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Diversity in society

1. Recognise and value individual differences

1.1        Explore diversity to identify attributes that may be of benefit to the school and its community

Diversity in society is the unique differences of each individual. Different people have different values, behaviours and approaches to life.

Diversity can include:

No matter where you live and work in Australia today you will be in constant contact with people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. This means that you will be in constant contact with people who choose to live their lives differently from the way you do. To take just two indices of diversity - birthplace and language spoken, Australia is recognised as a highly diverse society. According to the 2001 Australian Census

While diversity in the workplace brings about many benefits to an organisation], it can also lead to many challenges. Diversity can be a source of tension, division or conflict within a workplace if difference is associated with exclusion, disadvantage or racism. However, diversity can be beneficial to both the organisation and the members. Diversity brings substantial potential benefits such as better decision making and improved problem solving, greater creativity and innovation, which leads to enhanced product development, and more successful marketing to different types of customers.

Diversity, the idea, is not only prevent unfair discrimination and improve equality but also valuing differences an inclusion include ethnic, age, race, culture, sexual, orientation of physical disability and religious belief. By encouraging staff to realise that cultural, social and linguistic diversity are assets, they will be less likely to resist working with differences and when staff feel that their differences are being respected, they are more inclined to reach their full potential, thus increasing productivity and minimising stress and absenteeism.

Schools are now seeking to become more effective by responding to the diversity within their community.

This is occurring through a better understanding of the diversity of the school's workforce, students, parents and the wider community.

School strategic plans articulate values, vision and activities for building inclusive educational and workplace environments and can also identify opportunities to improve school performance through a range of diversity initiatives. Diversity initiatives can be incorporated into workforce planning, recruitment and retention strategies, leadership mentoring and professional development. A number of Victorian schools are piloting diversity management strategies and processes.

Strategies for managing diversity give effect to the principle of Equal Employment Opportunity and aim to achieve a workforce that reflects the diversity of the broader community.

Diversity strategies within the Department and schools include actions that enable target groups who experience disadvantage to have increased access to opportunities in education, training and employment

Students who attend racially diverse schools benefit from the experience. Students in diverse schools are more likely to interact positively with other ethnicities. The earlier the better, as the younger a student is exposed to diverse student bodies and teaching staff the more likely they are to develop relationships without focusing on ethnicity or differences. Where children's understanding of diversity is shaped with a positive manner, problems such as negative stereotyping, racism and other groupings can be easily eradicated or minimised. Diversity in the classroom offers students opportunities to learn from each other and to learn about different cultures, languages, backgrounds and disabilities.

1.2        Assist colleagues to acknowledge and use their diverse attributes to contribute to work teams, educational outcomes and delivery services

In an educational setting, colleagues may include:

Amongst all if these colleagues there is likely to be cultural and other differences. When a workforce has a lot of cultural similarities where their attitudes, values, beliefs and communication styles are similar it is usually relatively easy for people to give and receive instructions, to discuss problems, work out solutions and to express and accept new ideas. It is likely that workforces will also have some important cultural differences between the employees that can make a difference to how employees get along with each other and work together.

As an educational worker and as a member of a diverse community you have a responsibility to behave in a way that shows respect for other people's cultural practices and beliefs. Equally you have a right to expect that your own cultural practices and beliefs will be respected by others.

Diversity is not about focusing on the nature of the differences between us all. It is about promoting a culture of fairness, respect, recognition and empathy.

There are two main challenges in diverse work environments:

The most obvious differences in culture between members of a workforce is appearance:

These differences may show that a person has a particular set of attitudes, values and beliefs. These differences may be part of rituals or activities that may be deemed important or sacred to them.

Another obvious cultural difference is in the ways in which individuals communicate. Some individuals:

There are numerous definitions of 'culture' that refer to patterns of behaviour and belief, for example:

The complete way of life of a people: the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a group; their customs, art, literature, religion, philosophy, etc.; the pattern of learned and shared behaviour among the members of a group.

Learned behaviour of people, which includes their belief systems and languages, their social relationships, their institutions and organizations, and their material goods food, clothing, buildings, tools, and machines.

The learned values, beliefs, perceptions, and behaviours of specific groups of people;

What these definitions tell us about is a learned way of life that is shared by a group - and that the group may be bound together because of their ethnic origins, professional status, religious convictions, gender, the area they live in or a shared interest.

Our cultural values are so ingrained in us that we automatically behave a certain way. This is part of the reason why we sometimes find it difficult to understand behaviour that is not the same as ours. For example if you are brought up in a society where it is polite to avert your eyes when talking to other people, you will probably be quite uncomfortable when people look straight at you during a conversation. And on the other hand, if you are brought up in a society where looking people in the eye when talking is the accepted practice, you may think it rude of someone not to do this when you are talking with them. You may interpret this as an act of defiance against your authority that they are not listening or are not interested in what you are saying

Culture influences:

Every culture has its own set of rules. Many of us feel discomfort or confusion when faced with behaviour we don't understand, especially if it does not confirm to our own culture. We have a tendency to believe our way is the right way.

There is no right and wrong in these situations. What seems automatic and correct to you could be quite strange to a person from a different culture. The really important point to remember is that we don't all define ourselves in the same way.

The individual differences created by diversity can be significant. It is important to respect each individual and their differences to enable you to work closely with your colleagues and you should make an effort to find out what the really important ones are for colleagues

Australia has seen different cultural and ethnic groups arrive on our shores as a result of:

Diversity of culture has made an impact on Australia in terms of:

The reasons that it is important to understand how to interact with others in today's diverse society include that:

These benefits have made Australia come to be recognised as a nation that has benefited from the diversity of its people and as a desirable place to live.

Cultural Differences

Below is a list of things that we have in common but do differently:

Language spoken

Attitudes to family

Attitudes to work

Roles of individuals in society


Holidays and celebrations

The way people communicate with each other

Diversity in society will always exist it is important to understand that diversity will directly affect the ways in which the members of your work team interact.

Educational workers need to have an understanding of diversity, and how the differences in individuals and their ways of life can contribute to work teams, educational outcomes and delivery of services.

Diversity awareness means realising that not all people are the same; people have different values, behaviours, and sometimes fundamentally different approaches to life. We all need to be aware of the diversity in our population because awareness and knowledge are the first steps to understanding and making allowance for differences. By being aware you will be able to identify the diverse skills and knowledge of others. Once you have done this you can encourage them to use these qualities to contribute to ensure that organisational goals are achieved.

Different groups of people have distinctive worldviews, behaviour and belief patterns, languages and ways of existing and interacting with their environments. They might be entirely opposed to your own worldviews. Yet they have as much right to hold those views as you do to hold your own views. Respect the right of other people to be different.

Each culture has its own ways of doing things, its own set of rules. If we are honest, most of us experience feelings of confusion, fear or even anger when we are faced with behaviour we are not familiar with; especially if the behaviour does not follow the rules of our own culture.

We tend to automatically believe that our way is the right way and to fear or denigrate difference because we do not understand it. In some cases another person's behaviour might offend our own values and we often forget that others have the right to hold values that differ from our own. This is when misunderstandings, conflicts and prejudicial responses can occur.

Key points about cultural awareness and understanding

Some key points to help you in developing the skills to work more effectively with people from all cultures are:

  1. Understand that many people in the world are different from you. Do not expect other people to automatically share your values.
  2. Understand our culture influences your understanding of every part of your day-to-day lives.
  3. Respect the diversity in our population and respect individual's rights to do things differently.
  4. Accept the fact that you will never fully understand a culture which is not your own.
  5. Understand that cultural awareness and understanding won't come easily. It requires constant work.
  6. Be prepared to challenge your initial reactions to people from other cultures. Be aware of the fact that your reactions are based on the rules of your own culture.
  7. Avoid stereotyping and labelling people. Treat people as individuals.

Culture is a vital and significant part of an individual: who they are, how they see the world and how they interact with it. It is not possible for someone to simply put aside their culture, in order to be more like you or more acceptable to you.

Workplaces can see diversity as an asset and work towards making the services of the enterprise easily accessible. Similarly, the employment of people from different cultural backgrounds can be made more accommodating.

Some of the ways that enterprises can make their services more accessible or user-friendlier include:

These strategies consist of both using positives measures and removing negatives or deterrents to colleagues, students and families.

Respect for diversity in the workplace is the recognition and exercising of acceptance of the different qualities, skills, qualifications, experiences and attitudes of people. Valuing and seeing the advantages in diversity can improve the workplace for staff and students, in addition to enhancing the overall performance of the organisation. That is, your work colleagues will be a group of diverse people/ individuals with ideas, skills and attributes that are unique to themselves, and as such, each will make valuable contributions to the workplace and to relationships with colleagues and with students and their families. In recognising the value of these differences you understand that such differences are necessary. If everyone in an organisation were the same, there would be massive skill gaps and organisations would not be able to deliver adequate education to its students.

Whenever we begin to discuss the differences between cultural groups, there is a danger that we start to assume that all people within a particular group are the same. We begin to generalise and fail to treat people as individuals.

The following list of statements provides some classic examples of stereotyping:

A stereotype is a fixed mental impression. It is based on a pre-conceived notion of how a person will act because of a characteristic of that person, such as their gender, race, disability, religion etc...

Stereotyping allows the social perception of individuals in terms of their group membership rather than by their personal attributes. It ignores personal record, and works on assumptions. This can lead to discrimination.

Stereotyping removes the individuality or a person. In your job, you have a duty to effectively and efficiently to work cooperatively and responsibly with diverse groups of people. It is your responsibility to gain an understanding of what skills and competencies are required for your work performance. To be an effective team worker you need to use these competencies to help to meet the needs of all people, and to be aware of behaviours that may inhibit relationship building, or may damage a relationship. You may build good working relationships through effective communication and self-monitoring.

1.3        Use work practices that are inclusive and benefit educational outcomes, community relationships and the work environment

To ensure that a workplace is discrimination and harassment free an organisation should develop and implement workplace diversity plans to ensure that the workplace is inclusive.

What is a Diversity plan? Diversity plans come in all shapes and sizes. Some are highly textual, philosophical and reflective. Others are a complex matrix of goals, strategies and action steps. Some emphasize process; others focus on percentages. Some are lengthy documents; others are only a single page.

A Diversity plan is a strategic plan that identifies and addresses problems associated with Diversity of an organisation. A Diversity plan should be specific, measurable, and realistic and show real commitment. Excellent diversity plans abound in a variety of formats. The most common format lists goals and action steps with an introduction. A few plans are in essay style. Some programs create complex matrices that list objectives, responsible parties, dates to achieve, and benchmarks for success.

Diversity plans should include measures to address employment related disadvantages of all diversity groups including but not limited to women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people of non-English speaking background and people with disabilities. A Diversity plan should also address improvement in employment conditions, compensation and benefits, training and educational opportunities, promotions, transfers, terminations and all other aspects of employment.

Workplaces that implement diversity plans provide staff and students with an environment without threat of harassment and discrimination that enables staff to work to their full potential and students to enjoy an educational experience.

Work practices that reflect respect for diversity might include:

When an organisation is developing their policies and procedures it is important to involve all members of staff in the decision-making process. This is beneficial for two reasons.

  1. You can identifying all of the cultural issues that affect each team
  2. When staff have been involved in creating these policies and procedures they have a sense of 'buy in' and are more likely to comply with a set of policies and procedures.

An organisation should also source as much previous organisational information as possible when developing organisational policies and procedures. Information to consider is:

This information is baseline data that will be used to measure the success of the workplace procedure and diversity plan.

Outcomes to aim for could include:

Once an organisation has developed a Diversity plan the organisation should ensure:

A Workplace Diversity officer has the responsibility of:

Diversity in teamwork can present some challenges. Diversity requires each individual to become more aware of their own attitudes, values, beliefs and communication processes, in order to understand how these affect their relationships and communications with others. They will need to develop understanding and tolerance of the way that other people express their cultures and differences and to identify which differences are important..

1.4        Identify and respond to student diversity in accordance with legislation, policy and guidelines

In Australia students have rights that are protected by laws and policies. There are legal and moral imperatives for ensuring that the learning and working environment is free of racist behaviour and that those policies and practices neither directly nor indirectly discriminate on the basis of culture, language, ethnicity or religion.

All Australian laws (Commonwealth and State) impose some responsibility on schools and individuals, be they teachers or students, to take steps to prevent and combat racism. The Australian laws are aimed at protecting individuals from racism at school and also to protect those individuals who make complaints about racism. Commonwealth and State laws make it unlawful for a person to racially discriminate against another person at school and also make it unlawful to encourage, incite, permit or allow racist acts to occur. For this reason, the Australian laws do impose an obligation on everyone to be vigilant about racism and to take action when incidents of racism occur, particularly where those incidents might be unlawful.

Schools need to be positive about diversity and create an environment that makes it possible for everyone to contribute. The range of values, perceptions and ways of interacting with the world that all members of the school community bring must be both acknowledged and accepted. Effective partnerships between students, staff and parents will only be effective and prejudiced attitudes broken down in an inclusive working and learning environment.

Australian laws make it illegal for people to engage in racist activity or to encourage, incite or permit racist acts to occur. It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, nationality, and descent, ethnic or ethno-religious background. Discrimination against a person on the grounds that the person has a relative or associate who is of a particular race is also unlawful under Australian legislation

The Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and its 1995 amendment the Racial Hatred Act are the Commonwealth laws relating to racial discrimination. In addition, all Australian states and territories have anti-discrimination laws that cover racial discrimination. Australia is also a party to a number of international conventions and declarations which impose obligations in regard to racism and racial discrimination when ratified in Australian law. The Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act (1986) gives effect to several international conventions and declarations such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981).

This legislation makes it illegal for schools, education departments and other educational authorities to discriminate against a student on the ground of race:

The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is one example of anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of students. This Act provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability. This protection includes both direct and indirect forms of discrimination.

Under this Act:

Students also have a number of basic human rights. Rights are not bought or earned. They are inherent in living as a member of the human community.

Every individual has the right to:

Children and young people have the right to special protection because of their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

Under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, children have the right to the provision of:

Australia endorsed the Convention in December 1990. The Convention is incorporated in federal law as part of the human rights responsibilities of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. As such, you are legally required to ensure that the rights of children are upheld.

The Convention includes the following rights:

  1. All children have same rights, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status No child should be treated unfairly on any basis.
  2. All adults should do what is best for a child. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.
  3. Children have the right to access institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform to the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
  4. Children have the inherent right to life.
  5. Children have the right to give their opinion, and for adults to listen and take it seriously.
  6. Children have the right to learn and discover things and share what they think with others, by talking, drawing, and writing or in any other way unless it harms or offends other people.
  7. Children have the right to freedom of expression
  8. Children have the right to be individuals
  9. Children have the right to privacy.
  10. Children have the right to get information that is important to their well-being, from radio, newspapers, books, computers and other sources. Adults should make sure that the information children are getting is not harmful, and help them to find and understand the information they need.
  11. Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, in body or mind.
  12. Children have the right to special education and care if they have a disability, as well as all the rights in this Convention.
  13. Children have the right to the best health care possible, safe water to drink, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay well.
  14. Children have the right to an education that should help them use and develop their talents and abilities. It should also help them learn to live peacefully, protect the environment and respect other people.
  15. Children have the right to practice their own culture, language and religion - or any they choose. Minority and indigenous groups need special protection of this right.
  16. Children have the right to play and rest.
  17. Children have the right to protection from harmful drugs and from the drug trade.
  18. Children have the right to be free from sexual abuse.
  19. Children have the right to protection from any kind of exploitation.
  20. Children have the right to not be punished in a cruel or harmful way.
  21. Children have the right to help if they have been hurt, neglected or badly treated.
  22. Children have the right to legal help and fair treatment in the justice system that respects their rights.
  23. Children have the right to know their rights. Adults should know about these rights and help children to learn about them.

Equitable and inclusive educational practices

In the National Strategy for Equity in Schooling (1994), equity is defined as:" the concept of equal access to school education and the fair and just distribution of benefits from the school education system. The concept is based on the belief that all children have the right to an effective education."

Schools and colleges must ensure that all students have equitable access to the benefits of education irrespective of their sex, culture, linguistic background, race, location, sexuality, socio-economic background or disability. They must pursue equity for all enrolled students but should especially focus on those groups of students who are known to gain significantly less from their education than the population as a whole.

All children and young people, regardless of their cultural heritage, should have learning opportunities that enable them to value cultural diversity and be equipped with the knowledge and skills to challenge misinformation and racist assumptions.

Research indicates that despite improvements in recent years there are still considerable differences in educational outcomes for some groups of students. The groups identified as experiencing particular educational disadvantage are:

Equitable and inclusive educational practices ensure that schools are supportive and engaging places for all students, teachers and caregivers and that the needs of diverse students are met and their rights upheld. These practices acknowledge the uniqueness of each student's experiences, skills, abilities, impairments, beliefs, needs, interests, backgrounds and goals and that all teaching practices must support all students regardless of their background, gender, culture and abilities. These teaching practices ensure that each student experiences a sense of belonging and receives an education that is designed to deliver an inclusive curriculum for a diverse range of students to improve their individual educational outcomes.

In the same way educational materials should also represent diverse cultural groups and accurately portray these groups without resorting to stereotyping. This will help with the process of making students feel valued and included.

Students will also have a diverse way of participating in class. Not all students will participate in the same way, or even the same amount. It is essential to make sure that students are able to participate in class in ways that will help them achieve the learning goals for the course, and that no one is kept from participating as a result of the way the course is taught.

Student engagement in class is greatly influenced by the expectations that educational workers set for classroom behaviour, teaching strategies that are employed, and ways student interactions are structured during class.

As an educational worker there are a number of ways to encourage participation, below are just a few:

Equitable and inclusive educational practices also require educational workers to recognise that all students have different learning styles and cater for each student's preferred learning styles and techniques. Learning styles group common ways that people learn. Everyone has a mix of learning styles. Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles. Others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances.

The learning styles are:

Our classrooms contain students from many diverse backgrounds and different capabilities. The aim of inclusive curriculum design is to anticipate this diversity and use it in the curriculum to improve the learning of all students. This approach acknowledges that students fall alonga continuum of diversity and though some may learn differently, they are not necessarily less academically capable.

Inclusive curriculum provides the opportunity for students from diverse backgrounds to access, participate and succeed, building on the life experiences and differing points of view of students to enhance the learning of all students. This good course design builds in flexibility to accommodate a range of abilities, cultural backgrounds, and learningstyles without lowering educational standards by providing a range of learning opportunities.

If curriculum is designed to be as accessible as possible, only minimal adjustments need to be made to respond to the needs of individual students. Core elements of the courseshould beclearly stated, so that it is easier to determine what adjustments can be made without compromising educational reliability.

Inclusive curriculum demonstrates:

Victoria University has developed the checklist below as part of the Inclusive Curriculum Project. The checklist can be located at: This checklist is a useful resource for people working in the education sector. Education workers can use the checklist to help them determine whether or not their practices are equitable and inclusive.

Inclusive Curriculum Checklist

1. Course Design & Content

2. Course Materials

3. Teaching & Learning

4. Is Your Teaching Gender Inclusive?

5. Is your teaching inclusive of Aboriginial and Torres Strait Islander peoples perspective?

When developing materials and curriculum it is important to acknowledge Federal and State Legislation, policy and guidelines. These may include:

Workplace diversity guidelines

Workplace Relations Act 1996

2. Work effectively with diverse students and colleagues

2.1        Develop and use a range of communication styles to respect and reflect the diversity of the school

Communication is the passing of messages, information, ideas, attitudes, feelings, fears, doubts, news, and emotions to and from one person or group of persons to another person or group of persons. It involves listening, questioning, explaining, clarifying, encouraging, facilitating, challenging, convincing, verifying, comforting and supporting.

Messages can be conveyed or passed in writing, in conversation, by behaviour, by body language, by attitude, through personal values and preferences or by silence.

Communication depends on the messages that are sent being understood by the receiver as they were intended. Communication involving either verbal or non-verbal elements - or a combination of both - requires interpretation. This process is dependent on the receiver giving consideration to understanding the words, motives, feelings and needs of the sender. When working with co-workers or clients from other cultures it is important to consider how your messages may be interpreted by the receivers, and how their cultural differences may influence their interpretation. The receiver may interpret the message quite differently to how you intended and this could lead to misunderstanding or conflict.

English translations or the use of slang words can be stressful to people from other cultures. So can speaking too quickly or at too low or too high a volume, not listening actively, not asking questions, using offensive body language and gestures and/or inappropriate humour.

Working as an educational worker means that your workplace will or does involve face-to-face conversation and discussion with other staff , students and parents.

The main interpersonal skills you need are:

Personal appearance includes dress and grooming which must be of a high standard. Your organisation will have specific standards for personal presentation. Make sure that you are clear as to what these guidelines are. The workplace culture as well as your own values and beliefs will determine what you wear.

Social interaction

Social interaction is the way you conduct yourself with others. It also involves verbal and non-verbal communication such as the volume and tone of voice. Social interaction occurs on all occasions that you deal with other people. It broadcasts your attitude towards them, establishes that you feel comfortable with them and invites them to react to you in the same way. Being friendly and approachable normally means people will be the same with you. You must interact socially with people you work with and clients of your volunteer involving organisation in a variety of ways.


Teamwork is your ability to work with others for a common purpose. In your organisation you may interact with other staff members on a daily basis in order that the establishment functions smoothly. There will be a constant flow of information to and from your work area. Knowing how to work with others to achieve a common goal is an important interpersonal skill. Awareness of cultural difference includes realising that various cultural groups have different rules for:

rules of politeness - who can speak to whom, and who can begin a conversation

Awareness of the fact that there are customs, rules and social behaviours that apply to different cultures, even without knowing exactly what each of these customs is, helps reduce barriers caused by prejudice and stereotyping. As mentioned above, do not make assumptions about people and their intelligence based on their ability to either read written English instruction, or follow verbal instructions in a language which is not their own.


For some students and their families, English will not be their first language. As a result they might appear shy, reserved or distant. The likelihood of added stress and miscommunication is increased when clients have little or no English language skills. We often forget how difficult it is for someone from a different background to understand our language. This not only relates to formal English. In this country, we use a lot of idiomatic language that has no relationship to the original English language, which people from other countries find somewhat confusing. For example, 'How'ya goin' or 'G'day' or 'It's a stinker today but it'll soon be raining cats'n'dogs'. English translations or the use of slang and colloquialisms can be stressful to people from other cultures. So can speaking too quickly or at too low or too high a volume, not listening actively, not asking questions, using offensive body language and gestures, and/or inappropriate humour.

2.2        Comply with the requirements of legislation, policies and guidelines relating to workplace diversity are demonstrated through personal conduct in the workplace

2.3        Seek and act upon feedback from colleagues and supervisors to continuously improve personal effectiveness in working with diversity

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