Confronting ethnic stereotypes and the challenges of teaching in a multicultural society were key concerns put to educators at a Centre for Professional Learning conference in Sydney today.
Dr Christina Ho, a researcher in diversity and inequality in Australian education at the University of Technology Sydney, tested a common perception by opening her keynote presentation with the “cheeky” title, “Asians always do well: Getting behind the stereotypes of ‘ethnic success’ in NSW schools”.
Pointing to a newspaper article that reported on the HSC success of James Ruse High School, and featured a photograph of an Asian student, Dr Ho told the conference the article hid an inconvenient truth.
“Next time you see a story like this about a successful Asian selective school student topping the state in maths or economics or whatever, let’s just remember that for every one of these students there are hundreds of other LBOTE [language background other than English] students who are attending a disadvantaged, underperforming school in a poor neighbourhood,” she said.
“Ultimately, the face of educational advantage in NSW is more likely to be white, it’s more likely to be in a wealthy suburb and wearing a private school uniform.
“This is the kind of polarisation we’ve had in our education system, which we all agree is bad for kids’ education and unhealthy for our society.”
Her address highlighted the heavy lifting public schools were doing in the area and the importance of the original Gonski reforms, funding that the federal government cut by $846 million in NSW.
The other keynote speaker, Megan Watkins, associate professor in education at Western Sydney University, addressed the issue of “lazy multiculturalism” in her discussion “Cultural complexity and the implications for Rethinking Multicultural Education”.
She challenged the idea that hosting a ‘multicultural day’ was sufficient to tick the multicultural education box.
“Does it mean we forget about multiculturalism and multicultural education? Is it all too complex and do we just blandly neutralise difference? No. We need to do a couple of things in relation to our teaching practice.
“We need to reflect upon the forms of identification that all of us participate in. It’s not all about Anglos labelling and categorising others.
“Everybody engages in their own forms of identification and they’re informed by a whole range of things. They’re informed by what we get from our parents, they’re informed by what we hear in the media but they’re also informed by what happens in schools.”
Professor Watkins asked whether schools should ask students to come to school for a multicultural day event “and say you’re of Chinese background, you come dressed as Chinese and hold a Chinese flag”.
“We may be well intentioned, we may be well meaning but often the kinds of practices we engage in around understandings of multicultural education actually reproduce processes of exclusion rather than inclusion,” she said.
The conference, “K-12 Multicultural Education and Social Inclusion”, also featured workshops on building skills for English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) students, methods of supporting refugee students, intercultural understanding, and anti-racism in the school and community.
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