The Future of Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Dealing with Differences in a Multicultural School: the role of the Intercultural ediator. An Example from Trieste, the border Italian city

Melita Richter, Università di Trieste (Italy)


Italy is undergoing radical changes. Until recently, the country was absorbed with debates on regional differences and particularisms which had formed types (and stereotypes) of the confrontation North – South. Nowadays, faced with the phenomenon of a mass immigration, it rises the question of national homogenisation and identity. Isolated but constant, voices appear of endangered “italianity”, threatened by foreigners.

One part of the population houses intolerance and fury towards the other one and the different one, and on that basis several “theoretical” explanations are grafted.

In order to have more success in giving greater value to different cultures, and to “disarm” xenophobia and intolerance, it is necessary to reinforce linguistic skills – Italian as L2 -  of foreign pupils and spread knowledge and notions about different cultures to break down rooted prejudices and stereotypes.

This contribution will focus on methodologies which can enhance the Second Language acquisition and interaction of different cultures in a multicultural classroom. The example will be given of Primary and Secondary multicultural school in Trieste, the border Italian city and the schooling system in general.

School as the institutions have a primary importance not only for their dominant role of shaping of the young, but also as a place where more and more “different”, “coloured” foreigners sit side by side with Italian children, in the same bench. School is therefore the first place where it is not utopic to speak about cultures touching and intertwining. And this is where a new agent appears: the intercultural and linguistic mediator.

The role of the mediator implicitly challenges the elements of ethnocentrism which dominate the national school systems. In his work, the mediator takes advantage of the different origins of students, of their linguistic differences which are experienced both as source (native languages) and target (skills in L2). The topics he promotes transcend national, cultural or linguistic boundaries: his/her topics are recognition of differences, coexistence, active citizenship, human rights... The aims are wider than the only promoting the Second Language acquisition or/and simply assisting integration. 

The school provides the first institutional framework suitable for the promotion of cultural exchanges and an open attitude towards foreigners, both of which are indispensable prerequisites of any cultural dialogue. It is with these objectives that the mediator enters the schoolroom and, in addition to being the protagonist of his own migrant history, becomes the instrument of a better understanding of the multi-layered reality which is not, and cannot be, confined within the only national and monolingual being.

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