As society becomes more diverse, educators will require the ability to develop, foster and lead ethical and democratic educational contexts.
Australia is an ethnically diverse society. One in four Australian residents were born outside of Australia and have entered as a migrant or refugee. Australia in its present state is only young with many Australians being first or second generation Australians (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014).
This wide variety of backgrounds, together with the culture of our nation’s original inhabitants the Indigenous Australians, have facilitated a fusion of ethos; one that idyllically empowers existence, acceptance and promotion of a culturally diversity, tradition, multigenerational relationship and respectful of differences and individual uniqueness (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014).
The diversity of society has a dramatic impact on educational administrators, staff and student’s strengths, intellectual personality and productivity. Diversity in experience, age, culture, race, gender, physical ability, cognitive style, discipline and intellectual ability contribute to the richness and depth of the educational environment and offers students access to a scope of perspectives available in a dynamic knowledge building community.
At the ACEL Conference 2016, Kirk Zwangobani asked “Do leaders present a picture of the diversity of our communities or are they mono-cultural?” He went on to suggest that as we develop an attitude towards diversity which looks at the returns, it can prove to be a school’s asset in challenging dilemmas.
There is a vast and growing body of research providing evidence that a diversity within an educational setting is beneficial (Milem, 2003). It informs the development of a student by increasing their collaborative creativity, innovation, problem-solving and accepting relationships. However, diversity can bring its challenges, including frustration and challenge as stakeholders come from differing perspectives upon which they look at less than perfect dilemmas. These perspectives can be linked to unconscious assumptions, family of origin, religious, cultural or stylistic differences (Fine & Handelsman, 2010)
To counteract differences caused by diversity, a negotiated common understanding or standard is fundamental. In creating an atmosphere of value, care and respect participants are open to developing, fostering and leading ethical and democratic educational discussions where the maximum benefits from the diversity can be derived.
Fine, E., & Handelsman, J. (2010). Benefits and challenges of diversity in academic settings. Brochure prepared for the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI), University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Milem, J. F. (2003). The educational benefits of diversity: Evidence from multiple sectors. Compelling interest: Examining the evidence on racial dynamics in higher education, 126-169.
Wilkie, M. (1997). Bringing them home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Zwangobani, K. (2016) Addressing the impact of complex socio-cultural and political issues, such as multiculturalism and migration, on young people’s engagement with their education and community. A Fresh Perspective - Panel Discussion, Conference notes ACEL Conference 2016, Melbourne, 29 September 2016.