Skip to Content

Professional Learning

Professional Learning banner


From multicultural to intercultural

Explore how multicultural education (learning about cultures) differs from intercultural education, and why this shift is necessary.

Intercultural education is much more active and transformative than multicultural education. UNESCO distinguishes between the two:

Multicultural education uses learning about other cultures in order to produce acceptance, or at least tolerance … intercultural education aims … to achieve a developing and sustainable way of living together in multicultural societies through the creation of understanding of, respect for, and dialogue between the different cultural groups.

Ref: UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education 2006, p. 18

Intercultural describes what occurs when members of two or more different cultural groups (of whatever size, at whatever level) interact or influence one another in some fashion, whether in person or through various mediated forms. Included in a broad definition of the term would be international political or economic interactions, when members from two or more countries interact or influence one another in some fashion. However, since it is again a logistical impossibility for entire cultures to interact, even political entities such as nation-states must rely upon individuals to represent their interests in interactions with other individuals, representing in their turn other, comparable entities. A further complication: no human belongs to only a single culture – everyone has multiple identities, multiple cultural affiliations, whether or not everyone else is aware of all the shadow selves standing behind the self relevant to, and thus made visible in, any specific interaction. While multiple selves each play significant roles in different contexts or at different stages of life, they may also exist simultaneously. An extended family, neighbors in the same apartment complex, work colleagues, people who play a particular sport, pursue a particular hobby, practice a particular religion, or those whose parents came from the same geographic location: all these clusters develop into subcultures or co-cultures – that is, they all have their own ways of being in the world, their own expectations, traditions, and goals. So even what appears to be intracultural communication (that is, communication between members of the same cultural group) frequently requires substantial intercultural competences of participants.

For a more detailed explanation, refer to the paragraph on 'Intercultural' in Intercultural Competences: Conceptual and Operational Framework (UNESCO, 2013, pp. 10-11)

Illustration of practice

Asia Skills videos illustrate the importance of intercultural understanding in the twenty first century. Watch how Asia-capable Australians are demonstrating intercultural understanding in their personal and professional lives.

View the playlist of 33 videos that illustrate applications of intercultural understanding in day-to-day life, demonstrating why it has become an essential capability for all students to develop.

back to top