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Multiculturalism is a term used to describe the mixing of groups of people who are derived from varying ethnic backgrounds which incorporate cultural influences and appearance into Australian society.
In 1997 a major national poll showed that multiculturalism has an 84 per cent acceptance in Australia. The poll also posed the question 'Thinking now about multiculturalism. Do you personally think multiculturalism has been good or bad for Australia ? If good - is that very good or somewhat good ? If bad - is that very bad or somewhat bad ?'. In the poll it was reported that 41 per cent responded 'very good', 37 per cent 'somewhat good', 10 per cent 'somewhat bad' and 6 per cent 'very bad'. Although the results of this poll deserve further exploration it may be safe to say that multiculturalism is an accepted part of Australian society. It certainly is well represented in welfare, social, education and migration governmental policies. Can we now say that Multiculturalism has reached the end of the road in terms of its progression in these areas and acceptance in Australian society ? We have come a long way, however, given the struggle of the refugees and the rise and fall of outspoken campaigners such as Pauline Hanson, I firmly believe that Australia still has a way to travel.
Multiculturalism in Australia - a brief history
For a greater perspective of Australia's current position lets look at a history of multiculturalism in Australia.
During 1900-1945 Australia's population almost doubled and a fair proportion of this increase was attributed to immigration of northern Europeans. The period from 1945-1959 saw continued immigration encouraged by the government due to fears of the Japanese military, development of the manufacturing industry, resource exploration, and humanitarian support for WWII sufferers. Although the 'White Australia Policy' was still in place due to lack of 'suitable' candidates, immigrants where being accepted from less desirable southern European non English speaking countries. From 1959-1965 integration of immigrants into Australian culture rather than assimilation began to emerge in Australian policy and there was encouragement from academics for migrants to retain their cultural backgrounds. Language programs where introduced for non English speaking immigrants. During the 1960s to early 1970s various factors including population growth, greater mobility, trade policies, and declining economies created increased migration from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern European countries. Academics began to lobby for positive changes to Australian immigration, welfare and education policies in what could be termed a proto-multiculturalism ideology. In December 1972 the Australian Labour Party was elected creating a defining moment in the acceptance of true multiculturalism into Australian society. Remnants of the 'White Australia Policy' where eliminated from the governments migrant selection criteria, adult English language programs where refined, anti-discrimination laws where introduced and migrant task forces created. In education bilingual teaching was experimentally introduced into some schools, and free tertiary education was introduced. It could be fair to say that multiculturalism had become an accepted ideology of Australian society and policies.
Multicultural Polices in Education Today
Cultural diversity is central to current world factors and is therefore vital in school systems to prepare children for real world experiences. In recent history the government has been wanting to be seen as committed to developing multicultural educational policies and practices. It realises the importance of this issue in the community given that a large percentage of Australians now originate from other countries. Victorians originate from 208 countries and speak 151 languages. 44 per cent of Victorians are first generation Australians. Multicultural educational policies have progressed from simple ESL programs into a much broader range of critiques and is now often referred to as intercultural education. Multiculturalism is seen more of as an advantage and a progressive ideology more than "something we have to have", and because of this policies and attitudes are changing to take advantage of this phenomenon. The educational department has created a document outlining its multicultural policies to primary and secondary schools. In its policy it encourages schools to develop a school ethos that responds to the needs of multiculturalism by identifying and incorporating practices into its community. Schools are also asked to educate staff in this area and to quickly identify and react to any prejudice, racism or ethnic stereotyping. In the education departments practices they have introduced ESL, LOTE and intercultural studies. They encourage the employment and training of staff from varying ethnic backgrounds and have stated that they intend to have multicultural perspectives delivered across all eight key learning areas by 2006.
Affects of Multicultural Polices in Education
There is no doubt that Governmental multicultural practices and polices are having an affect on education in Australian schools. We need to take a look at how multicultural polices and practices affect education in our schools today. What are the purposes of these policies and practices ? Are the policies and practices having the desired affect in education ? What are the advantages, disadvantages associated with these policies and practices ?
The 'Multicultural policy for Victorian Schools' published by the Victorian department of Education states that
â€¦an effective multicultural policy is a policy that promotes respect by all cultures for all cultures, one that allows Australians the freedom to maintain and celebrate their languages and cultures within a socially cohesive framework of shared values, including respect for democratic process and institutions, the rule of law and acknowledgment that English is the nations common language. It respects the rights of people to form or join groups and to have targeted services provided where they are needed. It does not accept the sort of cultural separation that confines minorities to ethno-specific structures.
The purpose of this statement is to create an environment where multiculturalism is accepted and desired. It promotes multiculturalism in education as advantageous to prepare young people for real life experiences and readiness for the social climate of our world. This is an important and necessary statement which is meant to have an affect on children of all ethnicities in our schools today.
I have witnessed and read of education in a multicultural setting where Africans, Asians, Middle Eastern, South Americans, Europeans and Australians interact comfortably with one another. However there remains barriers between accepted Australians and cultural groups that must be addressed by the full implementation and encompassing of educational policies in addition to further expansion of these policies and acceptance of multiculturalism in Australia and the world.
Racism has always been an inherent problem in Australia. We began by suppressing the Aboriginals, then racially discriminated Europeans, Asians and now Middle Eastern immigrants. Perhaps it is Australia's distance from the rest of the world that causes white Australians to reluctantly accept new cultures into our society. The advantage of educational multicultural policies is that it addresses the need to educate our children about multiculturalism in society, to allow all children to participate and experience different cultures and to eradicate racism. Does the policy create a learning environment beneficial and equal for children of all cultures ? We have seen from statistical analysis that public schools based in the western and northern suburbs of Melbourne constantly under perform academically compared to their counterparts. These schools generally cater for a greater mix of cultural population along with lower social standing. It would be nice to think that these schools are actually advantaged by having greater 'cultural riches', however it seems that this cannot be said for their academic results. The educational multicultural policy incorporates support to ethnic children with the ESL, LOTE, cultural studies and welfare programs. However I believe that the policy does not fully address the difficulties faced in education by ethnic children. These are basic language and literacy barriers, feelings of inadequacy, teacher complacency, racism and a reluctance from schools to embrace multiculturalism. Ethnic children are faced with an uphill battle in education. A high percentage of immigrants have a poor educational background and are usually placed in underachieving social and educational environments.
Where to from here ?
The goal of education in a multicultural society is to not only create an environment that allows for the learning and acceptance of multiculturalism in Australia but to also reform schools so that children of diverse ethnicity, social class, and gender are able to experience equality in education. A multicultural education policy needs to address the curriculum by encompassing learning styles, languages, materials, attitudes and perceptions of a multicultural society. The school needs to embrace multiculturalism in its culture, strategies, assessment, materials and attitudes. Teachers take into the class room values and judgements which reflect on their students and should therefore be provided with ongoing development programs and assessment.
By introducing changes to education policies and practices in Australia we will be providing our children with the opportunity to participate in education that is equal and fair and that embraces multiculturalism that exists in Australia and the world today.