Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 28

28     THE INTERCULTURAL CHALLENGES OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN A GREENLANDIC CONTEXT Kåre Hendriksen & Hans Peter Christensen Greenland is a modern society with Self Governance, but only half a century ago it was primarily a fishing and hunting society governed as a colony by a Danish elite. The rapid changes have left Greenland with many social problems, and compared to Western Europe relatively few finish education beyond public school. Since 2001 the Technical University of Denmark has offered a study program in Arctic Engineering primarily targeted at Greenlandic youth, but also students from, for example, Denmark, where the first three semesters are finished in Greenland. There are two main objectives for this program: to educate professionals with a deep understanding of the Arctic, and to give the Greenlandic youth a better chance of getting a higher education. To align the teaching philosophy with the Greenlandic students’ cultural background, the curriculum structure has large interdisciplinary courses based on authentic local cases and intercultural group work. This paper will focus on the challenges caused by many of the Greenlandic students’ weak academic preparation, and the fact that the cultural background embedded in the Greenlandic language can make it very difficult to comprehend topics at an abstract level. Additionally, the group work and the class teaching are challenging due to the culturally-based reticence and conflict-averse nature of many of the Greenlandic students, which gives the Danish students a dominant position. This often creates a negative spiral, where many Greenlandic students tend to withdraw from discussions, which are an important part of the education. The paper will discuss our experiences with handling these challenges. Background Up until World War II, the Danish Greenland administration tried to keep Greenland a closed country out of a desire that the Greenlandic population, unlike a number of other Indigenous groups, should have a calm and gradual transition from a nomadic fishing and hunting society to a more modern society. Additionally, a major contributory factor was a desire to reduce the Danish costs of operating a colony (Bang 1940; Grønlandskommissionen 1950; Lidegaard 1961; Hendriksen 2013). Through the colonial period from the mid 18th century, the Danish administration prioritized education of Inuit children at all permanent settlements. In most places, the teaching was handled by Kåre Hendriksen and Hans Peter Christensen are both Associate Professors at the Arctic Technology Centre, Technical University of Denmark.