This report provides insights into the current practices of multicultural education and the opinions and understandings of New South Wales (NSW) public school teachers around increasing cultural and linguistic diversity in schools and the broader Australian community. The report is the outcome of the first stage of the Rethinking Multiculturalism/ Reassessing Multicultural Education (RMRME) Project, a three-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project between the University of Western Sydney, the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) and the NSW Institute of Teachers. Surveying teachers about these and related matters seemed a useful first step in considering the state of multicultural education some forty years after its inception (Inglis, 2009). The project as a whole involved a state-wide survey – the focus of this report – as well as focus groups with teachers, parents and students in 14 schools in urban and regional NSW, and a professional learning program informing the implementation of action research projects in each school.
The survey was conducted in Term 2, 2011. All permanent teaching and executive staff in NSW public schools were invited to participate through their departmental emails. With 5,128 responses, the survey yielded a response rate of just under 10 per cent, providing, for the first time, a rich source of data on NSW DEC teachers and schools around issues of multicultural education and multiculturalism. The survey shows that while teachers are a distinct professional workforce which doesn’t in any simple sense represent Australian society as a whole, it does display a remarkable cultural diversity which is often unacknowledged in research and debate about the teaching profession.
The survey responses show both a strong commitment amongst teachers to multiculturalism as a broad principle, and to the range of programs and practices aimed at addressing issues around equity and social justice, English language proficiency, intercultural understanding and racism in schools and society more broadly. The survey also reveals both significant commonalities and differences in teachers’ professional and teaching experience, and commonalities and differences in attitudes: to cultural diversity and how it informs school communities, to students and parents within those communities, and to educational practices and the goals of multiculturalism. These commonalities and differences are examined in the context of various factors such as: the diversity of the school context, the experience and position of teachers, whether they are in regional or Sydney metropolitan schools, secondary or primary. The survey also draws attention to critical issues in teaching practices – limited awareness of departmental policies, divergent understandings of multiculturalism and associated key ideas, varying responses to the needs of students and contrasting views about the causes of educational success and failure of LBOTE students.