Scholarly article on topic 'Storytelling: program for multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students'

Storytelling: program for multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Doungmani Chongruksa, Penprapa Prinyapol, Yuhamasaulaet Wadeng, Chaiwat Padungpong

Abstract The current unrest in Thailand's four southernmost provinces has widened the gap of mistrust and prejudice between Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims. This study examined the efficacy of storytelling on multicultural understanding and respect among students of the two ethnic groups. The authors hypothesized that the strategic storytelling program, which incorporated non-prejudice and intergroup contact factors, would foster multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students. The results supported the hypothesis. Implementation is illustrated as well as discussion and limitations.

Academic research paper on topic "Storytelling: program for multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students"

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V ScienceDirect Procedia

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 5 (2010) 282-288


Storytelling: program for multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students

Doungmani Chongruksaa *, Penprapa Prinyapola, Yuhamasaulaet Wadengb,

Chaiwat Padungponga

aPrince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus, Pattani 94000, Thailand cSatreeislamyala School, Yala 95000, Thailand

Received January 14, 2010; revised February 27, 2010; accepted March 23, 2010


The current unrest in Thailand's four southernmost provinces has widened the gap of mistrust and prejudice between Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims. This study examined the efficacy of storytelling on multicultural understanding and respect among students of the two ethnic groups. The authors hypothesized that the strategic storytelling program, which incorporated non-prejudice and intergroup contact factors, would foster multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and ThaiMuslim students. The results supported the hypothesis. Implementation is illustrated as well as discussion and limitations. ©2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Storytelling, multicultural understanding, multicultural respect, Thai- Buddhist, Thai-Muslim, students.

1. Introduction

In southernmost Thailand, where daily violence between Thais and predominant Muslims has escalated since 2004, reducing violence and bringing harmony has become Thailand's national policy. The goal has been to bring peace back and to re-establish a better quality of life by raising psychological well being, academic achievement, gross incomes and community safety. Our study of elementary school students is a small part of many research studies supported by governmental funds that search for solutions to the unrest in southernmost Thailand. Around the world, schools are a microcosm of a larger society where tensions between different ethnic groups may be unavoidable, and counsellors have responsibility to create communities of peace (Adams et. al, 2003). By using storytelling techniques designed to modify current values and attitudes and to develop skills necessary for intergroup contact, counsellors in this study aimed to reduce prejudices, foster tolerance and enhance multicultural respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students (Ozdamli, 2009). We hypothesized that the storytelling program would increase multicultural awareness and diversity respect among the two ethnic groups. In as much as many educators are not comfortable addressing cross cultural conflicts (Pelties, 1998), we believed that counsellors who are more familiar with prejudice reduction intervention could provide assistance to guidance teachers in designing storytelling plans to achieve the goal. Therefore, incorporating the components of non-prejudiced and intergroup

* Doungmani Chongruksa. Tel.: + 66-86-498-0559; fax:+66-73-337-385. E-mail address: .

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.07.089

contact in the guidance classroom into storytelling takes joint responsibilities between counselling psychologists and guidance teachers.

2. Theoretical and empirical findings

2.1 Prejudice reduction

We reviewed research on prejudice, intergroup contact and found that tolerant persons had mental structures that were flexible and could hold ambiguity (Allport, 1954). Also, an unprejudiced person had the ability to perceive similarities as well as differences between people instead of merely categorizing or focusing on the differences that is a central factor in the development of stereotypes (Willaims, 2001). Next, in cross cultural relationships, successful intergroup contact worked best when members developed empathy and learned to take the perspective of others (Stephan & Finlay, 1999). Other factors involved in prejudice reduction were self-esteem and appreciation for other's cultures in addition to their own (Groos, 1996). Another element in unprejudiced people was ethnic identity. As individuals progress toward positive ethnic identities, they are more likely to accept people from other ethnicities (Phinney et al., 2007). In others words, one needs to have a sense of one's ethnic identity before one learns to appreciate other ethnic cultures (Ponterotto & Pedersen, 1993). In addition, democratic values such as human rights, equality, justice and dignity can promote positive attitudes toward tolerance, respect, and cultural appreciation (Dale, 1998). Lastly, primary conditions for effective contact were ongoing personal interactions between both groups and cooperative settings where both groups worked toward a common goal and shared interests (Amir, 1976; McGlothlin, 2004).

2.2 Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful resource for children to develop an understanding for people who are different from them (McGarvey, 1999). As an educational tool, storytelling allows children to discover a diversity of characters with various cultural backgrounds in order to have a better understanding of racial and ethnic diversity. Storytelling can also cultivate the feeling of empathy as well as shape a strong sense of self and self-esteem (McGarvey, 1999). In addition, storytelling can fulfil children's need for fun and joy while simultaneously expanding awareness and knowledge of diversity. In summary, storytelling helps break down cultural barriers while building bridges to understanding.

There are guidelines for how to use storytelling in the classroom. According to Gere et al. (2002), teachers should select stories that are easily learned. Next, teachers should begin with personal tales before moving on to short stories. In addition, teachers are advised to briefly introduce the exercise along with the concept of storytelling. Most importantly, teachers should encourage students to share personal stories of real life experiences with the class.

3. Program Procedure

We selected a municipal school in district 2 in the province of Pattani because there is a relatively proportional enrollment of Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims compared to the other 4 municipal schools in Pattani where student enrollments are predominantly Thai-Buddhists or Thai-Muslims. We proposed our research project to the school principal and received good cooperation from the school. The teacher who was responsible for guidance hours was willing to use our intervention of storytelling. The storytelling units were conducted for 18 sessions, each lasting 50 minutes. We included 19 multicultural stories (7 Thai-Muslims, 8 Thai-Buddhists and 4 universals) along with parallel cultural information of both ethnic groups. Participants were 54 (38 Thai-Buddhists and 16 Thai-Muslims) 6th grade students in their first semester, of whom mostly came from low economic and socially disadvantaged families. Students were randomly assigned into the control and the experimental groups and given tests before and after the study was completed. The experimental group attended 18 storytelling units while the control group participated in regular guidance hours. Both groups were conducted by the same team consisting of a guidance teacher as the group leader and the two authors, the counselling psychologists as teaching assistants. Consent was given from participants and their parents.

3.1 Program instruments

Multicultural understanding and respect were two major dependent variables measured by a multicultural awareness questionnaire and the multicultural respect scale that were developed by D. Chongruksa and P. Prinyapol (2006). The multicultural awareness questionnaire is a measure of knowledge in Thai and Muslim cultures reflecting from informational handouts given to students after the conclusion of the study. The scale has 35 items with 4 multiple choices answers and includes 7 cultural dimensions: language, religion, dress, New year festival and holidays, food celebrations and historical sites. The objective index of consistency of items was derived from 3 Buddhist and 3 Muslim educators. The 45 items were administered to students, and 35 were selected with difficulty index between 0.20- 0.80 and discrimination more than 0.20. The reliability of the scale is 0.91 (Kuder-Richardson). The second instrument is the multicultural respect scale which is a likert-type measurement of attitude and behavioral expression based on 4 categories: strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree. The scale has two parallel versions for Thais and Muslims and consists of 7 dimensions: (1) language (e.g. "You want to learn Thai (Malayu/Yawi) language"; (2) religion (e.g. "Sound of monks, chanting/Islamic praying is disturbing to hear"; (3) food (e.g. "Pork/Beef is suitable to be prepared for food"; (4) ethnic acceptance (e.g. "You feel comfortable if new neighbours move next to you are Thais/Muslims"; (5) competence (e.g. "Thai/Muslim students are good at school"; (6) Traditional participation (e.g. "Thais can join the celebration of Harerayaw day (Muslim New Year)" or "Muslims can join Song Klan day (Traditional Thai New Year: water splashing tradition)"; (7) Ways of life (e.g. "Thais/Muslims prefer to solve problems peacefully." This scale has demonstrated reliability of 0.80 (Cronbach's alpha) and obtained face validity for objective index of consistency of items derived from 3 Buddhists and 3Muslim educators.

3.2 Treatment

Moving from storytelling to the goal of increasing multicultural understanding and respect is a more complex process because we needed to incorporate non-prejudice and intergroup contact factors in the process of story selection and classroom activities. In order to begin, we needed to gain a general knowledge of how to select appropriate stories to tell. We reviewed Lenox (2002) and decided to follow his guidelines. First, he suggested selection of stories that recognize and acknowledge unique tradition, customs, and beliefs of various ethnic and racial groups. We then searched for stories and selected Ami's teaching, Abu, Tongue and Daddy's coconut shell for Thai participants and Three women and Mr. Aai never dies for Muslim participants because they were good examples of stories where participants can learn the customs, values and beliefs of the other ethnic group. Secondly, Lenox suggested the selection of a story that has a well-developed plot, believable characters, and the use of humour, drama and imagination. For example, the story of Moody rich man brought humour because a rich man had his subordinates paint everything in the village green so he would see things green in order to cure his bad temper. We also thought of questions to make participants aware of their empathic understanding.

In addition to Lenox's guidelines for story selection, we took non-prejudiced components and intergroup contact factors into full consideration. That is, the stories that we selected needed to meet the two major criteria of general story selection proposed by Lenox in addition to being consonant with non-prejudiced components and intergroup contact factors. Therefore, the selected stories needed to display the lesson learned from categorization, self & ethnic identity, empathy, patience, as well as justice and dignity value. Here is an example of a story "Abu at the wedding" that reflects some of those aspects.

Abu was a poor man. One day there was a wedding feast of the rich in the village but he was not invited. He went to the dinner feast because he knew the bride. However, he was refused into the house. "Your dress looks poor although it is clean. For the dinner reception, only people with expensive clothes are welcome," said the Bride's father. He was very sad. Abu walked back to find new expensive clothes to wear. He came back to the house and was welcomed. At the dinner table, while everyone was eating, Abu instead stuffed food in his shoes and clothes. "Why do you do that?" surprised asked a bride. Abu responded, "Your father welcomed me to your wedding because of these expensive wearing so I figured my clothes deserved to eat as well."

From hundred of stories reviewed, we finally selected 18 stories, 7 Muslim and 8 Thai stories and 3 universals. Then we proceeded to select informational sheets of Thai and Muslim culture that were to be used in adjunct to each story told. For example, if a story involves a small boy and his son, cultural information about birth names would be selected to read after students finished the story's activities. After the selection of stories and cultural informational sheets, the story units were designed (Table 1). There were 18 units with each unit covering themes, learning

4. Table

Tablel Overview of Storytelling Units

Unit_Storytelling_Unit name / Story theme_Objectives_

1. 1. Hill myna who forget Self and cultural identity/ Increase cultural identity and

homeland** Losing cultural identity bring alienation. cultural appreciation.

2. Local dialect***

1. Intellectual ant**

2. Neighbor laboring festivals**

Smart "We" / Blindly "Togetherness" cause disaster.

Learn not to categorization.

1. Ami's teaching*

2. Faith ***

Different trees/ Peaceful living with those differences requires listening, patience.

Learn the values of listening more and talking less.

1. Lesson from herd**

2. Beliefs***

Self-centered/ Without someone's sacrifice, no one will gain.

Learn the values of giving.

1. Abu at the wedding*

2. Wedding ; costumes *

Non-violent retaliation/ It's smart to fight discrimination with intellectual approach.

To have empathic understanding for the outgroup.

1. Three women**! Tongue*

2. food***

Distorted information/ Words from mouth produce best and worst information.

Compare Thai and Muslim values on speaking nice thing; dispelling lie.

1. Daddy's coconut shell*

2. Naming children***

Vicarious learning/ Children learn from adults; if adults misbehave, they would do so.

Compare characters of misbehavior towards parents among students to increase self awareness.

1. Moody rich man*

2. Birth ceremony**

Seeing green/ Our affect and emotion is a consequence of our thoughts

Learn the modification of thinking in order to change emotion.

1. Father and son*

2. Birth ceremony*

Positive thinking/ Thoughts, emotion and behavior are related.

Compare Thai and Muslim similarity on learning to think well.

10. 1. Mr Aai never dies**

2. Cemetery ceremony*

Explanation of natural phenomenon/ Thai myth why python has no venom.

Increase imagination and creativity thinking.

11. 1. Limgorneu-cemetery**

2. Kurset mosque*

Historical sites /Story of Limgornue and her Chinese brother who built Kurset mosque while she became goddess after dying.

Compare historical stories from Thai and Muslim versions so as to develop perspective thinking and complexed cognitions.

12-13 1. Three friends**, smart squirrel

and nice rabbitsD, three miceD, king of forestD, Munso* 2. Religion principle***

Five short stories reflecting values of sharing hardships,owning strength, leadership, unity, keeping good memory while forgetting bad ones.

Increase interdependent skills from jigsaw cooperative learning.

14-15 Stories from family


Increase family relationship and students' self esteem.

16-18 Writing story, puppet theatre

Harmony, conflict management, reconciliation, friendships.

To affirm students' achievement.

1= a storytelling 2.= a cultural information * = Muslim ** = Thai *** = Thai and Muslim □ = universal; The objectives of cultural understanding on 2 are not written in the table due to limited of space.

objectives, classroom activities, resource aids, classroom measurement and evaluation. We invited 5 educators (3 Muslims and 2 Thais) to evaluate the details of each storytelling plan.

5. Outcome

To determine the effect of the storytelling program on the control and experimental groups, t-tests were used to compare the pre-test and the post-test scores of both multicultural understanding and respect variables. Before the intervention, independent t-test showed no difference between groups on both scores (t= -.416, df=53; t= -.313, df= 53) but after the program it displayed a significant difference (t= 130.244*, df=53, p < .001; t= 18.323*, df=53, p < .001). When the paired t-test were compared between groups, the experimental group was found to have a significant increase in multicultural understanding (t= -.11.140*, df=26, p < .001) and multicultural respect ( t= -3.96* , df=26, p < .001) while the control group showed no significant improvement (t=-1.896, df=26; t= -1.623, df=26). The quantitative findings were further supported by the qualitative data obtained from the 5 groups of storytelling and the displayed themes of multicultural friendships, conflict management, conciliation, and living in harmony.

6. Discussion

The impact of the storytelling program on ethnic understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhists and Thai Muslims was substantially evident. The participants increased their scores on multicultural awareness and diversity respect significantly. They also displayed the development of multicultural understanding and respect through their 5 colourful group storytelling books and told their constructed stories through a puppet theatre performance. We believe that this program was beneficial because of at least four reasons:

First, the appropriate stories were selected on the theoretical base of storytelling and nonprejudice, as was previously mentioned. We selected stories of Munso, Father and son, Ami's teaching, Abu, Tongue, and Daddy's coconut shell, which acknowledge values, customs, traditions and beliefs of Thai and Muslims. For example, the story content in Abu at the wedding and Ami's teaching displayed appropriate attitudes of equity and justice (Lenox,2002). Moody rich man stories carry themes of conciliatory management and positive thinking (Dale, 1998).

Secondly, we successfully engaged students in comprehension of values and themes in stories by using three types of connections with texts suggested by Keene and Zimmerman (1997). The first type was text-to text connection that involved comparing and contrasting stories that were told. For example, we asked students to compare The Three Women (a Thai Buddhist's story) with The Tongue (a Muslim's story). Although the stories had different plots, students found a similarity from the stories in that both cultures dispel those who lie. The second type of connection was text-to-self connections that involved relating aspects of the story to a student's own feelings or behaviour. In the story Abu at the wedding, we asked students how they felt if they were treated like Abu. Could they tell their stories of having been rejected, and how would they have dealt with the situation? By actively engaging the students with the stories, we believed participants developed more empathy and understanding from text-to-self connection. The third type connection suggested by Keen and Zimmerman was a text-to-world connection that required students to relate aspects of story to life and surroundings in their own culture. In the story Hill mynas who forgot homeland, a flock of hill mynas were adopted by wild animals in the forest and learned to speak his/her adopter's language so well that they could hardly speak their own language. We asked students to give examples of Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims who seemed to lack their identity. Could they give reasons why people shouldn't lose their identity like the hill mynas did by losing the ability to speak their own language? These probing questions made participants recognize and more aware of cultural identity as an important factor for multicultural competence (Banks and Banks, 2006).

Third, we developed activities of cooperative learning and perspective takings, which are important for effective interracial contact (Byrnes, 1998; Gaertner et al, 1999). Also, the process of recategorization occurred due to the activities of cooperation in answering questions as well as constructing group storytelling. The contact under

recategorization moderated non-prejudice (Pettigrew, 1998; Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Crisp et al., 2006). Both Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Muslims had recategorized to "We" group.

Fourth, we used the text or content of the story as a guideline to select cultural information. For example, if the story had a character who was a religious leader, the sheet on principle of Muslim and Buddhist religion would be handed to students to read and answer short questions. This approach was considered as an indirect way to learn cultures and develop cultural appreciation. Overall, the cultural knowledge was on language, food, dress, New Year festival and holidays, celebrations, religion and historical sites.

The limitations of this study lie on the quantitative evaluation of participants' multicultural understanding and respect. We expect to further develop the scales to obtain a standardized validity. Also, the program cannot answer the retention time for students' acquiring multicultural understanding and respect since we cannot predict confounding variables.

7. Conclusion

This study demonstrated that storytelling program is an effective, culturally relevant school-based intervention in enhancing the multicultural understanding and respect among Thai-Buddhist and Thai-Muslim students. The clear success of the program was due to 1) the appropriate selection of relative parallel themes of Thai-Buddhist and ThaiMuslim stories; 2) the design of classroom activities that focus on non-prejudiced factors: cooperative learning , mutual goals, perceiving similarities rather than differences, cultural identity and appreciation, self awareness and self-esteem, empathetic understanding, and complex cognitions; 3) the democratic attitudes of respect and equity of counseling psychologists and a guidance teacher while conducting the experiment.


This project is supported by grants from The Institute of Research and Development for Health of Southern, Thailand (No.RDG4980804). We also thank Professor Dr. Donna Davenport for editing this paper and making suggestion.


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