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Australian classrooms are full of diversity and difference. Every student in a classroom has different past experiences, with all students having a unique context; this includes their cultural and social background. While multiculturalism is part of Australia’s identity, there is still the presence of a dominant culture within Australia’s society (Forrest, Lean & Dunn, 2015, p. 620).While diversity should be celebrated, it can also lead to culturally diverse students feeling alienated from their peers. A student’s context can place them at an educational disadvantage. It is important that teachers provide all students with equal learning experiences; educational equity allows all students to succeed, regardless of their cultural background and relation to the dominant culture. This resource aims to expand teachers’ understanding of culturally diverse students. It will discuss the growing nature of diversity within Australian classrooms, and will explore the impact of refugee and immigrant students’ backgrounds on their education. It will touch on strategies teachers can use to educate their students about cultural, social and linguistic diversity, with education being the greatest barrier against cultural ignorance, racism and discrimination. Through inclusive practice and a value for diversity, all students will feel included in the classroom, regardless of theirculture, race or social status.


Research work on Cultural Diversity


Cultural Diversity

Culturally Diverse Classrooms

Australian classrooms are constantly growing in cultural diversity. 44 per cent of Australians were born in other countries, or have parents from other countries, making Australia a multicultural society, and causing diversity to become part of Australia’s identity (Lawrence, Brooker & Goodnow, 2012, pp. 75-76). All cultures are dynamic and constantly changing (Lawrence et al., 2012, p. 77). A child’s environment shapes their view of diversity. Their interactions with parents, and the media, may expose them to sexist, racist and bias beliefs (Siraj-Blatchford & Clark, 2004, p. 24). When a child is surrounded by stereotypes and negative views of diversity, it can cause ignorance within the child. Children form ideas about themselves, and others, from a very young age (Siraj-Blatchford & Clark, 2004, p. 31). This highlights the importance of exposing children to positive ideologies about diversity, even at the early stages of life. When students have a positive image of diversity, it endorses feelings of trust, both in themselves and with others. This allows students to feel secure and learn effectively.


Refugee and Immigrant Students

It is important to understand the difference between refugee and immigrant students.

  • Refugee students: Have been forced to leave their home country out of fear or danger (Brown, 2008, p. 109). They may have left with no warning or have experienced trauma.
  • Immigrant students: They, or their parents, have made the decision to leave their home country to live elsewhere. This may be due to economic or family reasons (Settlement Services International, n.d.).

The quality of education received by refugee and immigrant students is exceedingly different to students from the dominant culture (Bartlett & Ghaffar-Kucher, 2013, p. 1). Understanding the difference between refugee and immigrant students is important as they both have different needs. However, they are addressed collectively, as the educational inequity they are experiencing is of similar circumstances, particularly when compared against students from the dominant culture.

It is important that refugee and immigrant students acquire a bicultural identity, meaning that they feel they belong to more than one culture. When moving to a new country, many multicultural students experience identity crises, whereby they are divided between two cultures (Crandall, Jaramillo, Olsen, Peyton & Young,2008, p. 225). Therefore, teachers must be supportive of refugee and immigrant students as they undergo the enduring task of acculturation. When a student enters a classroom, they bring their virtual schoolbag, consisting of their knowledge and experiences prior to the commencement of their formal schooling (Thomson, 2002, p. 1). A refugee or immigrantstudent’s virtual schoolbag will be vastly different to a student from an advantaged background. Brown (2008) discusses a refugee student’s past schooling experience (pp. 115-116). The child speaks of war and suffering, stating that he went to school with ragged clothing, surrounded by people with injuries, as shown in figure 1 (Brown, 2008, pp. 115-116). The child states that his past experience hindered his ability to concentrate in school, foregrounding how a refugee student’s virtual schoolbag places them at an educational disadvantage. Refugee and immigrant students are unfamiliar to the cultural capital of schooling and education, and therefore are placed at a disadvantage (Thomson, 2002, pp. 1-5). Teachers must subvert the common belief that refugee and immigrant students will be unsuccessful,as they are not familiar with the cultural capital (Thomson, 2002, pp. 1-4). Refugee and immigrant students are capable of educational success if they are immersed in their schools social and academic culture, as well as having ongoing support from their teachers to further promote their sense of belonging (Crandall et al., 2008, p. 220). Through the understanding of refugee and immigrant students’ background, teachers can ensure they feel a sense of belonging and obtain a bicultural identity.


Disadvantaged Students and Educational Inequity

Disadvantaged students have a largely different curriculum experience than that of advantaged students. Australia is often viewed as an egalitarian society. However, there is a minority group who experience inequality due to their social disadvantage (Ewing, 2013, p. 74). Disadvantaged students include those from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, as they are not part of the dominant, Anglo-saxon Western society, in which the formal intended curriculum is directed. Socially and culturally diverse students may feel their beliefs, values and experiences are not reflected in the formal curriculum they receive, which leads to feelings of alienation (Ewing, 2013, p. 86). This sense of alienation can progress to further exclusion, as they become disengaged within the classroom environment.In order to encourage inclusivity, the classroom environment should contain resources, which represent many cultures, and avoid stereotypes and prejudice. These resources should promote difference, and promote diversity in regard to race, gender and social class (Robson, 2004, p. 212). All students should find relevance within the curriculum, with meaningful learning being closely linked to students’ academic success (Ewing, 2013, p. 91).All students are different; all students should be taught differently. The intended curriculum should be tailored to the individual needs of each student, rather than teaching all students in the same way (Ewing, 2013, p. 91). This will attempt to decrease the disadvantage of socially and culturally diverse students, by making the intended curriculum meaningful and relevant to their past experience. It is difficult for teachers to combat the issue of educational inequity, as the intended and enacted curriculum continues to be directed at advantaged students. While social and economic inequalities are beyond teachers’ control, teachers should create an inclusive classroom to promote educational equity (Gorski, 2013, p. 52). Creating an equal learning experience for all students, regardless of their context and background, can seem like an impossible task. However, through inclusive practice and understanding diverse students’ individual needs, teachers can attempt to decrease educational inequity and help all students reach their full potential.


Embracing Difference and Diversity

Difference and diversity should be celebrated. A truly multicultural society should embrace all cultures; all cultures should be viewed equally, in regard to both power and respect (Lawrence et al., 2012, p. 84). Sexism, racism and bias within a society lead to power inequalities between social and cultural groups (Siraj-Blatchford & Clark, 2004, p. 24). In order for all students to have a positive and inclusive learning experience, racism, sexism and bias must be eliminated from the classroom environment. Strong-Wilson and Ellis (2007) support this idea by stating that social interaction and relationships directly influence a child’s development and wellbeing (p. 43). This reinforces the importance of inclusive education. Siraj-Blatchford and Clark (2004) identify six stages, which aim to implement inclusive practice in an educational environment (p. 29). Stage one is represented as being discriminatory, whereby diversity is seen as a disadvantage or issue. The stages continue to become increasingly inclusive, with stage six being actively challenging inequality and promoting equity (Siraj-Blatchford & Clark, 2004, pp. 29-31). Teachers should aim to create a classroom environment that promotes diversity and difference, and by doing so, all students will feel accepted and included in the classroom, regardless of their culture, race, gender or social class.


In order to embrace difference and diversity, teachers should attempt to implement educational equity for all students; an aspect of this is having high expectations of all students, regardless of their social and cultural background. Teachers often have lower expectations of disadvantaged students than they do advantaged students; this assumes that socially and culturally diverse students have less academic ability than those of the dominant culture (Ewing, 2013, pp. 86). Low expectations can interfere with curriculum implementation, resulting in unequal learning experiences. When a teacher lowers their expectations, due to a student’s context and background, the teacher may cause the student to feel a sense of alienation, and further isolate them from the mainstream classroom. By having high expectations of all students, student engagement is increased, and teachers will implement inclusive practice (Goski, 2013, p. 50). Teachers should provide all students with the opportunity to show their strengths and abilities. In order for teachers to promote educational equity, teachers must have high expectations of all students, regardless of their social and cultural context.


Defensible Strategies

Education is the greatest strategy for combatting racism and discrimination within a classroom context. Educators can be a pivotal point of change (Forrest et al., 2015, p. 619). It is through educating students that Australian classrooms will become culturally accepting and inclusive of diversity. A study amongst Sydney teachers concluded that teachers were supportive of equity, and anti-racism and discrimination. However, over 51 per cent of teachers answered that racism remains a problem in Australian schools (Forrest, et al., 2015, pp. 625-626). This suggests that the issue of racism, within an educational context, is largely due to students being uneducated. By educating students about cultural diversity, teachers can create inclusive classrooms, free from racism and discrimination.


Quizzes and Interactive Activities

One way teachers can educate their students about cultural diversity is through quizzes and interactive activities. Racism No Way ( is a website that provides information, and teacher resources, that aim to eliminate racism in Australian schools. The images below show screenshots from one of the interactive quizzes Racism No Way provides; the quiz aims to educate students about Australia’s population and culture (Racismnoway, 2015). Through the use of quizzes, students can engage in interactive activities that expand their knowledge on Australia’s diversity.



Building Relationships

Teachers can educate their students about cultural diversity by encouraging strong relationships with their peers, teachers and parents; this can be done through interaction. Strong student-teacher, and peer, relationships are vital to inclusive education (Malaguzzi, 1993, pp. 1-3). Promoting interaction consequently promotes strong student-teacher relationships, as well as strong relationships between peers. This allows students to learn about their peers’ context and cultural background; this will educate them about other students’ past experiences to create an inclusive classroom environment.Involving parents from diverse backgrounds can also promote cultural diversity (Forrest et al., 2015, p. 624). An example of this is having a culturally diverse parent come in, as a guest speaker, and discuss their background and experiences. Through relationships and interaction, students can understand,and be educated about, each other’s context, and create an inclusive classroom environment, accepting of diversity.


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Curriculum Links

Teachers must implement a curriculum that resonates with the objectives of official curriculum documents. This resource is linked with official curriculum documents, including the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), the Melbourne Declaration, and the Australian Curriculum. These links are discussed in further detail below.


The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)

The first outcome from the EYLF is “Children have a strong sense of identity” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 20). This learning outcome includes children developing knowledgeable and confident self-identities. Examples of this include children sharing their culture with teachers and peers (DEEWR, 2009, p. 23). This learning outcome resonates with this resource, as one strategy provided for encouraging an inclusive classroom, involves learning about one another’s cultural background.


The second outcome from the EYLF is “Children are connected with and contribute to their world” (DEEWR, 2009, p. 25). Part of this learning outcome involves children responding to diversity with respect (DEEWR, 2009, p. 27). This learning outcome is present within this resource, as the topic being addressed is cultural diversity. The strategies provided, to combat the issue of cultural ignorance, revolve around building relationships and greatening students’ understanding of diverse cultures. This encourages students to respect diversity and difference.


The Melbourne Declaration

The Melbourne Declaration lists two educational goals for young Australians (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA], 2008, p. 7). The first goal is closely linked to the contents of this resource, being that “Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence” (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 7). This philosophy of educational equity is discussed throughout this resource, having the purpose of creating educational equity and equal learning experiences for all students, regardless of their social and cultural background. The strategies previously discussed, aim to educate students about cultural diversity, and therefore provide students with an education free from discrimination and inequity.


The Australian Curriculum

The issues and strategies discussed throughout this resource are linked with objectives of the Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2016). Respect, inclusivity and diversity are addressed in the Personal and Community Health strand of the Health and Physical Education curriculum. Students in year 3 and 4 should be able to “Describe how respect, empathy and valuing diversity can positively influence relationships” (ACARA, 2016, ACPPS037). This content description is addressed throughout this resource, as a strategy provided states how interaction and relationships can educate students about the value of diversity and respect. Students in year 7 and 8 should “Investigate the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity” (ACARA, 2016, ACPPS079). This content description is reflected throughout this resource, as it describes how inclusive classrooms, which encourage diversity, promote student learning.


Ideas into Practice


By the end of this activity you will:

  • Gain a further understanding of cultural difference in an educational environment
  • Be able to identify discriminatory behaviour within a classroom context
  • Understand how discrimination can negatively impact culturally diverse students
  • Understand how to respond to observed discriminatory, racist or bias behaviour in your classroom setting
  • Have the ability to develop pedagogies to prevent future discriminatory behaviour


Part 1 – Video

Watch the video in the link provided below. It is only necessary to watch from 00:00 to 02:30.


Part 2 – Scenario

You are working as a Primary school teacher in a low socio-economic suburb. Samia, the young girl from the video, enters your classroom half way through Semester 3. It is her first day of school. She is wide-eyed and eager to learn. She enters the classroom wearing an Afghan headscarf, a Hijab. At first, Samia doesn’t notice, but you can see the other students staring at her. As the day continues, Samia’s love for education is evident. She struggles with English, as it is her second language, but she is consistently asking questions and it is evident she wants to understand the content. After school, you see Samia talking to a group of her peers. You are too distant to hear what the students are saying, but you observe the group of students walking away laughing, leaving Samia fighting tears on her own, before wandering home. The following day, Samia returns. She is no longer wearing her Hijab, and her enthusiasm to learn has vanished, with Samia sitting silently in the corner of the room. You assume this is due to the conflict that occurred the day before.


Part 3 – Questions and Discussion

Take 10 minutes to answer the following questions. Discuss your responses in small groups.

  1. How do you think Samia feels within this situation? Explain why.
  2. What could you do to make Samia feel included and engaged in the class?
  3. How could you use your observations to create a lesson on cultural diversity?
  4. Reflect on whether you have seen any students within your class feel excluded due to their culture, race, gender or social class. Explain the situation.
  5. What is the importance of inclusivity in a classroom context?
  6. What is a pedagogy you can use to promote inclusivity and encourage diversity within your classroom?



This resource has hoped to develop educators’ knowledge, and understanding of, culturally diverse students. It has been discussed how diversity within education is flourishing. This resource has explored on how refugee and immigrant students, like all culturally diverse students, have individual learning needs and past experiences,which potentially place them at an educational disadvantage. The classroom environment should be free from discriminatory practice, ignorance and racism; all students should achieve a sense of belonging within their classroom environment. It is the teacher’s role to educate their students about cultural diversity, and promote inclusivity. A classroom that values diversity and celebrates difference creates a safe and inclusive environment, in which students can maximise their learning and have a positive and inclusive curriculum experience.


Additional Resources for Educators

For further information, pedagogies and strategies for promoting cultural diversity within your classroom refer to the resources and links below.


Racism No Way

Racism No Way provides information and teaching resources to assist with promoting diversity, and eliminating racism and discrimination in the classroom.


Todd Parr Books

Books written by Todd Parr, including ‘It’s Okay to be Different’ and ‘Be Who You Are!’ are great resources for promoting inclusivity and encouraging difference and diversity. More information can be found at



Scootle provides a range of resources teachers can use in their classrooms. By searching key words such as ‘Diversity’, ‘Refugees’ and ‘Immigrants’, resources are provided to assist with encouraging inclusive classrooms, and that can be used to educate students about these topics.



A Day in our Shoes. (2016). Education is power [Image]. Retrieved from


Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA]. (2016). Australian curriculum v8.2. Retrieved from:


Bartlett, L. & Ghaffar-Kucher, A. (2013). Refugees, immigrants, and education in the global south: Lives in motion. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from


Brown, J. (2008). Voices from the margin: school experiences of refugee, migrant and indigenous children (pp. 109-128).Rotterdam: Sense Publishing. Retrieved from


Crandall, J., Jaramillo, A., Olsen, L., Peyton, J. & Young, S. (2008). Diverse teaching strategies for immigrant and refugee children. In R. Cole (Ed), Educating everybody’s children (pp. 219-278). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

DEEWR. (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: Early years learning framework. Canberra: Australian Government. Retrieved from

Ewing, R. (2013). Curriculum & assessment: A narrative approach. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Forrest, J., Lean, G., & Dunn, K. (2015). Challenging racism through schools: Teacher attitudes to cultural diversity and multicultural education in Sydney, Australia. In Race ethnicity and education, 19:3, 618-638.

Gorski, P. (2013). Building a pedagogy of engagement for students in poverty.Kappen Magazine, 95, 1, 48-52.


Imgarcade. (n.d.) Beauty in Diversity [Image]. Retrieved from


Kumar, R. (2013). Diversity Tree [Image].Retrieved from


Lawrence, J.A., Brooker, A., & Goodnow, J.J. (2012). Ethnicity: Finding a cultural home. In J. Bowes, R. Grace, and K. Hodge. (Eds.) (2012).Children, families and communities: Contexts and consequences. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. (pp. 74-91).


Malaguzzi, L. (1993). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Exchange 3/94. Retrieved from


Miller, J., Kostogriz, A., & Gearon, M. (2009). Culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. Clevedon: Channel View Publications.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. (2008). The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Retrieved


Racismnoway. (2015). Teaching resources.Retrieved from


Robson, S. (2004). The physical environment. In L. Miller & J. Devereux. Supporting children’s learning in the early years. (pp. 205-216). London: Open University Press.


Settlement Services International. (n.d.). What is the difference between a refugee and a migrant? Retrieved from


Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Clark, P. (2004). Identity, self-esteem and learning. In L. Miller & J. Devereux (Eds.), Supporting children’s learning in the early years (pp. 22-32). London: Open University Press.

Strong-Wilson, T. & Ellis, J. (2007). Children and place: Reggio Emilia’s environment as third teacher. Theory into Practice, 46(1), 40-47.


Thomson, P. (2002). Schooling the rustbelt kids. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin.


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