Rethinking Multiculturalism / Re-Assessing Multicultural Education

Professors Megan Watkins, Kevin Dunn, and Greg Noble from Western Sydney University liaised with the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities (DEC) and the NSW Institute of Teachers to examine teacher understandings of multiculturalism and anti-racism education. The research team included Garth Leane (Research Assistant) and Neroli Colvin (PhD Candidate) from Western Sydney University, as well as Amanda Bourke, Nell Lynes and Eveline Mouglalis from the Equity and Multicultural Education Team in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, and also Robyn Mamouney from the NSW Institute of Teachers.

say no to racism posterThe Project

The project unearthed the challenges posed by increasing cultural complexity in schools and their communities. It examined approaches to multiculturalism in NSW government schools, in both urban and rural areas, and how these link to the role of education in promoting social inclusion. The Project explored the relation between perceptions of difference that shape teaching practice and the rationales of multicultural programs through: an analysis of policy discourse, a statewide survey of teachers and focus groups with teachers, parents and students. The findings informed professional learning for teachers and action research projects in those schools that were developing innovative approaches to meeting the needs of culturally diverse communities and improving teacher knowledge.

The project (LP100200797) was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project.


As part of the RMRME project, all teachers in NSW government schools were invited to complete an online survey on their understandings and experiences of multiculturalism and multicultural education. Approximately 10% of all permanent teachers in NSW government schools (5,128 teachers) completed the survey in Term 2, 2011. Respondents came from a wide range of schools with representation from primary, secondary and central/community schools in every region and school education group across the state.


The survey revealed that NSW public school teachers in 2011 are strongly pro-diversity (94.5%), have a non-assimilatory stance (74.8%) and acknowledge racism is a problem in Australian society (70.1%). The survey also found that teachers are pro-multicultural education (84.0%) and strongly support anti-racism in schools (94.7% disagree with the statement that 'It is not the responsibility of schools to address racism or discrimination in their schools'). Comparing these data to the national Challenging racism project the RMRME project indicated that teacher attitudes are more strongly pro-diversity than the general Australian population and that teachers are less likely to hold assimilatory views. Teachers are also less likely to acknowledge racism than the general Australian population: only 53.6% of teachers agreed that racism is a problem in schools. While community attitudes to diversity, and to minority groups, varies across Sydney, teacher attitudes are almost uniformly positive.

Lessons and political resources

14 schools were assisted to conduct their own action research projects to develop effective strategies for ensuring culturally inclusive practices and environments in schools and for promoting intercultural understanding, cultural inclusion and national belonging. These strategies were documented and promoted to other schools to support the implementation of the Department's Cultural Diversity and Community Relations Policy. The 14 schools included both primary and high schools with diverse demographic and cultural profiles, located in both urban and rural areas.

Teachers' positivity towards diversity and anti-racism is a resource which needs to be leveraged. … it is important to realise that these attitudes are a precious resource.


  • Watkins, M. and Noble, G. (2016). Thinking Beyond Recognition: Multiculturalism, Cultural Intelligence and the Professional Capacities of Teachers, in 'Recognitions', special issue of Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies. 38:1, 42-57, DOI: 10.1080/10714413.2016.1119642
  • Watkins, M., Noble, G, and Lean, G. (2016) Multicultural Education: the State of Play From an Australian Perspective. Race, Ethnicity and Education. 19:1, 46-66, DOI:10.1080/13613324.2015.1013929
  • Watkins, M. (2016). Cultural Studies, Pedagogy and Reimagining Multicultural Education: Working with Teachers to Effect Change in Schools. Hickey, A. (Ed) The Pedagogies of Cultural Studies. London: Routledge.
  • Forrest, J., Lean, G. and Dunn, K.M. 2016. Challenging Racism Through Schools: Teacher Attitudes to Cultural Diversity and Multicultural Education in Sydney, Australia, Race Ethnicity and Education, 19(3): 618–38.
  • Colvin, N. (2015). 'Really Really Different Different': Rurality, Regional Schools and Refugees. Race Ethnicity and Education.
  • Watkins, M. (2015). Culture, Hybridity and Globalisation: Rethinking Multicultural Education in Schools in Ferfolja, T., Jones-Diaz, C. and Ullman, J. (Eds.) Understanding Sociological Theory and Pedagogical Practices. (pp. 146-162) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Colvin, N. (2015, December 5-6). New Faces in New Places: Australia's Changing Migration Landscape. Paper presented at the Multiculturalism in Action: Building a Better Future for All Australians, Sydney – published in FECCA's Australian Mosaic, issue no. 42, p. 60.
  • Noble, G. and Watkins, M. (2014). The 'Schooled Identities' of Australian Multiculturalism: Professional Vision, Reflexive Civility and Education for a Culturally Complex World in R. Race and V. Lander (Eds.) Advancing Race, Ethnicity and Education. (pp. 162-177) Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Dunn, K., Lean, G., Watkins, M. and Noble, G. (2014). The Visibility of Racism: Perceptions of Cultural Diversity and Multicultural Education in State Schools. The International Journal of Organizational Diversity, vol. 15(1), 18-28.
  • Colvin, N. (2013). Resettlement as Rebirth: How Effective Are the Midwives? M/C Journal, 16(5).
  • Lean, G.L. and Dunn, K.M. 2013. 'Surveying the State of Community Relations in Public Schools', Third International Conference on Racisms in the New World Order: Realities of Culture, Colour and Identity – Conference Proceedings. The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns, 161–74.