Rethinking multiculturalism, reassessing multicultural education: project report number 2

1 Jun 2014

Rethinking Multiculturalism/Reassessing Multicultural Education Project Report Number 2: Perspectives on Multiculturalism is the second report of Rethinking Multiculturalism/Reassessing Multicultural Education (RMRME), an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project between the University of Western Sydney (UWS), the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) and the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) incorporating the former NSW Institute of Teachers (NSWIT) and the Board of Studies. It follows an earlier report, Rethinking Multiculturalism/Reassessing Multicultural Education Project Report Number 1: Surveying NSW Public School Teachers and will be followed by a final report Rethinking Multiculturalism/Reassessing Multicultural Education Project Report Number 3: Knowledge Translation and Action Research.

The report documents the complex array of cultural backgrounds and forms of identification amongst students, parents and teachers in NSW public schools, which challenges conventional wisdom about the nature of cultural diversity. It finds, however, that there is something of a mismatch between this complexity and teachers’ experience and expertise in multicultural education.

It finds that while there is little difference between the views expressed by teachers, parents and students regarding multiculturalism, culture and intercultural understanding, there is substantial variation within groups. This lack of a shared language poses real challenges for developing a strong basis for a shared dialogue in school communities of these pressing issues, reflected in the tendency in discussions of the goals of multicultural education to focus on dispositional rather than critical components.

Despite the absence of a shared discourse, competing understandings of culture shape people’s perceptions of difference, and how these operate in explaining students’ educational performance and parental participation in schools. These explanations tend towards reduced and essentialised characterisations of students and parents and, in some cases, may encourage forms of ethnic and racial stereotypes.

These findings indicate there is a pressing need for developing a strong socio-cultural curriculum and a shared critical language across educational communities which can facilitate the role of schools in addressing the challenges of a culturally diverse Australia.

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