Currently, students from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) make up 25% of the students within the education system. They have been identified in major reports on education as a disadvantaged group because their educational outcomes are not commensurate with their numbers in our schools.
(Janiszewska, Irene.)
ESL in the Mainstream: Teacher Development Course -Workshop 9(p.50)
(South Australia: DECS Publishing, 1993)

Key reasons and purpose of the Multiculturalism policy.

Until recently, the Australian government’s response to cultural diversity in Australia was to implement a policy of assimilation.
Assimilation is a process by which individuals from minority ethnic groups adopt both the language and cultural values of another (usually the dominant) cultural group. The degree of assimilation can vary between individuals. Assimilation results in a loss of self identity and a devaluing of individual worth. To many peoples from NESB’s, this process is seen as a cost to be paid for the privilege of being allowed to settle in Australia.

The reasons why people from minority ethnic or cultural groups assume, to varying degrees, the culture and values of the dominate culture, are complex and interconnecting.
They include:

English Speaking Background (ESB) – One parent may be Anglo-Celtic

Society’s devaluation of minority cultural values by omission – seldom acknowledged in education, the media and the general community.

Ethnocentric portrayal of mainstream values – mainstream seen as superior to NESB, thus undervaluing their values.

Acceptance – the belief that an individual will be better accepted by mainstream society if they adopt the dominant values and language.

Attempt to be inconspicuous – attempt to blend into society, not be martyrs or pioneers.

Fear of racism – by becoming one of the dominant group attempting to avoid racial slurs.

Fear of sexual harassment – sexual and racial harassment is often linked.

Powerlessness – the feeling of having no right to ask for equality because of their cultural and linguistic background.

In the past ten years, the concept of what the term “multiculturalism” means has changed from being a purely descriptive one about the nature of Australian society to one which is also seen as prescriptive of official government policy.

The basis of this policy upholds the ideal of diversity in which the values of a range of cultures may coexist under an umbrella of over-arching values. People are to be encouraged to maintain their culture and language, while at the same time, sharing the over-arching values of the whole society. Ideally, each culture, including the dominant culture, should continually identify more shared values while making adjustments to and strengthening other values unique to its own cultural group.

The Multiculturalism policy gives a framework for providing services that acknowledge and promote our culturally and linguistically diverse society. It seeks to ensure equitable and enriched learning and care outcomes for all children and students irrespective of their social, cultural or linguistic backgrounds. It aims to do this through the curriculum, programs, resource management, organisation and staffing procedures within a school.

The Multiculturalism policy was put in place to ensure the social cohesion and unity amongst different cultures sharing in intertwining lifestyles in Australia.

Cultural pluralism acknowledges that cultural diversity exists, but more than that, that because of this diversity, Australia may benefit as a whole.

Principles of Multiculturalism in Education

The Multiculturalism policy seeks to promote

cultural identity: the right of children, students and families to maintain, develop and renew, and not merely pre
serve, their cultural and linguistic heritage.

access and equity: the rights for all children, students and families to equality of opportunity, ready and appropriate access to education services and equitable outcomes.

maximise potential: the right of all children and students to a quality of education that provides knowledge, skills and understanding that will enable them to participate effectively in culturally and linguistic diverse societies on a national and international level.


What is meant by the term “inclusive curriculum” ?

A culturally inclusive curriculum refers to the planning and delivery of education and care programs that ensure that cultural perspectives are reflected in all aspects of teaching, learning and care across the curriculum.

A culturally inclusive curriculum should reflect support for collaborative, whole class, and individual learning styles.

A culturally inclusive curriculum will develop the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences that will prepare children and students to participate in and contribute to life in Australia and on an international level.

This means that all children will be supported to be literate and articulate in a social environment where linguistic diversity is integral to Australian life.

While English is the shared language and the major vehicle for our literacy and language development, the social, cultural, community and economic vitality of our nation draws upon a wide variety of languages other than English.
These include the indigenous languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and the languages used by other non-English speaking background people.
Therefore, languages education is crucial to education for a multicultural society.

Literacy in English is fundamental for successful education and employment in Australia – and for a full participation in Australian society. We are recognised as an English speaking country after all.

Much of the Multiculturalism policy is directed by the fact that our handling of multiculturalism will determine our economic growth. It is why the issue of multiculturalism is such a “hot potato” within political circles.

What does it mean to teachers?

Inclusivity by its very nature, requires the acknowledgement of the contributions, skills and knowledge of all members of our society.

The content of a curriculum can either overtly or covertly devalue cultures.
The aim of multiculturalism is to achieve the latter by making modifications in areas such as the following:-

Terminology – even the implication of “different” cultures may infer that one is normal and one is not.
Often the comparison is made in relation to the dominant culture (a range of cultures may be more suitable terminology).

The use of “Us ” and “Them” should be avoided as much as possible.

Statements such as “Mel Gibson is the best actor in the world” really only apply to English speaking countries and therefore leave much of the world out of the equation.

Use of the word migrant is heavily used in relation to multiculturalism. But many second generation Australians are not migrants. All Australians have an ethnic background. The term ” Australian” describes any citizen who is a permanent resident of this country, irrelevant of country of origin.

Incorrect spelling and pronunciation devalue languages and the originating culture.

Comments such as “Captain cook discovered Australia” as compared to “the Romans came to Britain” devalue our origins. (Australia did not need to be discovered – the Aborigines were already here.
(Perhaps words such as settled or immigrated would be more appropriate)

Independence and Interdependence – for some cultural groups, the society, the group, and/or the family, are more significant than the individual. The “self” is very much a secondary consideration. This must be addressed in the teaching and learning env

Stereotyping – generalisations, such as the belief that NESB girls are oppressed and are only looking for marriage as a means of living, do not enhance cultural interaction. Rather, beliefs such as this only stifle it. The same applies to “class” distinction and especially to technological status. The western notion that technology means superiority is a constant threat to students who do not come from a culture which supports this belief.

Noise levels and overall discipline in a class may be completely different to that already experienced by a NESB student. It must be noted that students from some countries come from learning situations where discipline is firm and learning is dominantly teacher-directed. The transition from such a situation to what appears to be a laissez- faire environment can lead to confusion and a disrespect for the teaching/learning process now presented.

(A belief that overly strict discipline in NESB homes is to blame for bad behaviour in schools is both simplistic and generally incorrect).
Likewise, some cultures regard questioning teachers as wrongful and ill mannered.

In order to keep within the guidelines of the multiculturalism policy guidelines

we need to meet the cultural and linguistics needs of the students

establish and maintain and value culturally and linguistically inclusive learning environments

include inter-cultural and cross cultural education perspectives.

This means we need to put in place curriculums and programs that support and enable children to

participate in activities which reflect our diverse culture mix in Australia

develop the knowledge and skills necessary to value and participate in this society

develop their potential whilst retaining their individuality in unison with their culture, language, learning abilities and learning styles

develop proficiency in standard English

develop attitudes and behaviours that are free from racist, cultural or religious prejudice, discrimination and harassment

involve parents as much as possible – seek their help in making decisions concerning their children

set up programs which will deal with specific problems in regards to cultural and/or language barriers

The Multiculturalism policy applies to all employees of DECS (Department of Education and Community Services) and as such it requires that its employees apply this policy to their area of work, which for teachers, means implementation within our classrooms and throughout our school.

Therefore, we need a culturally inclusive curriculum in ALL areas of learning and we need to provide supportive and culturally inclusive learning and care environments for ALL the students.

How can school practices be adopted to make them more inclusive of students from non-English speaking backgrounds?

Points to consider:

The students are the centre of the curriculum.

Students of all ages are aware of the culture and subculture elements (class, gender and race) within a school. They do not live in a vacuum.

NESB children come from a variety of situations which may include the following factors:- war, famine, refugee situations, geographical isolation, family disruptions, itinerant life style, disability, etc.,

What students’ expect from school in terms of relationship and roles, teaching and learning (that is, the content of what is taught), and, how learning is taught (approach, structure, assessment).


Multiculturalism is all encompassing – it cannot be implemented in only one area.
It must aim to permeate all facets of the school environment.

A culturally inclusive curriculum must consider such things as –

enrolment and placement procedures – do they address NESB students and their families?

does the school timetable include time for ESL (English as a Second Language) support etc.?

is counselli
ng available, and if so, are the counselling procedures well equipped in dealing with the values of different cultural groups. The educational and career aspirations – are they able to be dealt with in the same manner as children of English speaking backgrounds?

parent and student participation in community related activities. Does the school need to assist in helping for information to be translated into the native language of the home/family etc.?


Inclusivity begins in the classroom. What is taught, how it is taught, the resources used and the relationships between teachers and students all give NESB students clear messages about their identity. This affects their sense of self worth, their attitudes to school and learning, and their ability to participate effectively and to full potential in their own learning. (High self-esteem is well-recognized as being vital for successful learning, especially language learning)

In the classroom other multicultural considerations must be dealt with, such as:-

The physical and social environment – reflects factors such as the relationship between teachers and students, and amongst students themselves, and whether or not a classroom is supportive and conducive to learning.

What is actually studied and learnt – are the intentions of the teacher the actual messages received by the students – especially in regards to what is important and what is valued.

Teaching strategies and methodologies – do they allow for students to actively participate effectively in their own learning.

Assessment techniques – are they consistent and non-gender/race systems. Do the evaluation methods used allow for the inclusion of NESB children etc.

Time-tabling should reflect a valuing of cultural diversity. Placing LOTE and other specialised language classes during a PE lesson or Art lesson may mean that chn miss out on these once a week subjects.

The content of every subject should acknowledge and value the perspectives and contributions of non-English speaking background people. These should be integrated into the subject matter and not relegated as “optional” , end of term activities. Their relevance to present and future scenarios should be made clear. Resource materials should portray people of NESB’s in positive, non-stereo-typed roles.

Further examples of inclusive strategies:-

In areas of general knowledge – highlight facts more inclusively of whole world approach rather than western approach, i.e.

Music – The Chinese were the first to develop notation

Astronomy – The Chinese were the first to document astronomy

Maths – The Hungarians were the first to discover that there is no such thing as a straight line

Science and Technology – Italians – Leonardo Da Vinci

Science and Technology – The Poles – Madame Curie

In Australia’s development – the same applies:-

In South Australia – 10% of the population in South Australia is of German origin.

Giacomo (James) Matra (a Corsican) AND Joseph Banks – put together the notion of British settlement in Australia.

Display a world map and timelines showing significant cross cultural events in human history.

Overall, ensure that the dominant Anglo culture is as open to examination and discussion as any other. It should not be considered the “norm” against which all other cultures are judged and found wanting.

Edgar Earle Fopp
– Introduction to Australian Society: Chapter 11
– Education as a Socialiser and Cultural Reproducer (NSW, Australia: Prentice Hall, 1993)

makes the following observations

Schools teach established areas of knowledge and make students aware of the existing norms and values that society deems important in preparing young people to participate in society… this has been made increasingly complex as Australian migration during the past 30 years has transformed Australia into a multicultural society where traditional Anglo-Saxon val
ues are deemed too limiting. This is not to say that migrant parents seek change – many uphold their own traditional values and react against the methods of “progressive” teachers. (p.330)

…it has been suggested that in Australia, education has been used to implement cultural changes in line with government requests. The recent emphasis on training for job productivity is one example of this approach.

The education documents being put forward by the government with regards to multiculturalism seek to enhance social integration at a school level. The government as much as possible avoids cultural conflicts , as social justice principles are put in place almost daily. (p.331)

Within the National Goals of Schooling (agreed to by all the Australian Ministers of Education in each state) it was stated that as a part of the basis for curriculum planning in state schools, students need to develop:

a knowledge of languages other than English, and

an understanding and respect for Australia’s cultural heritage including the cultural background of Aboriginal and ethnic groups (p.335)

The growth of Australia as a multicultural society means that the development of social education is necessary to foster social flexibility as a resource. (p.353)

How can the curriculum reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of our society?

What actions/strategies can be used to implement a culturally inclusive curriculum?

To acknowledge the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of all students, of all groups who form part of Australia’s multicultural society.
Conduct surveys to find out about the backgrounds of the students’ parents.
Listen to the students and actively and sensitively seek information and show interest in their heritage.
Ensure that information relating to the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of students is recorded on enrolment forms.
Ensure that the school has accurate statistics on the cultural makeup of the school

To support the ongoing professional development of all staff so that teachers can continue to respond to the cultural and linguistic needs of students from NESB’s.
Conduct individual action research in the classroom.
Share ideas, information and resources with colleagues.
Involve staff in policy and curriculum development.
Ensure staff have time to plan programs together, to attend relevant conferences etc.

To enhance the individual’s self esteem and his/her respect of others.
Respect student’s names
consult students re: preferred name usage
make a concerted effort to pronounce and write names as accurately as possible
Encourage use of students’ first language.
Run self esteem programs
Ensure that there are multilingual signs around the school.

To give students equal access to classroom; school resources – including teacher time; attention; facilities, equipment, funding.
Ensure that all students requiring language support in the classroom have access to it.
Ensure that the resources selected for classroom use are culturally inclusive and linguistically accessible.
Ensure that adequate funds are allocated to purchase culturally inclusive resources.
Ensure that a wide range of sports/leisure equipment is available in the school to cater for the interests of all students.

To acknowledge, value and incorporate in the curriculum the:
– experiences
– knowledge
– needs of all students.
Use students’ knowledge, skills and experiences as starting points for learning.
Provide ESL (English as a Second Language) support for children from NESB’s.
Provide LOTE (Languages Other Than English) programs;
first language maintenance
second language
Regularly revie
w ESL programs in school to determine the effectiveness in meeting the needs of the FULL range of ESL students.

To involve parents and other individuals/groups from the wider community into the life of the school.
Invite parents and other members of the community to share their skills and experiences in the classroom;
telling bilingual stories
LOTE lesson aid
Art/craft lesson activities etc.
Arrange for interpreters to be available at interviews
Involve parents in decision making processes/structures;
school council
exploring ways of approaching parents from NESB situations
Arrange for school notices to be translated orally or in written form

To provide a classroom environment free from prejudice and stereotyping.
Model the kinds of attitudes and behaviour you expect of your students.
Provide positive, non-stereo-typed:
images in resources
(visitors to classrooms should include people from diverse backgrounds)
Implement the antiracism policy.
Develop procedures for dealing with racist behaviour.

To ensure that all students are able to participate positively in classroom and school activities.
Use a collaborative approach to learning
Find out real reasons for non-participation of students – don’t make assumptions that may be invalid.
Provide and adapt school activities so that they appeal to, and can involve, all students.
Ensure that parents and students are well informed of the purposes of school excursions and activities.

Links to other Multiculturalism sites:

Multicultural Info (Great for SOSE)
ABC National Radio Transcript
Dept of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs


Much of the information on this page has been adapted from:

ESL in the Mainstream: Teacher Development Course – Workshop 9 (p.50)
(South Australia: DECS Publishing, 1993)


Edgar Earle Fopp
Introduction to Australian Society: Chapter 11
– Education as a Socialiser and Cultural Reproducer
(NSW, Australia: Prentice Hall, 1993