The significance of multicultural education and its application: interview with Prof. R Hamdani Harahap


Our guest is R Hamdani Harahap, Professor in Social and Political Science at University of North Sumatera, Medan, Indonesia. He has been a lecturer in Department of Anthropology from 1989, now he is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Science. He graduated from University of North Sumatera in the Faculty of Anthropology, Post-graduated from Bogor Agricultural Institute and Ph.D. from University of North Sumatera. He has published 6 books and 14 articles. One of his books, entitled “Ethnography of Coffee”, has been published by USU Press, Medan. Some of his articles have been published in Wawasan Jurnal Ilmu-Ilmu Sosial such as “The Relationship of Intertribal in Phralistic Society” (Vol.8 No.1 in 2001), “Local Initiatives, Decentralization and Regional Development” (Vol.9 No.3 in 2002), and “Boarding School: Education Alternative in Globalization Era” (Vol.10 No.3 in 2003). He has also attended some activities of Scientific Meeting as Asian University President Forum on Transculural Challenges for Innovation in Higher Education at Christian University of Thailand, and FORUM University Malaya – USU in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a speaker.   


  1. What is the meaning and your perception of multicultural education?

There are three terms that need to be differentiated, they are plurality, diversity and multicultural. The three expressions do not represent the same things, even though they refer to ‘togetherness’. The concept of plurality shows the existence of ‘the things that are more than one‘ (many). Diversity shows that the existence of ‘the different things that are more than one, heterogeneous, and even cannot be equated’. Compared to the two previous concepts, multiculturalism is actually relatively new. Conceptually, there is a significant difference between plurality, diversity, and multiculturalism. The essence of multiculturalism is the willingness to accept other groups together as a whole, regardless of cultural differences, ethnicity, gender, language, or religion.

If a plurality only represents pluralism (more than one), multiculturalism confirms that all the differences, they are the same in the public space. Multiculturalism is a sort of a new policy which responses to diversity. In other words, the existence of different communities is not enough; the most important reason is that those communities are treated equally by the state. Therefore, multiculturalism is a movement demanding recognition (politics of recognition) against all the difference as entities in society that its existences should be accepted, respected, protected and guaranteed.

The initial idea of multiculturalism was the political idea that evolved in other disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, culture and others. The idea is influenced by postulation that culture in society is essentially different, and requires the third thing, namely the recognition of cultural differences by all forms of socio-cultural elements, including the state. Diversity in modern society can mean many things, including differences that naturally are received by individuals or groups and are constructed together and become a kind of common sense. Simply, multiculturalism can be understood as the recognition that a country or society is diverse.

Multiculturalism Education is a set of special material that is used for learning. Education for multiculturalism recognizes diversity both horizontally – as culture, race, religion, gender and sex, language area, geography – and vertically such as social and economic fabric, housing, employment, and social and cultural level. Multicultural education means learning about a different culture or learning to be two cultures. Multicultural education is an approach that uses a multicultural viewpoint. The curriculum of multicultural education should include subjects such as: tolerance, themes of ethno-cultural differences, and religion; the backwards of discrimination and sectarianism; conflict resolution and mediation; human beings; democracy and plurality; universal humanity and other subjects that are relevant.

I think multiculturalism in Indonesian education is a necessity, because Indonesia is a plural country. Education of multiculturalism must strive to be implemented in Indonesia, because of the unmanaged differences that would lead to conflict and disintegration.


  1. What do you think is the significance of multicultural education?

In my view, the benefits of multicultural education are:
a. Establish peace
b. Conflict Resolution Alternative
c. Respect the differences
d. Eliminate prejudice, stereotype
e. Sustaine cultural roots
f. Be the cornerstone of the national curriculum development


  1. What is the nature of students and the learning process, and how should learning experiences and relationships be organized?

Naturally, the students who come from a homogeneous religious, ethnic, social, and economic stratification, will be comfortable with the learning system which is also exclusive, homogenous, and comes from one ethnicity, religion and race, as well as social stratification and the same economy. For example, students who come from the cultural area of Batak Toba and are Christian, will be comfortable when receiving the learning environment and curriculum lectures that come from Toba Batak Christian too. Similarly, students who come from Javanese and domiciled in Central Java will be difficult to receive the heterogeneous of Medan City. As a result, the learning process follows the conditions of homogeneous local communities, so that the academic climate runs without a lot of criticism and progress.


  1. Could you tell us about the transformations of multicultural educators’ practice—like the sorts of things they should be doing in classrooms?

Educators in practices should act as below:

  1. Team working promotes appreciation of difference. It means that students in a class are different; they have to work in the same group which will accustom them to appreciate the difference.
  2. Train students should more critical, help each other in different religious activities. The practice of educators in multicultural education should allow the students to be critical but mutual in the fine differences of ethnicity, culture or religion.
  3. Active learning (student-centered). The practice of educators in multicultural education should give attention to active student and activity center is located in student, educator is facilitator only.
  4. Interdisciplinary lifestyle, that is to say living in different environments. The necessity of adopting the curriculum of different disciplines  means that all disciplines are interrelated.
  5. Egalitarian is not feudal. While implementing this strategy, educators must also assume an egalitarian attitude which is not sectarian and feudal so as not to cause the distance between student and educator in the learning process.

In addition, they should consider other approaches such as:

  1. Historical approach

This approach assumes that learners are taught to look back to the past. It means that learners have a complete frame up to the past, in order to reflect on the present or future. Thus, the material being taught can be viewed in a critical and dynamic way.

  1. Sociological approach

This approach presupposes the process of contextualization on what has happened in the past or on the arrival in the past. With this approach, the material being taught can be current, not as far-fetched, but always in accordance with the dynamics. This approach can be combined with the second method, the method of enrichment.

  1. Cultural approach

This approach emphasizes the authenticity and evolved tradition. The learner can see which traditions are authentic and which are not. Consequently, learners can also find out where the the Arab and Islamic traditions came from, as well as the Javanese tradition.

  1. Psychological approach

This approach tries to pay attention to psychological situation individually and independently. It means that each learner should be seen as an independent and unique human character. This approach allows a learner to be smart and clever.

  1. Aesthetic approach

Aesthetic approach basically teaches learners to be polite and courteous, peaceful, friendly. Educators also must love the students as creatures of God, who are different from each other. Thus, this approach needs to appreciate all the symptoms that occur in the community by seeing it as part of the dynamics of the artistic and aesthetic.

  1. Gender approach

This approach tries to raise awareness to the learners who are not sexist because basically sex is nothing that prevents someone to achieve success. With this approach, all forms of social construction in the school stating that women are under men can be eliminated. This approach can at least understand that what is portrayed by the women and men today is socially constructed.

These approaches allow the creation of this very multicultural awareness in education and culture. They, of course, do not rule out the possibility of other approaches, in addition to the six approaches above-mentioned, it is possible to apply for the realization of multicultural education in Indonesia.


  1. What are the perceptions of teacher candidates regarding multicultural education?

The perception of prospective educators to multiculturalism education:

  1. no a priori
  2. receive and
  3. They must have the egalitarian attitude, respect for differences, not racist, not feudal.

In addition, learners must also have the following characteristics, namely:

  1. Learners are being empowered, self-sufficient and independent meaning that they are in a state of helplessness to use the ability, willingness, and so on.
  2. Learners have a desire to grow toward adulthood.
  3. Learners have different backgrounds.
  4. Learners conduct the exploration of the natural surroundings with the potential of individually-owned basis.
  5. In a multicultural education program, the focus is no longer directed solely to the racial group, religion and the dominant or mainstream culture. In a theoretical context, learning from models of multicultural education that was and is being implemented by the developed countries, known as the five approaches: firstly, education regards cultural diversity or multiculturalism. Secondly, education regards cultural differences or culture understanding. Thirdly, education regards cultural pluralism. Fourthly, double cultural education. Fifthly, multicultural education is a human moral experience.


  1. Please tell us about multicultural education. How did you get involved? Please describe your commitment to multicultural education (racially, culturally, and socioeconomically).

Multicultural education has a view to recognize that human life has a diverse culture with uniqueness, and that diversity is a necessity that cannot be denied, driven by human rights, globalization and democratization. My involvement began through the study Anthropology at North Sumatra University. As an anthropologist I conduct a study on ethnic communities, the majority community. I appreciate minorities, analyze dominant and non-dominant cultures. Ideology of anthropologists is multiculturalism itself.

So far, my role is preventing ethnocentrism, xenophobia and and the realization of a monoculture, review and disseminate social capital, local wisdom in order to avoid arbitrariness. Anthropologists are taught to acknowledge differences and it has become a way of living anywhere and anytime.


  1. What are your views about reflections of multicultural education on social life?

Multicultural education strengthens the Islamic philosophy which appreciates the multiculture, as enshrined in the Holy Qur’an Al-Hujurat verses: 9-13 and Al-Anbiya verse 107 which describe the nature of man created male and female, nations and tribes in order to know and respect each other. Islam is a religion that teaches universal values with the aim to give mercy to the worlds, (rahmatan lil’alamin) so that there are several verses of Quran which teaches about peace, love, respect differences, and so on. In Islam, it is forbidden to be extreme (Ghulaw), oppress (Zhalim), arbitrary and exceed the limit. Conversely, Islam asks people to apply common courtesy, tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion. Similarly, in Rasul hadith which means: “Give to eat (people in need), spread peace, connect to the relationship, do prayers at night, when people are sleeping, you will enter Paradise (Reported by ibn Hibban). Another hadith stated “People who are loving person will be loved by the Merciful. Love everything on earth, then you will be loved by the sky” (HR. Bukhari).


  1. What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements? Why?

My greatest effort in a multicultural context is to create a Foundation with regard to the education of multiculturalism. I currently have a foundation on education based on multiculturalism. I gather people, especially students who come from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups, because multicultural education is a necessity for the pluralism of Indonesian society, for the heterogeneous province of North Sumatra and for the plurality in the city of Medan. My expectation is that every student who gathers and obtains informal education in the trust will be driving multicultural education elsewhere. Besides establishing my foundation, I also provide teaching on Social Anthropology to students which base material presented is multiculturalism.


      Interviewers: Dr. Alessio Stilo

IMN Country Representative in Italy


Dr. Saiful Anwar Matondang

IMN Country Representative in Indonesia

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