07 SES 01 B, Theories and Practices of Intercultural Research in Education
Intercultural scholars, international agencies and jurisdictions affirm and contend that assessing intercultural capability requires specific competencies such as respect for otherness, empathy, and reflexivity, to be present along with knowledge, attitudes and skills. Internationally, the question of how to assess intercultural understanding has received little attention in recent research and is emerging as a concern in the Australian curriculum. At present, what is assessed is student knowledges of the cultural other, and a knowledge that remains theoretical, rather than the recognition that the students themselves are deeply implicated in this understanding. This paper calls for curricular and assessment strategies for intercultural understanding that facilitate direct engagement between students that allows them to experience and reflect upon cultural differences and similarities – interactions that are premised upon facilitating transformations, social action and not merely understanding cultural difference.
The paper considers the intercultural understanding general capability adopted in the Australian curriculum in terms of Bernstein’s (1977) work on collective and integrating curricula from his three message systems of education. Bernstein argues that how a curriculum is organised speaks to the power relations within a society and that this also does much to frame the possible student subjectivities available given the extant curriculum. This paper contends that the Australian Curriculum resembles Bernstein’s conception of curriculum, due to its strong emphasis on developing knowledge within subject discipline learning areas and attempt to engage in cross-disciplinary outcomes.
How Intercultural Understanding fits within the Australian Curriculum is an important starting place to understanding how it might be assessed because, “Curriculum, Pedagogy and Evaluation form a whole and should be treated as a whole” (Bernstein 1977, p. 73). That is, decisions made in any one of these three educational message systems (assessment, curriculum or pedagogy) impact the options subsequently available in the other two. That is, once the structure of the curriculum has been decided, some forms of assessment become more likely, and other forms more difficult to implement, and similarly for pedagogical practices.
Bernstein argues that how knowledge is classified and framed within a curriculum impacts available student identities, such that ‘principles of power and social control are realised through educational knowledge codes and, through the codes, enter into and shape consciousness’ (page 85). Education, particularly in educational systems dominated by highly hierarchical subject discipline structures (such as the Australian Curriculum – see Teese & Polesel 2003), differentiates students according to their levels of engagement with the subject options available to them, making, as he says, ‘sheep of some and goats of others’ (page 74). One’s identity is increasingly shaped by the discipline areas one specialises in and ‘specialisation very soon reveals difference from rather than communality with’ fellow students, where a ‘change of an educational identity is accomplished through a process of re-socialisation into a new subject loyalty’ (page 87, emphasis in the original).
This paper provides a critical discourse analysis of the language used in the Australian Curriculum in relation to Intercultural Understanding. The analysis is based on Norman Fairclough’s (1989) work which stresses that a critical discourse analysis seeks to avoid an ‘asocial’ analysis of language as provided by mainstream linguistics (p.7) and also the problems of ‘atomising individuals’ (p.9) provided by pragmatics, but rather presents ‘language (as) part of society; (such that) linguistic phenomena are social phenomena of a special sort, and social phenomena are (in part) linguistic phenomena’ (p.23). It further assumes that social phenomena are manifestations of power relationships where ‘the exercise of power…is increasingly achieved through ideology, and more particularly through the ideological workings of language’ (p.2). This paper is concerned with how the language used by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to assess student learning of the Intercultural Understanding general capability within the Australian Curriculum structures the power relations between the ‘us’ of the Australian community and the ‘them’ of that same community. While considering how the curriculum overall structures student subjectivities in ways concludes that these practises are inimical to students developing Intercultural Understanding. This analysis begins by considering the verbs used in the learning continuum provided by ACARA to assess the Intercultural Understanding general capability. Verbs imply action and as such the verbs chosen within a learning continuum construct and confine the expected learning to be achieved by students throughout that continuum. These verbs are considered through the lens of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, a generally used learning hierarchy within the Australian education community, that illustrates the level of mastery of students in their learning, from remembering through evaluation towards creativity.
As an alternative to a collective curriculum, Bernstein suggests the integrative curriculum, that is, one that teaches students across (rather than almost exclusively within) traditional subject discipline boundaries. This requires teachers to provide students with negotiated curriculum content where teachers and students alike take a more engaged interest in what is taught and have a fuller understanding of the aims and objectives of the educational project they are engaging in prior to learning taking place, something which, he suggests, in itself, provides for a more equitable educational experience. The emphasis placed in Australia on the learning continuum of the intercultural understanding capability – where virtually none of the assessment criterial anticipate any real-world interactions between students of differing cultures – is illustrative of the curriculum tensions that continue to be lived out in enacting curriculum that desires understanding rather than capability. As such, the aims of the curriculum to develop students with dispositions and behaviours aligned with skills needed to interact within a society as diverse as Australia is neither tested nor, it seems, expected.
Bernstein, B., 1977, Class, Codes and Control, Volume 1: Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. Teese, R. & Polesel, J., 2003, Undemocratic Schooling: Equity and quality in mass secondary schooling in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
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