Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
If you were challenged to think ahead 20 years, what vision would you have of Australia?
In 2003, then Asialink Chairman, Carrillo Gantner AO, put forward his vision of what Australia would look like in 2020.
'[By] 2020 we will live in an Australia in which our children can speak with respect and knowledge about Islam; an Australia that can communicate with its largest and nearest neighbour – Indonesia; an Australia that can take up the opportunities offered by the intellectual and economic powerhouses of China and India ... An Australia in which a unique, vibrant, creative culture has blossomed, a culture that understands its Indigenous connectedness to land and is fed as much by the influences of the great civilisations of Asia as by those of Europe.’
Gantner couldn’t have predicted the tumultuous times we find ourselves in 2020, but he knew where Australians needed to be in terms of connecting with our geography and creating a vibrant Australian culture and identity to shape our future. By most measures Gantner’s vision wasn’t achieved by 2020, despite ever more pressing reasons for it.
As AEF has previously outlined, languages have languished in Australian education, intercultural curriculum has not evolved far enough, and not enough educators and students have the knowledge and skills to appreciate the links and opportunities with Asia and our Asian-Australian communities.
Perhaps most troubling are the underlying trends of prejudice present in elements of society, and in our schools today.
A 2017 Report from ANU study SOAR (Speak Out Against Racism) surveyed 4,500 primary and secondary students and found that young people of Asian heritage reported some of the highest rates of racism in schools.
AEF believes that intercultural learning is at the heart of creating a thriving future for Australian students.
Intercultural learning is best imagined as a spectrum of experiences in education that shape the thinking and actions of educators and students.
From short and immersive initiatives like Harmony Day to deeper, long-term impactful programs with school partnerships and learning a second language, intercultural learning is often a mixed range of experiences delivered across school communities.
At an individual level, intercultural learning is about acknowledgement of identity and belonging, a cornerstone of every person’s wellbeing built on acceptance and respect. At a societal level, intercultural learning supports social cohesion and global engagement.
AEF’s Intercultural Learning Framework
AEF has developed an Intercultural Learning (ICL) Framework across its programs to better identify and articulate the development of intercultural understanding and capability.
We see this as distinct spheres, with different elements of emphasis. Drawing on international research and Australian curriculum, the Intercultural Learning Framework underpins six key areas of focus that together form a learner’s intercultural understanding (mindset) and capability (skillset.)
An Intercultural Mindset
Every learner develops their own mindset about the world.
Purposeful and immersive intercultural learning challenges the assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudice learners might have formed or experienced in different contexts.
Schools need to play an intentional role for learners in developing the knowledge, awareness and resilience to counter this negative sphere of the intercultural learning equation.
Intercultural understanding is underpinned by recognising the assumptions we all carry about the world. Developing an understanding of the assumptions we have about other cultures, and how we interpret customs and traditions that seem different to our own, is core to intercultural learning. Our assumptions can be transformed as we develop knowledge and connections with people from other cultures and communities.
Intercultural stereotypes are persistent challenges to our mindset. At a basic level, stereotypes help people appreciate that not all cultures are the same. But when stereotypes become entrenched and pervasive, they have a negative effect, which skews a person’s perceptions and attitudes towards other cultures. Learners need to be made aware of and appreciate the boundaries of stereotypes, the dangers, and the subversive conditioning that can occur that leads to racism and marginalisation in our society.
Prejudice is a bias against other cultures driven by ignorance and fear. Prejudice will always surface when disaster strikes, as it has during the COVID-19 crisis. Isolation and a lack of integration can cause prejudice to burrow its way deep into an individual’s intercultural understanding – compounded by unfounded assumptions and stereotypes. Highlighting the impact of prejudice is challenging for learners because it can sometimes appear normalised, supported by flawed logic and lies. In environments of trust and support, prejudice can be addressed effectively.
An Intercultural Skillset
When a person from another culture or country enters our lives, we must begin using our intercultural capabilities or skills.
We need to use empathy - a lot of it. Especially when there will be assumptions to overcome and maybe layers of stereotypes to shift. We can be skilful with empathy when we observe, listen, and ask better questions of other people in order to better understand who they are.
Together with this is being able to engage respectfully. Respect is often shown differently in other countries and other cultures. Learning how to show respect, what that respect means, and the way you give it to different people is an important skill. It can even help you overcome the challenges of different spoken languages.
With these understandings and skills developing we have much greater potential to work together to reach mutually beneficial resolutions - an outcome; a goal; some common ground people want to reach. Through greater collaboration on purposeful initiatives, learners can experience shared success across intercultural boundaries.
Intercultural learning is the combination of understanding and capability; the mindset and skillset. Real intercultural learning erodes our assumptions, breaks down stereotypes and shatters prejudice. It is amplified by building experiences that deepen skills in empathy and respect, to form opportunities to reach real resolutions together.
Going forward, AEF will be embedding these domains as part of the duality of the Intercultural Learning Framework with educators and students across all our programs. We see it as a crucial step in navigating the work of curriculum, relationships, and collaboration in education across many nations and cultures.
What sort of Australia do you want in 2040?
Our vision is for a school generation of learners who value intercultural experiences as a rich spectrum of opportunity. Learners who are equipped with the intercultural learning and global perspectives to successfully navigate a shared future with Asia. AEF stands ready to work with schools to achieve this.
Illustrations: Jessamy Gee, Director and Primary Graphic Illustrator, Think in Colour