About the project
Over several decades there has been considerable public support within Australia for cultural diversity and policies of multiculturalism (Ang, Brand, Noble and Sternberg, 2006; Dunn et al., 2005). The national and international contexts since 2001, however, have heightened anxieties around immigration and social cohesion (Poynting, Noble, Tabar & Collins, 2004). This has exacerbated ongoing concerns regarding the lack of clarity about what multiculturalism means, the ways in which multicultural policy is currently managed and its usefulness within 21st century nation states (Parekh, 2006; Modood, 2007). Moreover, the nature of diversity in Australia has changed dramatically with intergenerational change, cultural adaptation, intermarriage, and the
widening cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of Australia’s immigrants and their children challenging the assumptions of cohesive ethnic communities on which early multiculturalism was founded (Ang, Brand, Noble & Wilding, 2002).
Within this context, multicultural education faces challenges to its relevance, framework and modes of delivery. Multicultural education covers a range of programs – English as a Second Language (ESL), multicultural perspectives in the curriculum, anti-racism initiatives, community languages, community relations, and so on – and draws on diverse rationales – cultural maintenance, social equity, community harmony, cultural awareness. Yet many of these rationales, as with the notion of multiculturalism more generally, need to be rethought. In light of these changes, this project intends a reassessment of multicultural education – its concepts, practices and goals – to ensure it can function as an effective mechanism for promoting cultural inclusion, social justice and national belonging. It will do this by considering the relation between official understandings of multiculturalism and popular understandings that shape both teaching practices and student and parent experiences of schooling, developing out of earlier research on cultural differences and learning (Watkins and Noble, 2008). This will then inform professional learning experiences related to site-specific action research projects in schools.
The aims of the project, therefore, are to:
- survey current approaches to multiculturalism and multicultural education within Australia and abroad;
- examine the understandings of cultural diversity, multiculturalism and multicultural education that exist within urban and rural school communities;
- explore teachers’, students’ and parents’ perceptions and experiences of cultural diversity, multiculturalism and multicultural education;
- design and deliver professional learning for teachers to reflect critically on their practices in relation to multicultural education and use this to frame action research projects in their schools;
- evaluate the action research initiatives undertaken in schools and;
- critically reflect on the successes of, and challenges to, the wider projects of multiculturalism and multicultural education.