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We're in need of a stronger mandate for intercultural understanding

by Prawee Pariyawateekul | Oct 16, 2015

Renuka Rajadurai, Communications Manager, Asia Education Foundation

The most recent set of educational goals for young Australians recognises the fundamental role that education plays in building a society that is ‘cohesive and culturally diverse (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 4).

As a result, intercultural understanding was introduced as one of seven general capabilities in the new national Australian Curriculum in 2013.

Recognising, having respect for and interacting with other cultures in a meaningful way is not only an essential part of living and working with others at local, regional and global levels, it’s also particularly relevant given our place as a historically Anglo culture geographically located in Asia.

Indeed, with advances in technology, rapidly deepening political ties and expanding trade partnerships globally, it's safe to say that the future success of our kids in both personal and professional life will rely heavily on their ability to navigate the incredibly nuanced range of cultures in our region and beyond.

So - are young Australians developing intercultural understanding at school?

Encouragingly more and more schools are moving past a focus on simply teaching about other countries - which won’t achieve the level of intercultural understanding required by our young people.

Schools are beginning to explore deep-learning opportunities to develop intercultural understanding. For example, the regionally renowned AEF BRIDGE School Partnerships Program - recently endorsed in Indonesia by Foreign Minister Bishop, and launched in India by former Education Minister Pyne - is a form of authentic cross-cultural engagement that connects not only teachers across the region through cultural exchange, but their students as well through organised learning plans and the technology of video conferencing.

The Australian Government is clearly strongly in favour of an increased emphasis on intercultural understanding, evidenced by its investment in the New Colombo Plan, which is sending Australian undergraduates into the region for study and internships.

Furthermore, an increasing number of global corporates are voicing concern about the need for cultural dexterity in international business. It certainly seems as though the need for local and global citizens to be equipped, through their education, for the intercultural needs of our modern world, has never been greater.

The real challenge these days however, is not so much access to the opportunity of this sort of learning, rather the complex and competing priorities of every other element of school curriculum.

When mapping and developing curriculum, teachers are understandably focused on the external standards that student learning is assessed against. Without a firm system of monitoring in place there is little accountability as to how the Australian Curriculum goals around intercultural understanding are currently implemented or achieved.

Pioneering the cause of intercultural understanding, the Victorian state government will be the first state in Australia to introduce a measure of student achievement on this front, with a field trial designed to ‘broaden and deepen the evidence about the knowledge and skills required for effective intercultural understanding’.

As well as stimulating thinking, and capturing the best of current pedagogy, the results of this trial will likely paint a more detailed picture of the gaps in terms of current practice across the school education system, and potentially the lack of support in this area for professional learning for teachers themselves.

Hopefully it will motivate a stronger emphasis on essential life skills like intercultural understanding and expand access to curriculum resources, and teacher professional learning which are both required.

Critically, if the Australian Curriculum is to achieve its stated purpose, it should lead to national monitoring of student achievement of intercultural understanding – our kids’ future is dependent on it.

This article originally appeared on


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