As part of the RMRME project, all teachers in NSW government schools were invited to complete an online survey on their understandings and experiences of multiculturalism and multicultural education. Approximately 10% of all permanent teachers in NSW government schools (5,128 teachers) completed the survey in Term 2, 2011. Respondents came from a wide range of schools with representation from primary, secondary and central/community schools in every region and school education group across the state. It is anticipated that findings from the state survey will inform the development of new multicultural education resources and professional learning programs for teachers.
Summary of preliminary findings
The survey revealed that NSW public school teachers in 2011 are strongly pro-diversity (94.5%), have a non-assimilatory stance (74.8%) and acknowledge racism is a problem in Australian society (70.1%). The survey also found that teachers are pro-multicultural education (84.0%) and strongly support anti-racism in schools (94.7% disagree with the statement that ‘It is not the responsibility of schools to address racism or discrimination in their schools’). Comparing this data to the national Challenging racism project the RMRME project indicates that teacher attitudes are more strongly pro-diversity than the general Australian population and that teachers are less likely to hold assimilatory views. Teachers are also less likely to acknowledge racism than the general Australian population: only 53.6% of teachers agreed that racism is a problem in schools. One interpretation of this data is that schools could be sites of less racism and less intercultural tension than elsewhere in society.
In most questions in the survey, there was only a single percentage point variation between teachers who had been in the profession for less than six years, and those who had 26 years of experience or more. However, in response to certain questions there was some disparity. Teachers with more experience showed a higher level of assimilatory attitudes and a lower acknowledgement of racism in Australian society and in schools. These disparities may be related to age or tertiary training. The qualification that survey respondents represent only a subset of teachers must be borne in mind, and it is also useful to reflect upon whether individuals with pro-diversity stances would be more likely to respond to the questionnaire than others. From the survey results, however, it appears that there is a general whole-of-sample trend of pro-diversity and anti-racism for teachers.
There are two main implications of these findings. The first is that teachers’ positivity towards diversity and anti-racism is a resource which needs to be leveraged. Much work remains to be done in multicultural education, and teacher attitude is a positive basis for future efforts. The second is that it is important to realise that these attitudes are a precious resource. Moving forward, it is crucial not to jeopardise the pro-diversity attitudes of NSW teachers by whatever new interventions, logics and paradigms are assembled and introduced.
Detailed survey findings are contained in the Survey report (pdf 1.3MB).