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Students are currently living in a time where they need to recognise shared values and common humanity if they are to thrive and survive as a global community. They must replace fear with hope and rediscover the joy that comes with human connection. Teachers should encourage students to cherish and celebrate the rich human diversity that exists in the world. Teachers and students need to join hearts, minds and hands to work together to create strong communities that are sustainable, equitable and peaceful. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding can help achieve this.
Intercultural understanding refers to the “willingness and ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people different from ourselves, and in diverse cultural settings” (Rader, 2018, p. 19). The Australian Curriculum (2019) reflects exemplary work integrating intercultural understanding into the curriculum. The capability involves students in learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect. Within the Australian Curriculum (2019), intercultural understanding is developed around three organising elements; ‘Recognising culture and developing respect’, ‘Interacting and empathizing with others’ and ‘Reflecting on intercultural experiences and taking responsibility’. Rader (2018) states that the Australian Curriculum has clearly identified the key aspects of intercultural understanding and distilled its essence. The knowledge, skills, values and attitudes embedded here form an excellent foundation to expand upon. However, Allard (2016) noted that being able to work cross-culturally was seen as critical only for those teachers and teacher education students who taught in school settings with very diverse populations. This is no longer an adequate approach. Schools will need to “prepare learners for global citizenship as well as enabling them to develop the skills and attitudes necessary for living together in local communities and states which are increasingly diverse in their make-up” (Allard, 2016, p. 322). Teaching intercultural understanding is crucial as we share our planet with people who have different nationalities and cultures. The number of families and communities that are “racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse is increasing and are predicted to continue to do so” (Rader, 2018, p. 24). Furthermore, intercultural understanding plays a key part in “transforming the significant levels of disadvantage that marginalised student groups, especially those of immigrant and refugee backgrounds, continue to experience” where they often do not see their cultures and languages reflected in their classrooms or the curriculum (Keddi, 2011). Developing intercultural understanding does not happen naturally, it needs to be developed strategically, intentionally and mindfully as a process, beginning when children are young and their attitudes are forming.
In the Australian Curriculum, students develop intercultural understanding as they learn to value their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. From Foundation to Level 2, the curriculum focus is on “developing the knowledge, skills and understandings to enable students to learn about cultures in their immediate world” (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment (VCAA), 2019). Within the lower levels, learning typically focuses on immediate family, home, school and friends. The Victorian curriculum provides the opportunity for students to begin to explore similarities and difference in cultural practices. In turn, they begin to understand the concept of cultural diversity. Within Levels 3 and 4, students build on their pre-existing knowledge seeing as “prior knowledge, skills, beliefs and concepts significantly influence what learners notice about their environment and how they organise and interpret it” (Cummins, 2006, p. 56). Cummins (2006) implies that in classrooms with students from linguistically diverse backgrounds, instruction must explicitly activate student’s prior knowledge and build relevant background knowledge as necessary. This is fundamental in levels 3 and 4 where students apply the skills developed in previous years to learn about culture relevant to their social world of family, home, school, friends and neighbourhood. This allows students in the middle years to “compare different cultures by using their experiences of family, school and wider community to reflect on cultural diversity within Australia” (VCAA, 2019). In levels 5 and 6, the curriculum focus shifts to support students to learn about diverse cultural practices and beliefs and how they compare with their own. Ultimately, students will apply their intercultural understandings developed throughout the years to further enhance their awareness of cultural diversity and reflect on intercultural experiences and how this influences their own personal attitudes and beliefs.
Technology has huge potential to enhance professional development, whilst offering new possibilities for content development and educational activities. Pacheco and Miller (2015) demonstrate how Book Creator can be used in the lower years to help students “identify what is familiar and what is different in the ways culturally diverse individuals and families live” (VCAA, 2019). Students create multi-page e-books using digital photos of their homes and communities. In this perspective, ICT is of great importance as a resource to recognise cultures. Book creator allows students to learn about other children’s lives and languages outside of school, while establishing that their cultures and lives outside of school have a visible and valued place in the classroom. Ultimately, teachers and educational practitioners primary aim is to develop professional learning processes that encourage transformation in schools towards an intercultural, inclusive educational approach. AITSL (2017) explains how technology can be used to implement engaging teaching programs that provide upper primary students with intercultural understanding. AITSL (2017) provides examples of how educators use technology to communicate with a ‘sister school’ in Indonesia. Educators use Skype or any other Voice Over Internet Protocol Service (VOIP) to facilitate teacher and student interactions with an Indonesian ‘sister school’. Using Skype to bridge a relationship with students and teachers from Indonesia can help break down cultural barriers and effectively support learning about cultures and languages. Students are able to explore “potential barriers to intercultural understanding, language for example, and discussing possible ways to address or reduce barriers, such as Government agencies using translation services” (VCAA, 2019). Skype or VOIP can also be used to engage educators with professional development by enabling teachers from different locations to collaborate with each other to share their expertise and learn from one another.
Intercultural understanding is not another subject to add on to an already full curriculum, and it is not enough to teach an occasional lesson or unit on the topic. It is a way of living that must be embraced, modelled and practised by adults and the children they work with. Teaching and learning for intercultural understanding can be easily integrated into the existing curriculum in any school. Educators are encouraged to consider intercultural understanding as another lens through which to view the curriculum when designing and choosing learning materials, activities and technologies.
- Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2019). Foundation to Year 10 Curriculum, General Capabilities: Intercultural Understanding. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/intercultural-understanding/
Allard, A. (2006). A bit of a chameleon act: A case study of one teacher’s understandings of diversity. European Journal of Teacher Education, 29(3), 319-340.
- Cummins, J. (2006). Chapter 2. In Imagining multilingual schools: Language in education and glocalization. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
- Keddie, A. (2011). Supporting minority students through a reflexive approach to empowerment. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(2), 221-238. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2011.547307
- Pacheco, M., & Miller, M. (2016). Making Meaning Through Translanguaging in the Literacy Classroom. Reading Teacher, 69(5), 533-537. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1390
- Rader, D. (2018). Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds. United Kingdom: Taylor and Francis.
- Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2019). Foundation to Year 10 Curriculum: Intercultural Capability. Retrieved from https://victoriancurriculum.vcaa.vic.edu.au/intercultural-capability/curriculum/f-10
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