Based on the idea that students who are raised in different cultural settings may approach education and learn in different ways, the cultural difference theory stresses that it is important for teachers to be aware of the difference between the school atmosphere and the home environment. People from different cultural traditions may have an approach to education that differs from the mainstream approach used in American schools. For instance, in the Polynesian concept of learning, younger children are generally taught by older children rather than by adult.
This is a very different approach to learning, and one that teachers may need to consider in an American school that is attended by Polynesian students. A good reason for seeking out and acknowledging cultural differences among students is related to Piaget’s notions that learning involves transfer of information from prior knowledge and experiences. To facilitate this transfer process, it is important to acknowledge the students’ background and to validate and incorporate their previous knowledge into the process of acquiring new information.
All students begin school with a framework of skills and information based in their home cultures. This may include a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet, numbers, computer functions, some basic knowledge of a second language, or the ability to spell and write their names. It also includes a set of habits, etiquette, and social expectations derived from the home.
If students can’t relate new information to their own experiences, or connect the new material to a familiar concept, they may perceive the new information as frustrating or difficult or may dismiss it completely, believing it to be in conflict with their already tenuous understanding of the world.