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Diversity Competence

Diversity competence is part of the work towards an inclusive school.


  • Identity, Diversity and Belonging
  • Pedagogy and Didactics

To succeed in the work towards an inclusive and liberating school, diversity competence is crucial. In brief, diversity competence involves concrete knowledge about diversity, the application of power-critical perspectives, and an awareness of complexities . Diversity competence also includes an attitudinal dimension . It entails teachers' ability to challenge power structures in society that hinder students from succeeding in their school achievements.

Different understandings of diversity competence

For students, diversity competence can involve the ability to interact with others . It is about participating in processes of change aimed at altering exclusionary practices and discriminatory structures. It also involves the ability and willingness to act in the face of oppression . In this sense, diversity competence is broad, and there is no clear definition of what it is. Rather, there are different perspectives on diversity competence.

For students, diversity competence can involve the ability to interact with others.

The following presents two approaches to diversity competence to contribute to awareness and the development of professional competence in dealing with diversity: an individual-focused diversity competence and a structure-focused diversity competence.

Individual-focused diversity competence

An individual-focused diversity competence starts with the individual and their skills and knowledge This may involve work on individual prejudices or training the ability to interact with others who are different from oneself.

An individual approach to diversity competence focuses on students and how they should be developed and encouraged to be part of society. This means operating within existing structures in a given system. With such a starting point, the system and structures do not necessarily need to change

Skills and the ability to interact with others who are different from oneself are important and can contribute to the existence of diversity in a positive way.

An individual approach to diversity competence can potentially have a transformative effect. Skills and the ability to interact with others who are different from oneself are important and can contribute to the positive existence of diversity. The goal is for students to learn to live together, and an individual approach to diversity competence can contribute to this through recognition and interaction

Individual-focused diversity competence does not necessarily invite scrutiny of societal structures, power relations, and change. An individual approach to diversity competence can, on the one hand, contribute to understanding and changing the individual, leading to changes in attitudes and empowering students. This means that skills and knowledge can help open up the space for action for students.

“Normality” or the “status quo” becomes the goal, rather than expanding the “normal."

On the other hand, an individual approach to diversity competence can be seen in light of a discourse that focuses on the individual and contributes to individual-level change on society's terms. It is about providing students with tools and skills to navigate society. A consequence of this is that “normality” or the "status quo" becomes the goal, rather than expanding the "normal." This can be understood as an adaptive pedagogy , where the purpose of education is to adapt students to society. This challenges and hinders diversity, does not involve change at the societal level, and can contribute to maintaining oppressive, exclusive, and discriminatory practices.

Structure-focused diversity competence

Structure-focused diversity competence involves knowledge of structures and is based on an understanding that knowledge of structures leads to change. The purpose of structure-focused diversity competence is to give students the ability to see structures and, through this, the ability to change society .

The focus shifts from individual attitudes to how, for example, stereotypes or prejudices are maintained and repeated at the societal level.

With this form of diversity competence, the focus is on prejudices, racism, discrimination, and stereotypes at a structural level . In this sense, the focus shifts from individual attitudes to how, for example, stereotypes or prejudices are maintained and repeated at the societal level. This can involve everything from discrimination in the workplace to the portrayal of groups and identities in media, literature, and music. It is also about challenging generalizations and taken-for-granted truths about groups and identities

There are at least two challenges with a structure-focused diversity competence. The first is how we understand oppression, othering, and inequality. Structure-focused diversity competence implies that oppression, othering, and discrimination affect everyone equally . Individuals have different understandings and experiences of oppression. Therefore, a clear structural explanation of oppression may fall short because it cannot explain different experiences . Therefore, an awareness of complexities is important, understanding that oppression and power are fluid and can vary in different situations .

It is not necessarily the case that knowledge of structures leads to action and a willingness to change society.

The second challenge of a clear structure-focused diversity competence is about the goal of change. The idea that knowledge of structures leads to action can be problematic. It is not necessarily the case that knowledge of structures leads to action and a willingness to change society . Knowledge of structures is essential for changing society, but change also requires action competence . This means that students must also have the opportunity to develop action competence. Teaching should provide students with the opportunity to acquire a mindset that enables action. Structurally aware individuals must, therefore, have the ability to develop strategies for action .

Teacher's Reflection

The structure-focused approach has a clearer goal of changing processes in society. The focus is on changing society and structures and not the individual. Education thus aims to change society, as opposed to changing students based on society's terms.

Approaches can be in tension with each other, while education should serve both purposes.

To some extent, the approaches can be in tension with each other, while education should serve both purposes. Here we find ourselves in the tension between what we believe is the purpose of education and how the purpose of education should be reflected in teaching. Because the different approaches have different implications, it is important for teachers to have a conscious relationship with the various approaches to diversity competence and diversity. It can be useful to reflect on the following questions:

  • How do I personally understand diversity?
  • How do I work with diversity and diversity competence in teaching?
  • In what way can I work with diversity on an individual and structure-focused level in teaching? Do I tend to have an individual perspective or a structural perspective more often?
  • What competence do I want students to have after completing their education, and how should I conduct teaching to enable this?
  • How can I, as a teacher, ensure that students have the opportunity to explore the topic through different approaches?

Approaches to Individual-focused Diversity Competence

  • Awareness of personal biases: It can be essential for both students and teachers to become aware of their own biases. Asking questions such as "What biases do we have?" and "Where do these biases come from?" can be crucial. By acknowledging biases and preconceptions, we can also change them.
  • Collaboration as a method: Group work and group exercises where students have the opportunity to practice interacting with others can help develop students' ability to recognize diversity and accept that we are different. Through collaboration, students have the opportunity to express the diversity present in the classroom. This can involve tasks related to diversity themes, and it can also be valuable to engage in exercises to build relationships in the class.
  • Conceptual understanding and knowledge of diversity: It is essential for students to have the opportunity to acquire knowledge about diversity. Both a broad and narrow approach can be useful. Students should develop an understanding of concepts that highlight diversity in society and the nuances within that diversity. One way to do this is to collectively fill in the concept of diversity and also use educational materials where different understandings of diversity are represented.

Approaches to Structure-focused Diversity Competence

  • Knowledge of structures: Knowledge of structures can help students understand how oppression, prejudices, and stereotypes are maintained in society, and how privileges are sustained and reproduced. One approach to this is to demonstrate how societal structures can affect individuals and groups. This can be achieved by using different theoretical perspectives in teaching or by conducting exercises where students have different rules and rights but are required to complete the same task. Afterward, the teacher can raise questions such as "Did everyone have equal opportunities to complete the task?" and "Did the different rules affect the outcome?" The teacher can then connect the exercise to opportunity structures and provide students with knowledge of how structures can affect individuals and groups.
  • Creating new narratives: Discourses and established notions about people and identities can also create oppression and exclusion. This can be challenged and changed by having students participate in knowledge production and creating narratives that do not rely on established stereotypical representations of groups or identities. Teachers and students can engage in thought processes where they wonder how something can be different. This can be done by creating new narratives, thereby changing our understandings and contributing to breaking down notions that perpetuate oppression and exclusion.


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