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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 06 Hansard (Wednesday, 6 June 2018) . . Page.. 2123 ..


As I have sought input from Canberra parents and those who work closely with multicultural communities a number of recommendations have been repeated. I wish to share a few of the most common and important ones. First, an awareness of cultural diversity needs to be explicitly taught. Kids who know that not everyone dresses alike, eats the same foods, speaks the same language at home or believes the same things are better prepared to handle differences when they encounter them. In the absence of such training, young people often resort to embarrassing questions or, worse, may make fun of those who are different.

A retired educator familiar with both independent and public schools has expressed his disappointment to me that the former seem to do a much better job of actively teaching cultural sensitivity than the latter. Too often discussions around cultural diversity seem not to go much past language and appearance to actual cultural practices.

Another area of concern is language learning. Whilst non-English languages are taught in our schools, the number of available languages is still very small, as is the proportion of students studying a non-English language. When one considers the number and diversity of languages spoken around us and the presence of numerous diplomatic missions here in the national capital, it seems we could so easily be doing better.

As has been repeatedly pointed out, the benefits of second language study go far beyond picking up the ability to communicate. Simply studying another language opens people’s eyes to ways of doing things that are different to their own, boosting cultural sensitivity and at the same time increasing a person’s comfort level when dealing with unfamiliar situations and more generally stimulating a tolerance of ambiguity.

In addition to over 100 diplomatic missions, our city is filled with mosques, churches, temples and other places of worship. What an opportunity. Instead of merely talking about different cultures or different faiths, our kids can be shown such places. I am aware of a Canberra school that is actively doing this, and both students and teachers have reported that it has been helpful in increasing both understanding and tolerance.

Focus also needs to reach beyond students to their families. The more involved in a school that a family is, the less likely it is that a student will feel like she or he has to operate in two disconnected worlds. A number of migrant and refugee families in Canberra, however, have shared their frustrations that they do not understand how the education system works, that they cannot access information in a language they can understand and that they are not provided with interpreters and so forth. As a city that prides itself on being a refugee welcome zone, Canberra’s education system can certainly do better to make migrants and refugees genuinely feel welcomed and integrated into their children’s educational lives.

As a final point I wish to address a group of culturally and linguistically diverse students that do not have the benefit of enjoying the support of their own families during their studies here. These would be overseas students. Those who volunteer to


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