Intercultural Understanding

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop intercultural understanding as they learn to value their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. They come to understand how personal, group and national identities are shaped, and the variable and changing nature of culture. Intercultural understanding involves students learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect.

Intercultural understanding is an essential part of living with others in the diverse world of the twenty-first century. It assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world.

Intercultural understanding combines personal, interpersonal and social knowledge and skills. It involves students learning to value and view critically their own cultural perspectives and practices and those of others through their interactions with people, texts and contexts across the curriculum.

Intercultural understanding encourages students to make connections between their own worlds and the worlds of others, to build on shared interests and commonalities, and to negotiate or mediate difference. It develops students’ abilities to communicate and empathise with others and to analyse intercultural experiences critically. It offers opportunities for them to consider their own beliefs and attitudes in a new light, and so gain insight into themselves and others.

Intercultural understanding stimulates students’ interest in the lives of others. It cultivates values and dispositions such as curiosity, care, empathy, reciprocity, respect and responsibility, open-mindedness and critical awareness, and supports new and positive intercultural behaviours. Though all are significant in learning to live together, three dispositions – expressing empathy, demonstrating respect and taking responsibility – have been identified as critical to the development of Intercultural Understanding in the Australian Curriculum.

 This icon shows where Intercultural Understanding has been identified in learning area content descriptions and elaborations.

Key ideas

The key ideas for Intercultural Understanding are organised into three interrelated elements in the learning continuum, as shown below.

Organising elements for Intercultural Understanding

This element involves students identifying, observing, describing and analysing increasingly sophisticated characteristics of their own cultural identities and those of others.

Students move from their known worlds to explore new ideas and experiences related to specific cultural groups through opportunities provided in the learning areas. They compare their own knowledge and experiences with those of others, learning to recognise commonalities, acknowledging differences between their lives and recognising the need to engage in critical reflection about such differences, seeking to understand them. Students recognise and appreciate differences between people and respect another person’s point of view and their human rights. In developing and acting with intercultural understanding, students:

  • investigate culture and cultural identity
  • explore and compare cultural knowledge, beliefs and practices
  • develop respect for cultural diversity.
Learning Continuum

This element involves students developing the skills to relate to and move between cultures through engaging with different cultural groups, giving an experiential dimension to intercultural learning in contexts that may be face-to-face, virtual or vicarious.

Students think about familiar concepts in new ways. This encourages flexibility, adaptability and a willingness to try new cultural experiences. Empathy assists students to develop a sense of solidarity with others through imagining the perspectives and experiences of others as if they were their own. Empathy involves imagining what it might be like to ‘walk in another’s shoes’ and identifying with others’ feelings, situations and motivations. In developing and acting with intercultural understanding, students:

  • communicate across cultures
  • consider and develop multiple perspectives
  • empathise with others.
Learning Continuum

This element involves students developing the capacity to process or reflect on the meaning of experience as an essential element in intercultural learning.

Students use reflection to better understand the actions of individuals and groups in specific situations and how these are shaped by culture. They are encouraged to reflect on their own behaviours and responses to intercultural encounters and to identify cultural influences that may have contributed to these. Students learn to ‘stand between cultures’, reconcile differing cultural values and perspectives and take responsibility for their own behaviours and their interactions with others within and across cultures. In developing and acting with intercultural understanding, students:

  • reflect on intercultural experiences
  • challenge stereotypes and prejudices
  • mediate cultural difference.
Learning Continuum

Intercultural understanding focuses primarily on the development of skills, behaviours and dispositions as well as drawing on students’ growing knowledge, understanding and critical awareness of their own and others’ cultural perspectives and practices derived from learning area content.

Intercultural understanding is more apparent in some learning areas than others, being most evident in those aspects of learning concerned with people and their societies, relationships and interactions, and with the cross-curriculum priorities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia, and Sustainability.

The learning area or subject with the highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with Intercultural Understanding is placed first in the list.

Languages

The development of intercultural understanding is a central aim of learning in the Australian Curriculum: Languages. It is integral to communicating in the context of diversity, the development of global citizenship and lifelong learning. Students bring to their learning various preconceptions, assumptions and orientations shaped by their existing language(s) culture(s) that can be challenged by the new language experience. Learning to move between the existing and new languages and cultures is integral to language learning and is the key to the development of students’ intercultural understanding. By learning a new language, or learning to use an existing language in new domains and contexts, students are able to notice, compare and reflect on things previously taken for granted; to explore their own linguistic, social and cultural practices as well as those associated with the target language. They begin to see the complexity, variability and sometimes the contradictions involved in using language.

Learning a new language does not require forsaking the first language. It is an enriching and cumulative process, which broadens the learners’ communicative repertoire, providing additional resources for interpreting and making meaning. Learners come to realise that interactions between different people through the use of different languages also involves interactions between the different kinds of knowledge, understanding and values that are articulated through language(s) and culture(s). They realise that successful intercultural communication is not only determined by what they do or say, but also by what members of the other language and culture understand from what they say or do.

The Arts

In the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, intercultural understanding enables students to explore the influence and impact of cultural identities and traditions on the practices and thinking of artists and audiences. Students develop and act with intercultural understanding in making artworks that explore their own cultural identities and those of others, interpreting and comparing their experiences and worlds, and seeking to represent increasingly complex relationships.

Students are encouraged to demonstrate empathy for others and open-mindedness to perspectives that differ from their own and to appreciate the diversity of cultures and contexts in which artists and audiences live. Through engaging with artworks from diverse cultural sources, students are challenged to consider accepted roles, images, objects, sounds, beliefs and practices in new ways. 

F-6/7 Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)

In the F–6/7 Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences, students develop intercultural understanding as they learn how to build discipline-specific knowledge about history, geography, civics and citizenship, and economics and business, as they pose questions, research, analyse, evaluate and communicate information, concepts and ideas.

Students study the lives, cultures, values and beliefs of people within and beyond their familiar world, coming to recognise their similarities with other people, and to better understand their differences. As they investigate the interconnection between diverse people and places and the meaning and significance that places hold, they come to appreciate how various cultural identities, including their own, are shaped. They consider how factors such as group membership, traditions, customs and religious and cultural practices shape people’s identity and impact on civic life, past and present.

Students explore how people interact across cultural boundaries and the notion of citizenship, the contribution of diverse cultural influences through migration and media, and the critical role of shared beliefs and values in an evolving Australian identity. This includes learning about the origins and development of Australia’s national identity and the forging of its cultural heritage. Students recognise the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ histories and cultures, past and present.

Students learn of the different ways Australia and other countries respond to economic, political and social issues and events and consider how these affect relationships within and between nations.

Students refer to a range of sources portraying different cultural perspectives to understand the nature, causes and consequences of cultural interdependence, dispossession and conflict. By exploring their own and others' histories, values and cultural practices, and the benefits and challenges of interacting with diverse groups, students learn to see common issues through diverse cultural lenses and to practise empathy. They learn to challenge stereotypical or prejudiced representations of social and cultural groups where they exist and develop respect for cultural diversity and the human rights of all people in local, national, regional and global settings. Ideally, students learn to communicate across cultures to facilitate authentic intercultural communication.

7-10 History

In the Australian Curriculum: History, students learn about the perspectives, beliefs and values of people, past and present, and the importance of understanding their own and others’ histories. This includes learning about the origins and development of Australia’s national identity and the forging of its cultural heritage.

Students recognise the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ histories and cultures. They have opportunities to learn about the contribution of migration from countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, and the historic benefits and challenges of interacting with other countries and cultural groups in local, regional and international contexts. They learn about events and developments that have influenced diverse societies and cultural groups over time, and come to understand the nature, causes and consequences of cultural interdependence, dispossession and conflict. They refer to a range of sources portraying different cultural perspectives to develop historical understanding.

7-10 Geography

In the Australian Curriculum: Geography, students develop intercultural understanding as they learn about the diversity of the world’s places, peoples, cultures and environments. As they investigate the interconnection between people and places and the meaning and significance that places hold, they come to appreciate how various cultural identities, including their own, are shaped.

Through opportunities to study the lives, cultures, values and beliefs of people in different places, students learn to appreciate and interpret different perspectives and to challenge stereotypical or prejudiced representations of social and cultural groups where they exist.

Through their study of people in diverse places, including those countries from which migrants to Australia have come, students come to recognise their similarities with other people, to better understand their differences, and to demonstrate respect for cultural diversity and the human rights of all people in local, national, regional and global settings.

7-10 Civics and Citizenship

In the Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, students investigate diverse cultural contexts and develop skills in being able to see common issues through diverse cultural lenses. They explore the notion of citizenship, the contribution of diverse cultural influences, and the critical role of shared beliefs and values in an evolving Australian identity. They recognise similarities as well as differences within and across cultural groups, and the importance of practising empathy and facilitating dialogue to understand different perspectives. They explore how people interact across cultural boundaries and consider how factors such as group membership, traditions, customs and religious and cultural practices impact on civic life. 

7-10 Economics and Business

In the Australian Curriculum: Economics and Business, students develop an understanding and appreciation of the different ways other countries respond to economic and business issues and events. They consider the effects of decisions made by consumers, producers, businesses and governments in Australia on other countries, and the way decisions in other countries affect the Australian economy.

Health and Physical Education 

The Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education provides opportunities for students to recognise and respect different ways of thinking about personal, family and social health approaches. Students learn to appreciate that differences in beliefs and perspectives affect how people make food and health choices, and how they participate in physical activities.

Students learn to act in ways that maintain individual and group integrity and that respect the rights of all. They examine stereotypical representations of various social and cultural groups in relation to community health issues and concepts of participation, and success in physical activity. In doing so, students gain an understanding of how culture shapes personal and social perspectives and interactions. They also gain an understanding of and are able to challenge what is valued in terms of health and physical activity within their families, social groups, institutions and society, and within other cultures in the broader community.

English

Intercultural understanding is developed in the Australian Curriculum: English through the study of texts drawn from different historical, social and cultural contexts. Students also develop intercultural understanding from their study of the English language and the ways it has been influenced by different cultural groups, languages, speakers and writers. By engaging with literature from a wide range of cultures, students explore the role of myth, symbolism and life matters in perspectives on people and ideas, from the past and present. Through interpreting and analysing authors’ ideas and positions represented in traditional and contemporary texts in a range of media, in English or translated forms, students learn to question stated and unstated cultural beliefs and assumptions, and appreciate issues of intercultural meaning and sensitivity. In this way, students use intercultural understanding to comprehend and create a range of texts that present diverse cultural perspectives, and to empathise with a variety of people and characters in various cultural settings.

Technologies  

In the Australian Curriculum: Technologies, students consider how technologies are used in diverse communities at local, national, regional and global levels, including their impact and potential to transform people’s lives. They explore ways in which past and present practices enable people to use technologies to interact with one another across cultural boundaries. Students investigate how cultural identities and traditions influence the function and form of solutions, products, services and environments designed to meet the needs of daily life now and in the future.

In their interactions with others in online communities, students consider the dynamic and complex nature of cultures, including values, beliefs, practices and assumptions. They recognise and respond to the challenges of cultural diversity by applying appropriate social protocols. Students learn about the interactions between technologies and society and take responsibility for securing positive outcomes for members of all cultural groups including those faced with prejudice and misunderstanding.

Science

There are opportunities in the Australian Curriculum: Science for students to develop intercultural understanding. Students learn to appreciate the contribution that diverse cultural perspectives have made to the development, breadth and diversity of science knowledge and applications. They become aware that the raising of some debates within culturally diverse groups requires cultural sensitivity. They recognise that increasingly scientists work in culturally diverse teams and engage with culturally diverse communities to address issues of international importance.

Mathematics

Intercultural understanding can be enhanced in the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics when students are exposed to a range of cultural traditions. Students learn to understand that mathematical expressions use universal symbols, while mathematical knowledge has its origin in many cultures. Students realise that proficiencies such as understanding, fluency, reasoning and problem-solving are not culture- or language-specific, but that mathematical reasoning and understanding can find different expression in different cultures and languages. New technologies and digital learning environments provide interactive contexts for exploring mathematical problems from a range of cultural perspectives and within diverse cultural contexts. Students can apply mathematical thinking to identify and resolve issues related to living with diversity.

Work Studies 

In the Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10, students are given opportunities to explore similarities and differences in cultural values, beliefs and practices in the context of work and enterprise and reflect on intercultural experiences. In doing so, students develop an understanding of the dynamic and variable nature of culture and its influence on people’s identities and ways of thinking, speaking and interacting. They appreciate the importance of negotiating and managing intercultural relations in the workplace in order to produce positive and shared outcomes. Students learn to recognise that their own cultural framework is not the only one and that cultural diversity brings great value to themselves, others, workplaces and their community.