International symposium


In May 2011 as a part of the reassessment of the concepts, practices and goals of multicultural education, the Centre for Cultural Research (now the Institute for Culture and Society) at the University of Western Sydney hosted an International Symposium bringing together national and international scholars in the fields of multicultural education and multiculturalism and senior bureaucrats from education departments across Australia and other relevant national bodies. The goals of the symposium were to:

  • survey recent scholarship in these fields from Australia and abroad;
  • establish links between local, national and international researchers and government;
  • connect the Rethinking Multiculturalism/Reassessing Multicultural Education Project to comparable initiatives in Australia and abroad;
  • develop future national and international collaborations in this area.

Three broad questions framed discussion at the symposium:

  • Does multiculturalism need to be rethought, and if so, why?
  • In what ways does it need to be rethought?
  • What are the implications of this rethinking for the policies and practices of multicultural education?


Summative comments and key themes  

Multicultural education has two primary aims: it teaches students to be citizens of a multicultural society, and it teaches to and for a diverse student body. Multicultural education operates simultaneously along two orientations: engaging with difference (anti-racism, celebration; intercultural understanding) and promoting equitable outcomes (ESL; access and equity). Debates about the definition of multiculturalism and multicultural education are productive: they articulate the tensions which underlie its policies and practices. Inventing new terms, however, will generate new debates that won’t necessarily resolve old problems. If we understand that definitional challenges are characteristic of multicultural education, rather than redefine multicultural education, it might be more constructive to ‘profile’ it (see below). We need to fashion a multiculturalism to meet the challenges posed by transnationalism, cultural hybridity and globalisation and as it is realised within various social spheres.


Other key themes emerging from the Symposium include:

  • There is a need to balance the response to social disadvantage with the recognition that culture is dynamic.
  • There is a need to make multiculturalism relevant to all students without losing its social justice imperative.
  • A new demand upon multiculturalism is that it expands to become amenable to complicated, hybrid identities. Policy, pedagogy and curriculum needs to respond to this emergent imperative and move away from essentialising student ethnicities.
  • We need to always pose this question: How do we monitor ourselves as researchers, policymakers, education officers and commentators? Do we know as much as we think we know?


Future directions 

Symposium attendees saw the need for the development of a profile of multicultural education.

 A profile of multicultural education will identify the characteristic features of multicultural education. It will hold the axes of theory / practice; difference / equity; local / state / national and national / global in a field of proximity. In certain contexts different features would have greater or less significance than in other contexts. These characteristics could be prioritised and then sequenced for teacher training based on levels of receptivity or resistance.

A profile of multicultural education would act as a template which could be moved between different contexts, without all contexts needing to be replications of each other. A profile of multicultural education doesn’t require consensus, and it will serve to manage the inherent plurality and complexity of multicultural education as a phenomenon.

 Symposium attendees felt there was a need for the dismantling of the association between multicultural education and minority groups, particularly recent arrivals.

Debates about access and equity are critical, and they need to be conducted.

Focusing too strongly on these aspects of multicultural education, however, might be the result of a reflexive link between multiculturalism and minority groups or new arrivals in the popular imaginary. This link comes with the danger of obscuring or leaving out key dimensions of multicultural education such as bilingualism, multilingualism, multiple citizenship, anti-racism, anti-discrimination and representative parent and community liaison.

Symposium attendees also stressed the need to focus on access and equity for all parents in the school community.



Academic Attendees:

Distinguished Professor Ien Ang
UWS, Centre for Cultural Research
Professor Kevin Dunn
UWS, School of Social Sciences
Professor Geneva Gay
University of Washington
Professor Stephen May
The University of Auckland
Dr Cameron Mcauliffe
UWS, School of Social Sciences
Associate Professor Gregory Noble
UWS, Centre for Cultural Research
Dr Richard Race
Roehamton University
Professor Georgina Tsolidis
University of Ballarat
Dr Megan Watkins
UWS, Centre for Cultural Research
Professor Handel Wright
University of British Columbia
PhD Candidate Neroli Colvin
UWS, Centre for Cultural Research


Government Representatives:

Vincenzo Andreacchio
Executive Officer, Multicultural Education Committee (MEC), Advisory Committee to the Minister for Education in South Australia
Jennifer Barclay
Tasmanian Department of Education
Amanda Bourke
NSW Department of Education and Communities Multicultural Programs Unit
Matt Davies
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Coral Jenkins
WA Department of Education
Nell Lynes
NSW Department of Education and Communities Multicultural Programs Unit
Angela Maclaine
QLD Department of Education and Training
Robyn Mamouney
NSW Institute of Teachers
Jennifer Mayers
ACT ESL Executive Officer
Eveline Mouglalis
NSW Department of Education and Communities Multicultural Programs Unit
Lynn Pickles
VIC Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Robert Randall
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Hanya Stefaniuk
NSW Department of Education and Training




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Project Partners

  • Australian Government: Australian Research Council
  • NSW Government: Education and Communities
  • NSW Institute of Teachers