The social inclusion of marginalised community groups in Australian society is a compelling issue that affects not just marginalised community groups, but social harmony and cohesion as well. As the demographics of the Australian population changes, it is essential for the Australian education system to not only cater for the needs of the new community groups that form but also to help ensure that education is used as a vehicle to facilitate social harmony, understanding and equality. Education is a crucial area where building understanding of marginalised groups increases their chances of receiving a ‘fair go’ in society affecting employment, health access and legal justice. In fact, the link between disadvantaged and marginalised ethno-religious groups in the Australian community and their relative exclusion in Australian education curriculums cannot be underestimated, especially in the English and History curriculums, which play a significant role in shaping students’ understanding and empathy of “others”. It is evident from growing research on discrimination and the disadvantage experienced by Australia’s Muslim communities, especially where education and employment are concerned––that very little has been done by our educational systems to increase understanding and equality for this minority group. It also has been a root cause, along with political and media sensationalization of Muslim identities in the contribution to past race riots (such as Cronulla 2005) and current social unrest, leading to increased radicalisation amongst not just marginalized groups but white Australians as well. These these factors have been pushing Australia towards a future full of uncertainty, intolerance and bigotry, undermining Australia’s pluralistic, democratic, multicultural society.
This lack of understanding towards Australian Muslims creates significant apathy, rather than sympathy in many Australians towards Muslim Australians, resulting not just in aggression and violence against the latter, but severe dehumanising effects. For example, despite the fact ISIS attacks in Beirut city killed almost one hundred innocent civilians in 2015, Lebanese victims were given bare media coverage resulting in limited empathy and acknowledgement for Australian relatives compared to ISIS attacks in Paris a few days later which killed a similar number of innocents. Such media bias in reporting can have a profound effect on those living amongst us, stripping them of any sense of belonging.
So why should the Australian education system take responsibility for addressing Islamophobia? What are the potential benefits or risks of implementing or failing to implement more-inclusive national curriculums in History and English? Why should educators focus on the History and English curriculums at all?
These questions have been answered in the research article, ‘Ensuring Curricular Justice in the NSW Education System’ which was published in the International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives in 2014.The assumptions and values that underpin the basis of this paper include: education has a significant role in educating members of society to understand one another, education is essential for educating individuals about who they are as Australians in the globalized world and good quality education is essential for deterring not just prejudice, but also social tensions, inequality and injustice.
Australian Muslims who are a very diverse group and come from all regions of the world and differing sects, commonly experience racism and prejudice in all spheres of life. For over a decade, research has informed us that they have become the most marginalised and alienated community group in Australia. The growth of right wing political movement shows that Australia does have a significant problem with Islamophobia.
One must question how can “inclusive teaching practices” truly be applied if the most misunderstood and misportrayed ethno-religious minority group in Australia is not covered in the curriculum in terms of recent significant world events in the last century, which have left this group marginalized, oppressed and disempowered?
It is important that students comprehend that most mortalities in the last century due to war, oppression and economic sanctions have been Muslim and that most victims of terrorists who claim to Muslim are actually other Muslims and not non-Muslims as often reinforced by the media.
The non-compulsory status of learning about Muslim experiences in the English and History curriculums and lack of explicit outcomes and recommended resources that deal with understanding Muslims, render Australian Muslim and Arab experiences alien to educators and students in the education system with existing related outcomes often framing negative discourse on Muslims, Islamic history and leaders.
Australian curriculums, especially the History and English curriculums, have a critical responsibility to educate all Australian students while allowing marginalized voices to be heard. Unless they fulfil this duty, they will not only fail to facilitate social harmony and understanding but may also contribute to the marginalization and disadvantage of Australian Muslim communities, indirectly harnessing future Cronulla riots-type incidents. It is only through interrogating the lived curriculum that we can truly ensure that Australian students receive an education that not only promotes social harmony and equity but also a genuine democracy as well.
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