only in the 20th century, with the onset of massive immigration, did the government consider assimilated policies. These were just some of the many policies Canada would impose over the next few centuries(Acar, 2013).
Multicultural Policies in the Education System
Cultural diversity and citizenship have been constant elements playing a key role in reshaping educational agendas. These changes have been reflected in educational policies and programs implemented over time by the state. In one study by Acar, she noted that the established education policies also reflected the unequal status between different cultural groups. Acar classified Canada’s history of educational policies into three stages; assimilation, integration, and multiculturalism (Acar, 2013).
The assimilation period ran from the mid 19th century to the end of World War II. The colonial government adopted assimilation policies to create a nation-state unified by their colonial identities. As a colonial nation-state, integration could not occur spontaneously because Canada’s education then suppressed diversity and controlled minority groups. For instance, the state required children only to learn and speak the colonial national language, read national literature, and learn the history of their colonial masters. Churches funded by the federal government ran these types of aggressive assimilation policies, and their primary purpose was to reduce and ultimately eliminate local traditions in incoming generations(Ghosh and Abdi, 2004).
After World War II, Canada faced the challenge of a massive influx of refugees displaced by the war. The government now thought to consider a more inclusive policy directed towards integration. These incoming policies mostly affected minority communities, e.g., native, African, and Caribbean children would now attend state schools rather than the racially isolated institutions (Ghosh & Abdi, 2004).
The 1970s ushered in a new era where Canada was even more determined to develop more inclusive educational policies like multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is basically accepting different minority communities with their language, culture, and social behavior (Castles, 2000). Commendably, Canada became the first country globally to adopt a multiculturalism framework in 1971. According to Prime Minister Trudeau, a multiculturalism policy would assure the cultural freedom of all Canadians. The Prime Minister understood the importance of integrating multiculturalism with an official policy, and therefore went ahead to form the “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework” policy” (Wood & James, 2005). This new policy aimed to ensure that Canada would embrace all cultures of immigrants seeking permanent citizenship.
In the education system, multiculturalism enabled the federal government to support the official languages of minority groups through the OLE program. Canadian students from different backgrounds could now have a chance to learn English or French, which would inevitably increase their social and economic advantage and reduce the challenges of monolingualism(Duff & Li, 2009).
As elaborate as the 1971 multiculturalism policy was during its time, it still possessed several shortcomings. First, it was not accepted by the indigenous groups because it ignored local agreements. The policy also initially seemed to strengthen racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and prejudice because it failed to establish a relationship between cultural groups. The programs established under this policy only seemed to touch on basic cultural concepts like food and dressing. However, they failed to address other important aspects of different cultures, such as their history, creating knowledge, and an inclusivity gap (James, 2001).
The official Multiculturalism Act came in 1988 to close the gaps evident in the prior policy. This prompted nationwide action from all states to examine the existing education curriculum. Contemporary multiculturalism educational programs advocated for an appropriate education that would fit the immigrant children’s academic, cultural, and religious needs. As a result, Canada currently has a system in place where all ethnic groups can receive an education based on their cultural needs (Joshee & Johnson, 2005).
Cultural Conflict and Discrimination
Conflicting opinions are bound to arise in a community with robust cultural groups. While policies are only developed to help the government implement equality, cultural acceptance ultimately lies between the different cultural groups. Canada’s education system has had a long history of discriminating against minority groups. In the pre-colonial era, Aboriginal people had their system of educating their children. However, the onset of compulsory education saw children forcefully sent to residential schools for colonial education. American history has well documented African Americans’ slavery and segregation, but little is ever mentioned about black Canadian history. White Canadians often denied black children entry to public schools. This prompted the government to create the School Act in 1850, which permitted the establishment of segregated schools for Black, Chinese and Japanese students (Robson K, 2013).
In the contemporary world, higher education still faces the challenge of social inequality. First-generation students and Aborigins continue to be underrepresented, according to Michalski et al. (2017). In addition, refugees from war-prone regions like Syria are also more likely to face discrimination nationally due to the generally negative view Canadians have on refugee status. Not only do refugee students have to face psychological trauma but also post-migration discrimination from their colleagues, which seems to hurt their academic achievement (Walker & Zuberi, 2020).
As one of the most diverse first-world countries, Canada has evidently taken curated steps to promote cultural diversity and acceptance. Over many years, Canada has adopted numerous policies that have helped shaped establish a semblance of acceptance in today’s higher education institutions. Although the journey from assimilation to multicultural policies show canada’s commitment to eliminate pre-existing cultural conflicts, some of the policies proved more harmful to minority communities. In the contemporary world, Canada may still be implementing more elaborate forms of multiculturalism policies, but many students still face a form of discrimination due to their cultural backgrounds. Cultural conflict will only begin to dissipate when different cultural groups learn to appreciate and accept diversity fully.

Acar, Y. (2013). Diversity and Multicultural Education in Canada. In Aydin H. (ed), Multicultural Education:Diversity, Pluralism, and Democracy: An International Perspective (pp.33-57). Lambert Academic Publishing
Castles, S. & Davidson, A. (2000). Citizenship and migration: Globalization and the politics of belonging. Macmillan.
Duff, P. A.& Li D. (2009). Indigenous, Minority, and Heritage Language Education in Canada: Policies, Contexts, and Issues .Canadian Modern Language Review/ La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes, University of Toronto Press, 66(1)
Ghost, R. & Abdi, A. (2004). Education and the Politics of Difference: Canadian Perspectives. (2nd ed). Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.
Guo, S. & Jamal, Z. 2007. Nurturing Cultural Diversity in Higher Education: A Critical Review of Selected Models. Canadian Journal of Higher Education. 37(3):27-49.
James, C.E. & Wood, M. (2005). Multicultural education in Canada: opportunities, limitations and contradictions. In C. James (ed.), Possibilities and limitations: Multicultural policies and programs in Canada (pp. 93-107). Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
James, C. E. (2001). Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Education in the Canadian Context: The Search for an Inclusive Pedagogy. In Grant, C. and Lei, J. (eds), Global Constructions Of Multicultural Education Theories and Realities (pp.169-201). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.
Joshee R., Johnson L. (2005) Multicultural Education in the United States and Canada: The Importance of National Policies. In: Bascia N., Cumming A., Datnow A., Leithwood K., Livingstone D. (eds) International Handbook of Educational Policy. Springer International Handbooks of Education, vol 13.
Michalski, J., Cunningham, T. & Henry, J. 2017. The Diversity Challenge for Higher Education in Canada: The Prospects and Challenges of Increased Access and Student Success. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 1, (39): Article 11.
Robson, K. (2013) Sociology of Education in Canada. Pearson.
Walker, J. & Zuberi, D. (2020). School-Aged Syrian Refugees Resettling in Canada: Mitigating the Effect of Pre-migration Trauma and Post-migration Discrimination on Academic Achievement and Psychological Well-Being. Int. Migration & Integration, (21): 397–411.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.