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Address diversity

Understanding and providing effective learning support for students with diverse needs is vital if we are to widen participation in tertiary education whilst also enabling all students to achieve their full potential.

What do we mean by diversity?

Diversity literally means 'difference' and in the educational context diversity relates to the differences between Faculty and other staff, between students, and between teachers and students. The reasons for differences are numerous and may include personality, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and so on.

The 'diversity agenda' in education sets out to address issues that lead to inequalities in practice. It has its roots in the legal framework that underpins the provision of equal opportunities and which acknowledges that our social identity impacts on life experiences and opportunities. Equality aims to create a fairer society, where all can participate and have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Part of this involves identifying patterns of experience based on group identity, and challenging processes which limit individuals' potential life chances. The diversity agenda also relates to a wider aspiration to widen participation in education as a whole, reflecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The broad 'diversity agenda' includes consideration of issues relating to gender, race/ethnicity, culture, age, domestic circumstances, prior educational achievement/attainment, sexuality and sensory, psychological or physical disability/impairment. In New Zealand, the specific cultural needs and legal rights of Māori and Pasifika students need to be taken into account.

Teachers need to be aware of the diversity issues that relate to quality teaching practice, benefits for community, law, equal opportunities, human rights, and education. In order to address diversity principles and approaches, we also need to know how to design, deliver and evaluate learning opportunities to help meet the needs of a diverse student body.

Determining learning needs

How do different students learn? Here, we do not just mean how students learn in terms of individual learning styles. We are referring to students' learning patterns and preferences related to their earlier and current educational and cultural backgrounds. 

For example:

  • Different cultures have different perceptions/understandings of the role of teachers and other students with expectations differing accordingly.
  • Students who hold very strong views about race, politics, religion or sexuality may find it difficult to cope with an objective, open discussion or with students who hold opposing views. This may cause potential conflict in the classroom.
  • Other students, because of their domestic circumstances, may find it difficult to study full time or at evenings and weekends.
  • A student with a cognitive impairment such as dyslexia may need additional support with assessments and need to use learning technologies.
  • Students for whom English is a second language might struggle with academic writing around abstract concepts or in engaging in large group discussions.

Colleague's view

Marcus Henning discusses how teachers can help to address diversity in the classroom or clinical environment and meet students' different learning needs

Portfolio Possibilities

Addressing diversity


Do I...

  • Know my responsibilities in terms of addressing my students' needs?
  • Have strategies to cope with the broad range of differences between my students?
  • Know what support is out there for me?

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