The objective of this study was to evaluate teachers’ opinions on the use of PLE in the development of students’ intercultural competences. Subsequent to the analysis carried out, the results generally show that the teaching staff consider the benefits of using these tools and strategies for students’ intercultural development, this being in line with the opinions of teachers collected in previous studies [51
]. More specifically, they highlight the ability of the PLE to generate intercultural learning communities in which the students interact by exchanging lessons and experiences. This situation favors the students’ intercultural competences, as they acquire important intercultural knowledge [54
]. In this direction, and just as Hue and Kennedy [56
] affirmed, teachers must connect the minority to the majority, in order to tackle cultural diversity in a positive way in the classroom. In addition, the teachers believe these communities improve their students’ intercultural education through active construction of learning [57
], and this allows the creation of different work groups, which is a relevant fact for encouraging students to learn in groups or individually [58
The teachers also believe that another important benefit from the use of these environments is the acquisition of values such as respect, tolerance, empathy, and integration, which are fundamental in the intercultural education of the students [61
]. To put the underlying attitudes into practice for these values is also a necessary situation for the individuals to be culturally competent in intercultural meetings [65
], since as stated by Sreekumar and Varman [66
], the education in values, focused in intercultural situations where two or more diverse groups and their individual members have contact, will lead to changes in their values and in the behaviors related to these values, through the phenomenon of acculturation.
Nevertheless, some of these teachers admit they do not use PLE, or do so inappropriately in their classrooms, and, in accordance with previous studies [37
], without sufficient training to use them. In this situation, it is necessary to train the teaching staff for them to integrate the PLE into the everyday dynamic of their classroom, preparing them for the appropriate use of strategies and techniques [69
]. With regard to this, He, Lundgren, and Pynes [36
] consider that a good way to train teaching staff is through intercultural immersion programs. Presently, this is not carried out in the schools that were assessed, and this is mainly because the current education laws [26
] do not reflect intercultural education in the curriculum, as it is not considered to be a priority for the teachers to be trained for this in these schools [71
In addition, it is important to take into account that knowing is not the same as doing [70
] in the application of PLE. This aspect, which also reflects on some of the teachers’ opinions and coincides with the results of other investigations [68
], affirms that the theoretical aspects of the PLE are known, but they do not feel motivated or prepared to apply them in their classrooms, and even less so to use them in the education of the students’ intercultural competences. Taking into account what was mentioned earlier, Spanish legislation leaves it up to the interest of the teacher to apply intercultural education in the everyday dynamic of their classrooms [27
]. This fact, plus the lack of time, resources, or suitable contexts for the use of certain PLE stand out as the main causes for the lack of interest of teachers’ who thought they were demotivated and incapacitated. For these teachers, sociocultural diversity is accepted as a positive phenomenon that can contribute to the learning process in a constructive way. However, these ideological principles are far from being applied consistently, both in theory and in educational practice [72
]. If in educational institutions, teachers are not able to consider, in a pedagogical and sociological sense, their intercultural practice and build a critical view of themselves, students in classrooms with cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity can see their intercultural competence affected [73
In short, a need is identified in the results obtained for carrying out further investigations along lines that allow the training, preparation and motivation of teachers through educational interventions as they claimed to feel uninformed or demotivated for the phase of Compulsory Secondary Education. These investigations/actions must show the teaching staff the need to significantly integrate cultural experiences into their classrooms with activities on reflection, analysis, and collaboration, as well as to promote curricular innovation in a way that the cultural diversity of the enrolled students is taken into account [74
]. In order to do this, suitable PLE have to be used that encourage experiences, feelings, or values related to the diversity of their students [75
After completing the analysis of the teachers’ opinions on the use of PLE for students’ intercultural competences, the conclusions focus on two important aspects: the teachers’ answers, and what the researchers discovered.
By analyzing the teachers’ opinions, it is clear that they are generally aware of the benefits that the use of PLE can provide towards their students’ intercultural education. For example, most of the interviewees believe that the use of learning tools and strategies improve their students’ education, the intercultural development of their education, and the establishment of intercultural communities in their classroom. In this way, the use of PLE for interaction and reflection involves communal areas, websites, videos, educational platforms, apps, or traditional games which are considered as mediums by teachers to encourage intercultural social interactions in their classrooms, the exchange of information in various contexts, and the creation of new cultural experiences for their students.
Furthermore, teachers also believe the tools and strategies used to access information and for reflection, such as documentaries, social networks, school planners, blogs, series, articles for reflection and debates, improve reciprocal learning between different students and student learning itself regarding intercultural aspects and the training. Consequently, teachers consider that these tools allow access to information in a quicker way, and in real-time.
The benefits for the students are increased by the teachers’ opinions linking the use of the aforementioned tools and strategies with the improvement of the intercultural development of the students, acquiring values such as integration, respect, tolerance, and empathy towards people from different cultures and developing a critical attitude which, according to the teachers, often transforms into a positive one after an intercultural connection is established.
On the other hand, even taking into account the positive influence that PLE have on their students’ education regarding intercultural competences, some teachers’ opinions show a lack of their ability when it comes to applying them in their classrooms, which is most of all due to a lack of appropriate training on the subject. In relation to this, the teachers’ opinions reflect that they either do not define the concept of PLE well, or they have no knowledge of them. Furthermore, they attribute a lack of time for training and the use of a curriculum that does not take intercultural competences into account, nor the use of the PLE, as the main reasons for their disinformation. On some occasions, this disinformation results in an inappropriate use of PLE in the classroom, or their use is delegated to other areas of the educational institution, such as the school’s Psychopedagogical Guidance Department.
The inapplicability of PLE is also reflected in the opinions of some teachers who complain about the lack of personal resources and materials available, the bad spatial and temporal organization of their classrooms and the lack of support from the institutions and the education law that makes the education of intercultural competences difficult for students through the use of specific tools and strategies.
Lastly, with regard to the teachers’ opinions, it is worth highlighting those that reflect the attitudes of a certain sector of the teaching staff who, even though they may have sufficient information on the subject, feel a lack of interest to work with intercultural content in their classroom and do not link it to the content of the ordinary curriculum.
With regard to what the researchers discovered after carrying out the study, the main conclusion is that the semi-structured interview used in the study is valid for measuring the teachers’ opinions on the use of PLE for the development of students’ intercultural competences. The qualitative results obtained demonstrate the effectiveness of the use of this interview according to the combination of pre-established questions, and other questions brought up during the conversation with the teachers that allowed meaningful information to be obtained. In addition, the selection criteria of the system of categories used for analyzing the teachers’ answers may be considered as valuable and productive, as the system allowed the diversity of the opinions given to be ordered and grouped easily. As a consequence, it may be considered that the choice and contrast of the codes generated by the researchers and the external expert, as well as the modification process of those which turned out to be different, were carried out in an appropriate way.
Finally, it is worth highlighting that the results of the study must be cautiously considered because although they were obtained from a representative sample, the generalization of the findings is limited because they were only gathered in Andalusia. Therefore, the opinions given by teachers should be understood with caution and cannot be extrapolated to teachers from other contexts. Despite this limitation, the study has expanded previous investigations regarding the teachers’ opinions on using PLE for the development of students’ intercultural competences.