Lyfta focus area: Cultural capital

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Explaining Lyfta
In this piece we focus on cultural capital and the interrelated concept of intercultural competence. We begin by considering how cultural capital is being defined and then move on to explore how Lyfta can support related educational aims.
Key definitions

At Lyfta, we have a working and evolving definition of cultural capital. We consider it to be a broad range of cultural experiences and opportunities that prepare children to thrive (now and in the future) and an accompanying awareness of the skills, values and knowledge that has been acquired from these experiences. Ofsted’s definition has understandably been criticised for being so vague it can be interpreted in many different ways, but also because it is so far removed from the terms roots in social reproduction theory and the work of Piere Bourdieu - as seen in one of their definitions below!

Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education. As part of making a judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider how well leaders use the curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged. (Ofsted EY Inspection Handbook 2019, 142, p.31.)

A generous reading of Ofsted documentation is that it opens up more ways of looking at educational practice beyond quantitative measures. But in evaluating any sort of educational activity we believe it’s important to refer back to cultural capital’s sociological roots which requires us to adopt a power analysis and ask who is defining what is/is not cultural capital and why!

We therefore work with a definition of cultural capital that has some pedagogical caveats which help us navigate the complexities around policy and practice in this area.

Cultural capital education needs to:

  • recognise the cultural capital that every child brings to the classroom so that any teaching strategies or curricula needs to build in spaces to navigate the new and the pre-existing. Research shows that when children and families’ cultures are valued, both the child’s experience of learning and progress can benefit (see this piece) for links and strategies in early years settings for example). It is therefore important to give all children the opportunity to open their virtual, cultural backpack and share this where possible when navigating new ones, which is what we do in Lyfta through reflective questioning in lesson plans for example.
  • recognise that some children have more experiences and opportunities to access different types of capital (languages, traditions, beliefs, interests, travel, awareness of work opportunities, cultural/human networks, literature, clubs & the arts etc.) than others and that reasons for this may vary (e.g. socio-economic status, education levels of parents and so forth). It is therefore important, before bringing in any educational interventions, to ascertain what children in school have access to and what they don’t but will be of perceived benefit/use to their future selves. After this we can then strive to provide access and recognition of as many different life options and experiences around the world as possible (something we facilitate through Lyfta Time for example), both to help children recognise their own cultural capital but also to offer up the alternative ways of being and living and a sense of hope about those opportunities.
  • recognise that cultural capital is a social construct and that power is being exercised and value judgements are being made every time it is viewed as something to ‘aspire’ to have more of or deemed ‘lacking’. This means exercising care when asking questions and/or making value-judgements about what are the ‘best’ sort of experiences.
  • recognise that there are some forms of cultural capital that appear to support childrens’ learning (e.g. access to books, opportunities to experience other lifelong learning spaces) and abilities to ‘thrive’ in the wider world (being socially confident) that a ‘lack of’ would, correspondingly, mean that they could be disadvantaged amongst their peers. But this is balanced with an understanding that cultural capital is part of a lifelong learning process and has knowledge, skills, values and behavioural dimensions that develop and change over a lifetime and that some experiences (or lack thereof) in childhood do not set a clear path of advantage or disadvantage.

With the above in mind, Lyfta offers a huge variety of cultural learning opportunities as possible (local, national and global) experienced through a metacognitive/reflective learning framework. We also consider intercultural capital - intercultural experiences, skills, and competencies - to be a key part of the type of cultural capital that Lyfta can support.

Student exploring a storyworld from Awra Amba, Ethiopia
How can Lyfta support

Lyfta’s immersive storyworlds cover a vast range of different people, cultures, traditions and countries around the world. We make it clear in accompanying learning resources that no one storyworld can be seen as representing a particular location, country or culture. Nevertheless, collectively all storyworlds create an amazing opportunity to experience diversity and gain a more global understanding of what it means to thrive and be as a human being. From whizzing around Hong Kong City in a car to trekking up Mount Apo in the Philippines on a motorbike, Lyfta takes young people all around the world in different virtual ways!

A more traditional (and arguably liberal-western) understanding of cultural capital activities might relate to access to and understanding of professional theatrical and orchestral performances, or opportunities to visit extensive art galleries or historically significant buildings. Putting aside the fact that beauty and art are in the eye of the beholder, at Lyfta we do offer a number of virtual cultural capital experiences in this sense. For example, we know that primary school students have enjoyed visiting the Secrets of the Opera storyworld in Finland where they can hear from professional ballet dancers (and visit their studios) and musicians (and hear the instruments).

Image of Lyfta interactive student interface.

Young people can virtually visit UNESCO world heritage sites and parks in Curacao, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines and Tanzania which can both support the accumulation of cultural capital and also geographical knowledge!

As we work with teachers to research and get an even better understanding of the impact of Lyfta, we have been especially excited to discover how Lyfta is supporting a greater sense of common humanity by supporting intercultural competence, knowledge and understanding.

We have begun to see strong findings that indicate increased confidence levels about meeting new people (perhaps with different backgrounds or from different countries to themselves) having had an increased level of exposure to different perspectives from around the world. Additionally, independent research conducted by the University of Tampere has shown that:

“the multi-sensory and participatory nature of immersive 360° experiences led to a decrease in learners’ sense of social and intergroup anxiety about meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. Engaging with new people in an immersive virtual setting gives students the opportunity to identify common interests and, as a result, develop more positive feelings towards them.”
Image from the immersive 360° space in the series, Awra Amba

In other words, by creating safe learning environments for young people to virtually travel the world and hear the stories of others in their own settings and environments, Lyfta supports the building of an intercultural capital ‘resource bank’ of sorts.

This has been best articulated by a teacher at Three Bridges Primary School who shared with us how, having met at least 14 people in 10 countries around the world in a meaningful way, children were now referencing these experiences to evidence an awareness of different perspectives or global issues in discussion and written work - where previously they only had the reference points of their home and school communities (a situation exacerbated by Covid-19 and the resultant restrictions on movement).

Image from the storyworld called Clinic, which is one of the ten in the series, Awra Amba.

Similarly, at Upton Court Grammar School, one Year 11 pupil shared with us how she had been able to support her sister’s application to medical school which required a more global perspective of medicine around the world by referencing Lyfta’s Awra Amba storyworld in Ethiopia.

Cultural capital opportunities manifest themselves in so many of our storyworlds, but optimal learning and engagement experiences are had when these encounters facilitate reflection upon the learning taking place.

Knowing how useful metacognitive strategies can be here, we offer a Level 2 CPD course to subscribed Lyfta users on nurturing metacognition. We know this sort of pedagogic strategy works especially well with our storyworlds which feature young people.

Image from the storyworld called Compassion in Key, which is one of the six in the series, Becoming Me.

In particular, our Becoming Me series in Denmark (where we meet six young people who share how they balance their different family faith and beliefs with their growing-up journey, where many themes can resonate with the young people who view them) or our Kids’ Cup series (four young people from China, Brazil, Norway and Palestine who all play football - see this brief blog for a summary and link to an impactful project that involved values in Sport with the Youth Sports’ Trust), are wonderful storyworlds for both extending understanding of other cultures but also reflecting upon the importance and value of all children’s own, unique cultural capital. In this way, Lyfta supports the development of intercultural capital.

Read about Lyfta's other focus areas:

Get started with Lyfta by signing up for a free Lyfta Starter account, or book a short demo with the team.

Cultural Capital
Faith & Worldviews
Diversity Equity Inclusion
Global Learning
Human Stories
Immersive Learning
Personal Development
Further Education
Skills & Values