Chapter 5


Issues in Multicultural Education

by Fiona Davies, Angela Melendro-Galvis,
Lisa Pingatore and Maryse Premier

When we are exploring notions of inclusion and exclusion in our schools, it is important to examine the experiences of students of different cultural backgrounds. Australia has a history of providing a monolingual and monocultural education for our students. Culture is defined as “a way of perceiving, believing, evaluating and behaving. Culture imposes order and meaning to our experiences and allows us to predict how others will behave in certain situations” (Chinn and Gollnick, 1998, p. 5). In this definition, culture includes the diversity of beliefs and values involved in spiritual beliefs as well as ethnic backgrounds. 

“Multiculturalism values the contributions of people of different backgrounds. It enables people of all cultures in Australia to participate equally in mainstream social, political and economic institutions.”

(Multicultural Policy for Victorian School (MPVS), 1997)

            Educational policies over the past twenty years have begun advocating for change. If schools offer an education which does not incorporate other cultures and offers only the perspective of the dominant culture, then many students are in danger of being excluded. Schools now offer Languages Other Than English (LOTE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to students; however, how much have schools really changed? Has the curriculum become more inclusive of other cultures, or do schools continue to present only examples of the dominant culture? The Department of Education 1997 report, “Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools” (MPVS) describes multicultural policy as being a policy for all Australians, concerned with long established groups, not just recent arrivals. “It is a policy that sees culture as an evolving phenomenon, cultural pluralism as a dynamic and enriching social value, and equality of access and opportunity as essential to the economic and social health of the State”.

            Migration has always been an influential contributor to Australia’s population growth and diversity. Government polices have changed over time. In the early to mid 1900s we saw the ‘White Australia’ policies and assimilationist migration laws. The aim of assimilationist policies was to retain the cultural and linguistic homogeneity of the  population. There was a preference for British migrants. Other European migrants were also accepted but they were expected to integrate into the dominant culture as soon as possible. The education system promoted and supported these policies, and English was the only language taught. Anglo-Saxon values and culture were promoted, and other cultures were ignored. There were no programs for students who did not speak English (Guidelines for Managing Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Schools, 2001).

            In the late 1960s and early 1970s, reports such as the Henderson Report on Poverty and the Karmel Report on schooling in Australia (1973) found that “not only did assimilationist policies disadvantage immigrants of language backgrounds other than English, but that such policies were also inherently wasteful of the potential, talents and resources immigrants could contribute to society” (Karmel, 1973). There was a shift from integrationist policies to multicultural policies.

Victoria has one of the most diverse communities in Australia: 44% of Victorians were born overseas or have one parent born overseas. The 1996 census showed that 4,400,000 people who live in Victoria originate from 208 countries and speak 151 languages. (ABS 1996). Schools in Victoria reflect these statistics with one in every four students is either born overseas or having one parent born overseas.

            Education played an important role in implementing these policies. In 1970 the Commonwealth Education Department introduced the Child Migrant Education Program (CMEP). The CMEP provided funding for teachers to conduct withdrawal ESL classes in schools. They also provided in-service programs for teachers on what were perceived as migrant issues. In 1978 there was a review of post-arrival programs and services for migrants (Migrant Services Programs), known as the Galbally Report. It was after this that multiculturalism became an official government policy (MPVS, 1997).

            Multicultural policy began to influence education with the establishment in 1978 of the Multicultural Education Program (MEP). This was set up by the Committee on Multicultural Education of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. The Multicultural Education Program enabled State and Territory education to develop innovative programs in languages other than English, for mother tongue maintenance, for second language development and for bilingual education. It also supported projects to help school communities develop strategies to combat prejudice, racism and stereotyping. However, these programs were seen as something that was in addition to the real role of teaching and they ceased to operate as soon as the funding from MEP ceased (MPVS, 1997).

            In 1993 the Ministerial Advisory Council on Languages Other Than English (MACLOTE) was established. MACLOTE’s major task was to propose strategies to ensure the provision of high quality language programs for all students in years P-10 and to 25% of students in years 11-12 by 2000. In 1995 the Council was also given responsibility for English as a second language and was renamed MACLOTE and ESL. MACLOTE and ESL has been aware that multicultural education is more than just teaching languages, and its current primary target is to ensure that, by 2006, all students P-12 will have multicultural perspectives in all eight key learning areas (The Arts, English, Health and Physical education, LOTE Mathematics, Science, Study of Society and Environment, and technology).

            MACLOTE and ESL recommended several strategies to be used in implementing this proposal. These include:

•  That a cooperative network across the key learning areas be established to assist in the development of integrated multicultural perspectives, possibly using the expertise of language teachers as a resource;

•  That teacher networks with a focus on multicultural education be established by regions across the three school sectors in the context of the curriculum and Standards Framework Teacher Networks;

•  That negotiations be undertaken with tertiary institutions to ensure that pre-service teacher training includes compulsory units designed to develop intercultural knowledge and awareness and culturally-inclusive teaching skills, and that those units be well integrated in the overall course; and

•  That credit-bearing units and courses be designed to broaden intercultural knowledge and awareness, and that culturally inclusive teaching skills be offered by tertiary institutions at post-initial training level.

            Other strategies outlined by MACLOTE and ESL include:

•  That schools be required to address the multicultural policy in their school charters and report on the progress of its implementation through the first triennial school charter after 2000; and

•  That support documents be developed to help school principals and councils evaluate the school administrative processes and how they facilitate incorporating multicultural perspectives into school life.

            As beginning teachers we need to reflect on how well we can integrate multiculturalism into our classrooms in order to be inclusive of students of all backgrounds. There are students who have specific issues and who are at greater risk of exclusion in the education system. What skills do we need to ensure that these students are included in our classrooms? There are also issues relating to students from a refugee or asylum seeker background. Are ESL programs adequate to address the needs of students who have undergone an often lengthy and traumatic process of arrival to Australia? These students have often had an interrupted education and may have difficulties in literacy in their own language as well as English. How can we ensure that these students are not excluded? There are also issues relating to faith. Most of the policy documents we have examined do not mention faith as an issue. How do we as beginning teachers come to understand issues of faith and how we can engage in our classroom students of all faiths in an inclusive way? It is important to gain an understanding of how individual schools respond to the broader policy directions. Do schools have well-developed multicultural policies? How do schools provide an inclusive learning environment in a diverse student population?

            In this chapter we will examine some of the issues associated with multicultural education approaches in our classrooms and schools. These include ways in which we can address the needs of refugee students and ways in which we can address issues of diversity of faith. We have specifically selected these issues because we have found that there are few developments in these areas. We will also explore ways in which we can change school policies to address multicultural issues and examine examples of schools that have successfully developed policies to ensure that all students are included in a meaningful way within our classrooms.

1.      Faith in the Multicultural Classroom

It is almost impossible to talk about having a culturally inclusive education system without somehow addressing the topic of faith.  In many cultures, faith is so closely tied in with the defining practices of ethnic groups, that to attempt to develop an inclusive classroom without considering faith would result in a less than whole and truthful representation of these groups.

            In talking about faith in the classroom, there are obvious disparities between morals, religion and philosophy.  For example, Buddha Dhamma is not strictly a religion, as it does not involve worshipping a ‘recognised creator’. (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2000, p. 6). Rather, this is a ‘philosophy’.  Likewise, moral behavior draws on beliefs, but is neither a philosophy or a religion.  However, in others ways, it is extremely hard to separate morals, religion and philosophy. For this reason, in this discussion they will be referred to interchangeably as ‘faith’ or ‘spirituality’.  Spirituality encompasses each of the above-mentioned dimensions, as it relates to “those things which support and give life to a person’s ideals, goals, sense of purpose and identity.” (Best, 1996, p. 77). 

Spirituality in Australia

From information already presented in this chapter, it is quite clear how multicultural Australia is as a nation. Due to the huge diversity of ethnic groups in Australia, there are now, more than ever, a growing number of faiths and spiritualities being practiced actively in the community. However, this has not always been the case.

In 1911, when the first national census was taken in Australia, it revealed that 96% of Australians considered their faith to be Christianity (Australian Multi-cultural Foundation, p. 3, 2000).  This figure has changed dramatically over the last 90 years or so, with Christianity dropping to 70.3% of the population’s faith in 1996 (as indicated in the 1996 Census, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics).  This census also revealed that Islam and Buddhism both accounted for 1.1% of the population’s faith, Judaism and Hinduism accounted for 0.4% and other faiths (including the category of ‘no religion’) accounted for 26.2% (Conference of Education Systems Chief Executive Officers, 2000). 

            These figures are on the rise.  Statistics from the 1991 and 1996 Census Reports were compared to reveal that Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism experienced more than a 30% growth rate between these two periods of time. (Conference of Education Systems Chief Executive Officers, 2000)

             It seems as though faith has not been comprehensively addressed in the education arena, perhaps due to the strong representation of Christianity in the classroom and the belief that Christian religious education was sufficient. However, as our society becomes more diversified, we should be moving with this diversification to provide education that is inclusive to students from all faiths and spiritualities, not just the most vocal or widely represented faiths.

Should Spirituality be Addressed in the Education System?

Many people challenge the place of spirituality in education. However, there are at least three strong arguments for the inclusion of spirituality within the curriculum:

•  It would appear, through personal observation, that many students are disadvantaged through a lack of spiritual awareness in the classroom. One example of this is the student who is withheld by their parents from science classes due to the non-representation of ‘creation’ explanations relating to the world’s beginning. Some schools may also, through rules and regulations, make it hard for students to adhere to spiritual beliefs such as the wearing of specific clothes or the carrying out of certain actions such as prayers at specific times of the day. However, by taking some of these issues into account, the school community is able to decrease exclusion on the grounds of spirituality.

•  To allow children to gain a balanced understanding of the world and develop as ‘cohesive and unified’ individuals in an ‘holistic way’ (Best, p.11, 1996), it is essential that they are made aware of the various spiritual beliefs which exist.

•  To make no representation of spirituality in the classroom is in fact not a neutral position, but rather presents Humanism - a belief that there is no ‘supernatural force’ (Healey, 1998, p. 27), in a passive way. Would it not be better to present many spiritualities, rather than one?

What do Policies Say About Spirituality in the Classroom?

In looking at policies about spirituality in the classroom, it became quite evident that there is a definite lack of useful debate and an under-representation of this issue in the Australian educational literature. Often this issue is addressed as an extension of multiculturalism if it is addressed at all. Although, as stated above, spirituality is strongly linked to multiculturalism, this issue has the ability to affect the educational future of many students through exclusive classroom practices which disadvantage students from various spiritual backgrounds. For this reason, faith in the classroom should be a topic which is addressed on its own merit rather than as an ‘offshoot’ of the multiculturalism discussion.

The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (1999) states under Goal 3.1: “Schooling should be socially just so that students’ outcomes from schooling are free from the effects of negative forms of discrimination based on sex, language, culture and ethnicity, religion or disability.”

            This policy is clear that discrimination on the grounds of spirituality is unacceptable.  However, it does not explicitly address how spirituality should be incorporated into the classroom. 

The Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools, which came into play in 1997 through the Department of Education is one of the few Australian education policies which makes mention of spirituality at all.  Under the heading: Multicultural Perspec-tives - A Whole-School Approach (p.11, 1997), the only explicit mention of spirituality is this:

“Ensure that the formal policies of the school - such as the code of conduct, the discipline policy and the dress code - and practices such as school assemblies, are appropriate for the school community, including the diverse religious and cultural practices of its members.”

             In July, Dr Brendan Nelson (Commonwealth Minister for Education, Science and Training) announced a study into values education in Australian schools.  Under this initiative, research will be carried out regarding ‘best practice’ in values education and ‘priority in funding will be given to activities which emphasize values in the school program’ (Finkelstein, 2002). Although this study, along with the Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools, has made a start in the right direction with some mention of spirituality, there is still much to be done in relation to developing cohesive and comprehensive policies for spiritually inclusive classrooms. 

Examples of Spirituality in Schools

Religious Education Programs

Many schools in the Victorian Government system continue to offer very little in the way of a balanced view of spiritualities. According to the Council for Christian Education in Schools, almost 68% of Victorian primary schools offer one session of ‘religious education’ per week, with approximately 4,300 ‘Christian religious education teachers who use the agreed syllabus – Religion in Life’ (The Council for Christian Education, 2002). However, this program has a strong Christian emphasis, and, although parents are allowed to insist that their children do not take part in these sessions (The Council for Christian Education, 2002) often they have no other option but to do alternate activities not related to faith education. This program needs to be paired with a ‘spiritually sensitive’ curriculum if it is to affect wide-spread change, creating ‘spiritually inclusive schools’. Sadly, from observation, it would seem that many schools view the one session of religious education per week as a comprehensive implementation of ‘spirituality’.

The Five Strand Approach

One approach, which has been taken up by a growing number of schools over the last few years, has been the ‘Five Strand Approach in Religious and Values Education’.  This program presents five learning strands which are: Values, The Philosophy of Religion, World Religions, The Affective Strand and Christianity  (Vardy, 1999).This program attempts to provide the student with a rounded view of the major world religions and philosophies.  However, the downfall of any program which attempts to look at different spiritualities, is that, due to the plethora of spiritualities, it is inevitable that certain faiths will not be covered within the program.  However, this program could, in the future, be used as a template to establish a more rounded and representative faith education model for Victorian classrooms.

Believing in Harmony

The Believing in Harmony Program was developed in 2000 by the Australian Multicultural Foundation in partnership with the Commonwealth Government. This program was created as a response to the increasingly multicultural nature of Australia’s community and aims to ‘ensure that our school children understand and appreciate Australia’s religious diversity’ (Australian Multicultural Foundation, p. 4, 2000). However, as the program only runs for four weeks, it is best used as one part of a spiritually inclusive program.

Separate Schooling Systems

As the Catholic Church has been doing for many years now, a growing number of faiths are offering faith-specific schools, with the curriculums of these schools being planned around  major faith tenets. King Khalid Islamic College, in Coburg is one such school.  Established in 1983, this school allows for various tenets of the Muslim faith to be carried out, such as the avoidance of ‘unnecessary touching’ between boys and girls, and also the observance of prayer times. (Dunn, 2002). However, aside from Catholic and Christian schools, there are very few schools of other faiths within Victoria. Often these school systems are inaccessible due to long waiting lists and high school fees.

Awareness Project

One example of a ‘spiritualities’ education project which has taken place recently in Victoria (started in February 2002), is The Cultural Awareness for Understanding Project. This project was undertaken by a number of students from various schools, each acting as a future ‘ambassador’ for their school community in regards to differing religions and cultures. These students have and will spend a number of sessions ‘workshopping’ different religions and cultures. This will hopefully provide them with the knowledge to act as ‘change agents’ within their own school cultures for the integration of faiths (Russell, 2002, p.18). Programs such as this have the advantage of educating students at a grass-roots level through a process of education regarding spiritualities.

            Each of these programs work in some way to decrease the spiritual exclusivity of education. However, none of these methods, if used on their own, will achieve a comprehensively inclusive education environment for the many varying spiritualities of Victorian students. There is much effort needed to develop a ‘spiritualities’ policy which caters for students of all spiritualities within the Victorian education system. However, until a comprehensive spiritualities policy is developed there are a number of suggestions listed below, which can be carried out by individual teachers and school communities. This list has been adapted from The Muslim Guide (McDermott and Ahsan, 1993, p. 46).


•  Make a special effort to find out the various ‘spiritualities’ represented in your class, and read up on those faiths/spiritualities with which you are unfamiliar.

•  Try to organize ‘religious instruction’ which is appropriate for each child - where there is no appropriate instructor available, perhaps you could encourage students to carry out reading related to their spirituality.

•  Try to include where possible, views from various spiritualities within each Key Learning Area. 

•  Try to present a balanced view of the world and its faiths.

•  Encourage parents and/or students from various spiritualities to represent their views on the school council.

•  Celebrate different spiritually significant events and include outings to spiritual centres in the curriculum.

•  Try to develop school policies which make allowance for and are sensitive to, students who may wish to wear different uniforms, may need to pray at specific times or do not wish to take part in certain activities (eg sex or sexuality education).

•  Provide, where possible, a ‘prayer/meditation room’ which can be used by students from different faiths.

•  Make sure that the canteen provides a variety of foods suitable for various ‘eating requirements/philosophies’ related to spirituality.

•  Try to have access to pastoral carers from various faiths.

2.                Refugees and Asylum Seekers and the Education System

Over the last few years refugees and asylum seekers have acquired great visibility within the Australian community. Polarized views and manipulation of political interests have, unfortunately, often surrounded this visibility. Bitter discussions on whether the country is being swamped by refugees who are a social burden due to lack of skills, or whether the compassion of Australian society is being abused by queue jumpers who force their way into Australia, posing risks for our social harmony, political stability and the country's security, are not uncommon.

The 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, defines refugee as a person “who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”. (United Nations Convention on Refugees, Article 1 of the 1951).

Asylum seekers are people who are seeking to be recognized as refugees. They have fled their country due to persecution or fear of persecution, and are seeking sanctuary, safety and protection in another country. The Convention on Refugees requires that, if asylum seekers are successful in their claim for recognition of refugee status, they be offered the same protection and benefits as other citizens of that country.

            How our education system in general, and we as teachers in particular, respond to issues related to refugees and asylum seekers, will reflect the nature of the society we are playing a part in building.

            Teachers working in Victoria are likely, at some stage, to teach students from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds. A recent study from the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (2002), indicates that in the last 6 years (July 1996 to March 2002), 14,603 young people aged 12 to 25 arrived in Australia, with about 4,000 of them settling in Victoria.

            If we do not provide an environment where these students feel included, where their self esteem and confidence can thrive, where they can become active and informed citizens, we will be perpetuating the discrimination they expected to escape from, and might irremediably alienate them from the rest of the society.

“Currently there are approximately 16,000 refugee young people in Victoria, aged 14-25 years who arrived in Victoria with a refugee or humanitarian class visa between 01 July 1982 and 30 June 2001, or were assessed onshore and granted permanent refugee or humanitarian visas in the period between 1 July 1991 and 30 June 2001”. (The Victorian Settlement Planning Committee, 2001 p, 10).

“Over the last 10 years of settlement, refugee young people initially settled in significant numbers (of over 100) in only 22 of the 78 Local Government Areas in Victoria. Moreover, over 56% or 4899 of these refugees chose to settle in just 7 LGAs. By far the largest proportion, 1 in 5, settled in Greater Dandenong (18%), but other large groups settled in Brimbank (7%), Darebin (7%), Moreland (7%), Hume (6%), Moonee Valley (6%) and Maribyrnong (5.5%)”.  (The Victorian Settlement Planning Committee, 2001p, 10)


Through the Humanitarian Program of the Australian Immigration System, around 12,000 people are granted protection visas (PV) each year. The program has an ‘offshore’ and an ‘onshore’ component.

Offshore program:

The offshore program comprises two categories:

•    Refugee - people living outside their country of nationality or usual residence and who have suffered or hold a well-founded fear of persecution, are eligible for a protection visa under the refugee program

•    Special humanitarian - people living outside their country of nationality or usual residence who have experienced substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of human rights, and whose application is supported by an Australian resident or by an organisation based in Australia, can apply for a protection visa under this category (technically, they are not refugees).

Onshore program:

The onshore program is for asylum seekers, who are people who have left their own country for fear of persecution and, once in Australia, seek protection through being recognised as refugees.

In Australia, asylum seekers are divided into two broad categories:

•    Asylum seekers who arrive to mainland Australia without a valid visa and apply for a PV: they are subject to mandatory detention.

•    Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia on temporary visas (e.g. visitor or student visa), and apply for a PV: they are usually granted bridging visas and live within the community until their application for a PV is finalised.

            If the Australian government accepts the asylum seeker’s application, they are recognised as refugees and will be granted either a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV), or a Temporal Protection Visa(TPV). If applications are not accepted the asylum seeker will be asked to leave the country or face deportation.

            The processing of both offshore and onshore PVs is long and during this time people’s lives are often ‘on hold’. Offshore applicants usually live in refugee camps or refugee-camp conditions, while a large number of onshore applicants living within the Australian community face appalling conditions including homelessness, extreme hardship and health problems with very limited entitlements and support.

Table 1 summarises the entitlements that refugees and asylum seekers have.

Other entitlements

Refugees on PPV

Refugees on TPV

Asylum seekers on  bridging visas

Income support

Full range of Centrelink payments

Restricted access to Centrelink payments

Not eligible for Centrelink payments.

May be eligible for the ASAS under certain conditions

Job Network

Full range of assistance to secure employment

Limited entitlements

No entitlements

Work Rights

Right to work

Right to work

Might have right to work under certain conditions

O/S Travel

Right to return from overseas trips

No right to return from overseas

Must apply for permission to travel

Family Reunion

Can sponsor family members

Cannot sponsor family members

Cannot sponsor family members


Access to Medicare

Access to Medicare

Might have access to Medicare under certain conditions.

Access to torture and trauma counselling

Table 1 - Source:  the information on the table has been compiled from the fact sheets produced by the Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs. 

Issues faced by refugee and asylum seeker students

The inclusion of refugee and asylum seeker students might not be an easy task. These students may have undergone traumatic experiences including persecution, violation of human rights, imprisonment, abduction, family separation or loss, sexual abuse, extreme poverty and near starvation. The traumatic effects of these experiences can be expressed in behaviours such as withdrawal, quietness, fear, irritability or outbursts of anger.

            Refugee and asylum seeker students might have lived in refugee camps or refugee-camp conditions for extended periods and as a result, their schooling has been disrupted, affecting their literacy and numeracy, as well as the development of cognitive skills that allow the manipulation of knowledge and concepts. This lack of scholastic abilities might result in behavioural problems that aim at hiding or diverting attention from these problems.

            Finally, most refugees and asylum seekers do not speak English as their first language, and need to begin by learning the language skills needed to cope with school life. For most refugees and asylum seekers living in the community, education in Australia starts at an intensive language school or centre. The normal length of study in a language centre is 6 months, but extensions of a further six months are often granted to students with disrupted or no previous schooling. Hereafter, they are expected to join mainstream primary or secondary schools at a level corresponding to their age.

Consequences of Exclusion

There is no official data available that specifically looks at refugees and asylum seeker students within mainstream schools. Anecdotal information from teachers working with these students indicates that our education system does not know how to address the issues presented by these students. The lack of education policies providing a framework and offering some guidance on how we should respond makes things worse. Linzaat (2002), for instance, observes that:

“There is no explicit, shared understanding of the nature of the task confronting young illiterate ESL students but rather a fuzzy feeling at the heart of the education system that if we're nice enough, if the student could just Behave Better and Not Leave School, everything will be alright… or at least the problem will sooner or later be in someone else's sector. This central core of bad faith makes a mockery of the great efforts made by individual students and teachers, rendering them, at best piecemeal” (Linzaat, 2002, p. 2).

            A recent study by Warrick (2001) provides valuable information on what might be happening to students with disrupted schooling within mainstream schooling.

            Warrick studied the academic achievements of 286 secondary school-age students from a language centre from 1994 to 1999. He found that 63% of students with more than 2 years of interrupted schooling and 86% of those with no previous schooling did not finish year 12. Considering that data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the national average of early leaving is 25%, the above figures are strikingly high. (ABS 2000, Cited by Teese 2000)

            Teese (2000) has noted that when “achievement declines, integration weakens and dropping out becomes more and more likely”. With this in mind, Warrick's findings on the students' individual results in ESL, Maths, Science and SOSE, in the semester prior to exit are not surprising: 62% of students with interrupted schooling and 75% of those with no schooling had failed at least one subject (29% of interrupted schooling and 42% of no schooling students had failed all their subjects prior to exit).

            These figures suggest that our secondary education system is failing to cater for the needs of refugee and asylum seeker students. If we consider the Victorian government's aim for a 90% year 12 or equivalent completion rate by 2010, there is no doubt that much work will need to be done to address the problem.

            Teese (2000) suggests that “early leaving based on failure needs to be reduced or at least compensated for by successful learning and integration within TAFE”.

            However, education pathways for refugees and asylum seekers are closely connected to their education entitlements and immigration policies. Table 2 summarises the rights to education according to the type of visa held by refugees and asylum seekers.

Education entitlements

Refugees on Permanent Protection Visas

Refugee on Temporal Protection Visas

Asylum seekers (living in the community) on  bridging visas

< 18 years old -English schools/centres




< 18 years old - Primary and secondary school




> 18 years old - English, Adult Migrant Education












Table 2 - Source: the information on the table has been compiled from a document from the Department of Education: Conditions of Enrolment in a Government School

             Refugees and asylum seekers face exclusion not only from the lack of a consistent response from the education system, but also from the immigration system which limits education entitlements. Only refugees on permanent protection visas (PPV) can access post-compulsory and post-secondary education. At a TAFE level, there are a number of programs worth mentioning.

Education Programs Addressing Specific Needs of Refugees

The Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (Collingwood and Preston), The Victoria University - TAFE (Footscray) and the Chisholm Institute (Dandenong) have started targeting refugees with disrupted schooling. According to the Discussion Paper for Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENS) released in April 2002 it is now recognised that young people with disrupted schooling have some particular needs that need to be addressed before they might be able to fully participate in training. Thus, these courses offer ESL, literacy, and subjects such as maths, science, IT, etc, and at the same time students are assisted with welfare and settlement issues such as income support, legal issues, health, housing and recreation. By looking at students' emotional and material needs, they are adopting a holistic approach that might enhance students' confidence and self-esteem as well as giving some sense of achievement and success in education.

            The adoption of similar approaches within primary and secondary schools might result in better retention rates. A commitment to such a model can give students a sense of belonging and increase their possibilities of experiencing success. At this stage, it might also be the only an opportunity where TPV refugees and asylum seekers can experience a sense of belonging.

Cooperative Programs

Currently the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) is piloting school-based programs at primary and secondary school levels. These programs are looking at developing social support programs for children and young people, and providing professional development and secondary consultation for teachers.

            The Reconnect Young Refugees Program is an early intervention program, run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (CMYI), for young people aged 12 to 18 who are at risk of homelessness. The program assists them to reconnect with their families, education, training, work and the community. The CMYI also runs the Refugee Youth Pathways Program, the only refugee youth-specific program in Australia, for refugees aged 15 to 21 years old. The program provides comprehensive support and information to young people in transition from school to work, enabling them to access pathways to education/training programs and employment opportunities.

The Way Forward

Often schools are removed from the communities they serve. As teachers, we can encourage change and promote a sense of community and belonging. Using the collaborative work between agencies such as VFST and CMYI and schools as a model might give us the opportunity to create policies that provide a more inclusive environment for refugee and asylum seeker students. As beginner teachers, it is important to be aware of what is going on beyond the schoolyard and to maintain contact with local or specialist organisations that can provide valuable expertise. VFST, CMYI or the Asylum Seeker Scheme (ASAS) from the Australian Red Cross are all examples of organisations that you can approach regarding professional development on issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.

Useful Web Sites for Teachers

Asylum Seeker Project:

Australian Red Cross:

Australians Against Racism:

Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues:

Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs:

Refugee Council of Australia:

Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture:

3.          Where Do We Go From Here?

In the previous sections regarding faith, and the education of refugees and asylum seekers living in the community, there is a clear lack of adequate policies that look at addressing the current issues in relation to these areas. There needs to be urgent attention placed on developing more detailed and focused policies on the subjects of faith and the education of refugees and asylum seekers, on an individual school and government level.

            In providing an inclusive learning environment, schools must take up the challenge to develop school policies that address the issues of inclusion and exclusion. This section will explore and give real examples of inclusion. It will look at schools around Victoria that have begun to implement various strategies. Another area this paper will cover is teacher attitudes; as beginning teachers we are still forming our personal approach, and  therefore we need to understand the importance of having an inclusive approach.

Responding to Government Policy

In Victoria a number of strategies and initiatives were put in place in order to assist schools to implement the 1997 Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools. The Multicultural Education Programs and Practices in Victorian Schools program was then initiated by the policy. Fifteen government schools, three Catholic schools and two independent schools were invited by the Department of Education to participate in the study.

Case Study: An Example of An Existing Effective Multicultural Policy

As part of our research, we contacted a few schools in the north, west, east and southern suburbs of Melbourne. Out of 15 schools, three were aware that they had a multicultural policy or charter. We found this quite interesting, especially if you consider the statistics that were presented in the first section of this chapter. Australia is a very culturally diverse country, and this is definitely reflected in Melbourne schools. Therefore, it is essential for schools, no matter what percent of ethnicity they have in the school, to consider creating a multicultural policy.

            Mackellar Primary School in the western suburb of Delahey has an excellent illustration of what a multicultural policy should contain.  Their policy reflects their commitment to the Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools. Mackellar Primary School believes that schools play an important role in the development of attitudes values and critical thinking within a school. Their policy is aimed at understanding the cultures within their school, and promotes respect by all cultures for all cultures within the school practice, curriculum delivery and wider community development.

            Some of the key aspects of the policy are as follows:

•    They promote experiences in LOTE (Italian) and provide ESL support programs for students to acquire proficient English skills;

•    They encourage parents and the wider community to participate and share their culture, and give opportunities for them to become involved in the life of the school and its decision making process;

•    Teachers are resourced with material for teaching and learning in the eight Key Learning Areas, which caters for cultural diversity;

•    The school has an Equal Opportunity Policy that incorporates procedures that counter racism and prejudice, and they have a school charter where all school polices, processes, practices and programs reflect, respond to and value multiculturalism;

•    Staff are encouraged to undertake intercultural awareness in-services, and staff development activates in order to become competent and confident in promoting multicultural values;

•    Students are encouraged to maintain the use of their mother tongue at home, in community settings and within the school curriculum;

•           The school takes up a minor evaluation of this policy each year and a major evaluation every three years.

            The case studies demonstrate a wide range of approaches to, and understandings of, inclusive practices and programs in schools. These strategies can be categorized as follows:

Multicultural day/s, celebration of festivals, foods, dance and music

These are days where entertainers, mainly from different cultural groups from outside the school, are invited to participate. Other annual cultural events are also celebrated such as Chinese and Vietnamese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Easter, Christmas and Ramadan are some other events and important dates that various schools recognise and celebrate.

Language studies

One school has a literacy intervention program for ESL students. ESL programs in general ensure that all students are able to access all parts of the curriculum. Staff in all subject areas are aware of how to assist ESL students to acquire subject specific language. Other programs include LOTE, which focuses students on learning a specific language such as French, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and others. Some schools specialise in Studies of Asia or Koorie Education.

•  Cross-cultural or multicultural perspectives in programs and practices

•  Learning about indigenous culture, history and learning to understand and respect that culture.

•  Koorie-centred excursions/incursions.

•       Traditional ethnic music and dance in school concerts.

•  For integrated studies in many schools, relationships have been made with ‘sister schools’ in other countries. All types of events and activities take place; one of those has been exchanging letters and visits.

•  Racist behaviour is handled through one-to-one counselling with students.

            Generally, multicultural perspectives have been included in various Key Learning Areas across the school curriculum, especially in that of Studies of Society and Environment and Integrated Studies, where culturally inclusive perspectives permeate a range of topics.

            Departments within the schools are resourced to be able to teach with multicultural perspectives, including library and maths. Some schools actually set time aside each term to plan for integrated curriculum and multicultural perspectives. Units are designed to be culturally inclusive and old units are reviewed to see if they can be made more inclusive. Teachers start with what they have and build on that in an evolutionary way. Information about multicultural programs and practices are then disseminated within the school through the staff manual, curriculum program documents and units developed by individual teachers.

Parent involvement programs

Schools have realised the importance of representing and acknowledging parents. Schools have held inclusive events such as barbeques and information nights. Ethnic-specific parents’ groups have been set up where issues are raised and discussed; the school council would then take up these issues. Some schools have also translated polices such as their Welfare and Discipline policies into the languages spoken by families in the school community. In-service programs and family literacy programs have also been implemented. There has also been an inclusion of parents from diverse cultural backgrounds in school councils.

            The diversity of schools, school populations, programs and practices included in this study to some extent have mirrored the diversity of Victorian society. They have also realised the importance of including instead of excluding, celebrating differences and valuing the vitality that culture brings to everyday life. The variety in approach also reflects the ability and commitment of schools to provide an environment that responds to the needs and values of their particular students and communities.

Developing a Multicultural School Policy

In order to develop a multicultural policy there needs to be contributions from all the parties and people involved. School staff, parents and the local community need to cooperate in producing a multicultural policy that is specific to the population of the school and viable in practice. These people need to collaborate in implementing the strategies that hopefully aim at including multicultural programs and perspectives within their curriculum.

            In America and the UK, the inclination has been to set up a working party which consists of parents, school staff, community members and students, that considers priorities relevant to the school’s particular situation. This group can focus on initiating and sustaining wider discussion among staff and the school community. It can also look at pursuing positive policies of cultural awareness across the whole school life (Craft, 1984).

            Focusing on teacher practices would be the main focus for this working party. Professional development sessions are set up that determine the attitudes and position of every teacher within the school. A main focus question for discussion could be one such as: what are the underlying biases and stereotypes in attitudes and teaching approaches towards the progress of minority ethnic group pupils, as individuals and as a group?

            This group would also look at examining the appropriateness of textbooks and materials used, and the implications of the ways in which current operations of the school have influenced and limited the approaches used to encourage multicultural education. The group would look at how well or ill equipped they are for this, and what developments would be helpful. Implementation of these procedures will create a framework in which teachers can have the opportunity to contribute to the working of an inclusive school policy (Craft, 1984).

            Although one might say that this approach consists of idealistic conditions, it is the responsibility of the teacher to consider how multiculturalism can be made a balanced educational ideology in a society whose traditions are not always necessarily geared towards tolerance of multicultural issues (Craft, 1984).

Teacher Attitudes

The attitudes that we carry into the classroom play a big role in the implementation of multicultural policy. What we decide to implement in the classroom can either include or exclude our students. As teachers we can often be the decisive element in our classroom. It is our personal approach that creates the climate; we carry the keys to facilitate inclusion or exclusion (Education for Global Involvement, 2001). We need to examine what issues, biases, prejudices, and assumptions we carry into the classroom and how these inform and influence our classroom curriculum. In fact, we must constantly engage in a process of examining and critiquing our own perspective.

            Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential to laying the foundation for the changes needed in society for the abolition of repression and injustice. Influencing social change is the underlying goal of multicultural education. In order to accomplish this goal there are three aspects of reconstruction that will boost the process, that of self, the education system and society. As teachers we have a responsibility to reflect on and understand the worldview through which we understand people and their lives. Only when we have a sense of how our own perceptions are developed in relation to our life experiences, can we truly understand the world around us (Gorski, 2000). We also have a responsibility to our students to work through our prejudices. An essential practice that we need to cultivate is to be frequently examining who is (and is not) being reached by the teaching styles we adopt, and relearning how our own identity affects the students’ learning experiences.

            Multicultural education should not be seen as a diverse set of optional extras, but as an integral part of a good education for all children in a society that supports positive awareness of cultural diversity (Craft, 1984). In reality, the lack of local multicultural policy in schools results in exclusion; it is also more likely that there is an incompleteness in the curriculum. Students do not have the opportunity to view subject matter from diverse perspectives and a forum to critically analyse materials and media will be lacking. Unfortunately student voices in the classroom will be restricted and the curricula will not reflect the diversity of learning styles that exists in every classroom. We need to examine the structure, values and attitudes that we have adopted, and that the schools we work in practice, in order to determine how we might be supporting exclusive activities within the curriculum (Gorski, 2000).


Multicultural education is an evolving approach for reconstructing education. The education system needs to see itself as part of society at large, and understand the need to critique and address its current shortcomings, failings and discriminatory practices. This way of thinking is grounded in the ideals of social justice and educational equity, and is dedicated to facilitating educational experiences in which all students reach their full potential as learners. We all need to take into consideration the various aspects that comprise ‘multicultural education’, including faith and the education of refugees. Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential in forming people who are committed to eliminating oppression and injustice in our society. As beginning teachers we need to grasp the urgency of adopting a positive approach, one that helps students flourish, not one that restricts the learning of our class as a whole.

Multicultural Super site: various articles

SOFweb resources to support policy development


Australian Bureau of Statistics. At   [Accessed 15th October 2002].

Australian Multicultural Foundation, (2000). Achieving Harmony through Religious Understanding: A Resource Manual for Teachers. Australian Multicultural Foundation, Victoria.

Best, R (ed.), (1996). Education, Spirituality and the Whole Child.  Cassell, London.

Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues (2002). A Discussion Paper for Local Learning and Employment Networks. [Publisher unknown.]

Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues. At:  [Accessed 21st August 2002].

Chinn, P. and Gollnick, D. (1998). Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society. Upper Saddle River, N.J

Conference of Education Systems Chief Executive Officers. (2000). Racism: No Way.  At:  [Accessed 3rd September 2002].

Council for Christian Education, (2002) Religious Education. At:   [Accessed 2nd October 2002].

Craft, M. (1984). Educational and Cultural Pluralism. The Falmer Press, UK.

Crittenden, B. (1982). Cultural Pluralism and Common Curriculum. Melbourne University Press, Australia.

Department of Education: MACLOTE and ESL (1997). Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools. Department of Education, Victoria.

Department of Education, (1999). Multicultural Education Programs and Practices in Victoria: Case Studies. The Community Information Service, Department of Education, Victoria.

Department of Education, Employment and Training (2002). Conditions of Enrolment in a Government School, a Document from the Department of Education. International Student Unit, Victoria.

Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET) (2001). Guidelines for Managing Cultural Diversity and Linguistic Diversity in Schools. DEET, Melbourne.

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Temporary Protection Visas. At:  [Accessed 21st August 2002].

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Caring for Unaccompanied Minors. At:  [Accessed 21st August 2002].

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). English Language Tuition for Adult Migrants. At:  [Accessed 21st August 2002].

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program. At:  [Accessed 14th September 2002].

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). Seeking Asylum in Australia. At:  [Accessed 14th September 2002].

Dunn, A.  (11 September, 2002). ‘Uncovering the Covered.’  The Age. At:   [Accessed 2nd October 2002].

De Silva, S., & Fisk., L. (1998). Asylum Seekers Education Package. Australian Red Cross, Australia.

Education for Global Involvement.  At:   [Accessed 12th September 2002].

Finkelstein, Y. (2002). Values in Our Schools. Media Centre: Dr Brendan Nelson: Commonwealth Minister for Education, Science and Training. At:  [Accessed on 5th November 2002].

Gorski, P. (2000).  Defining Multicultural Education. At:   [Accessed 28th October 2002].

Healey, K. (1998). Religions in Australia.  The Spinney Press, Australia.

Linzaat, A. M. (2002).  483131 TESOL – Lecture 5:  Identifying the ESL Literacy Learner. Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne [30 August 2002].

McDermott, M.Y. and Ahsan, M.M. (1993) The Muslim Guide: for teachers, employers, community and social administrators in Britain, the Islamic Foundation.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), (1999).  The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century. Curriculum Corporation. At:    [Accessed 12th September 2002].

Reed, M., Dunell, L., & McNicol, C. (2002). People of Concern, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, a Global Issue. Australian Red Cross, Australia.

Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (2002). Strategy for Refugee Young People. [Publisher unknown.]

Russell, P. (2002). Cultural Awareness For Understanding: A Community and Educational Project.  in Connect, no. 133-134. 

Teese, R. (2000). ‘Post Compulsory Education and Training: Some Recent Research Findings and their Policy Implications’. The Australian Education Researcher, 27 (3), pp. 49-57.

Vardy, P.  (1999). An Introduction To The Five Strand Approach In Religious And Values Education. At:  [Accessed 3rd October 2002].

Victorian Settlement Planning Committee (2001). Needs of Adolescent Humanitarian Entrants - Data Profile Project. At:    [Accessed 10th October 2002].

Warrick, G. (2001). The Academic achievements of Language Centre Students at a Secondary College. M.Ed. thesis, University of  Melbourne.


ACE - Adult Council of Education

AMEP - Adult Migrant Education Program. Provides English language classes to new residents

ASAS - Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme: a government funded program administered by the Red Cross, which provides financial support to asylum seekers under strict guidelines. To be entitled to financial assistance, the asylum seeker needs to meet the hardship criteria and have been waiting for a decision by DIMIA on their PV application for six months or more.  ASAS is not available to applicants seeking a review of their case through the Refugee Review Tribunal

CMEP - Child Migrant Education Program

CMYI - Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues

DIMIA - Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs

ESL- English as a Second Language

Language Centre/School - Intensive English language schools for newly arrived children and young persons up to 18 years old

LLEN - Local Learning and Employment Networks

MEP - Multicultural Education Program

MPVS - Multicultural Policy for Victorian Schools

PPV - Permanent Protection visa

PV - Protection visa

TPV - Temporal Protection visa

VFST - Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, widely known as Foundation House

VSPC - Victorian Settlement Planning Committee

YAMEC - Young Adult Multicultural Education Course, a program offered by the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE that provides ESL literacy for refugees with disrupted education

[Chapter 4] [Contents] [Chapter 6]


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