Cultural Intelligence: Educating the Individual


Differences are good.

Oppressive ideas and behaviors are not.

-Paulo Freire –

What is Cultural Intelligence?

Cross-cultural competency, or global competency, refers to the traits and habits-of-mind needed to be a responsible global citizen. This includes the development of a coherent understanding of the world and an awareness of one’s own cultural values and biases.  Elements needed for responsible global citizenship are the knowledge, skills, and values that contribute to an individual’s effectiveness in understanding and adapting positively to any culture.

Cultural Intelligence can then be explained as an individual’s ability to recognize and understand the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors of their own culture and the culture of others.

Why is Cultural Intelligence important?

We live in a complex and diverse world. If we expect children to grow up, live, work, and exist in a global society, then we need to develop within them the attitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary for effective living. This includes a self-awareness about one’s personal identity as well as sensitivity and respect for the differences in others.  Cultural Intelligence is necessary, as is Emotional Intelligence, for a child’s success.

Is there a window for developing cultural intelligence–i.e. is this something parents can introduce at a certain time in a child’s development, like during the preschool years or during the teen years?

Research reveals that children begin to form attitudes and construct identity at a very early age. They notice differences and construct classificatory and evaluative categories. Children’s self-concept and attitudes towards others and themselves are influenced by societal stereotyping and bias. For example, racial awareness occurs in the preschool years and children continue to reach a greater understanding around the constructs of race at the ages of 10 or 11, depending on their developmental levels. There is no magic window, but the earlier the better to prevent the need to to unlearn stereotypes and prejudice.

Can you offer tips on building cultural intelligence for parents who live in a fairly homogeneous community without much diversity?

Parents and educators in homogeneous schools or areas, can develop responsible values and attitudes in their children. These include a sense of identity and strong self-esteem, empathy, a commitment to social justice and equity, and a value and respect for diversity. Parents can start by asking children to reflect on and critique their own cultural practices,  and to develop a curiosity about other cultures, examining how false cultural assumptions can damage relationships and inhibit success across cultures. Parents and educators can also investigate the world beyond children’s immediate environment. Also, it is important to help children recognize their own and others’ perspectives and positionality.

Below are a few tips and resources to start the journey:

-Angie Bergeson

Founder, Global Inclusion Network



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