John, Cameron, Daisy and Susan are all names that children would be familiar with when listening to or reading stories at school. This is because much of the literature that students read for English courses, are written by white Australian or even English authors.

As can be seen through subjects like Geography, English and especially through the teaching of Australia’s Indigenous History, the NSW High School curriculum is taught from a Euro-centric or predominantly white perspective. If Australia is going to promote itself as the most successful example of multiculturalism, shouldn’t the curriculum include much more representations of all these cultures? To some, the names in textbooks or characters in key texts may not be important. But in reality, it says something much deeper about how minority experiences in Australia are viewed.

Increasing the representation of people from all backgrounds in student’s consciousness is important for two reasons. Firstly, for young people from these backgrounds, seeing someone who would look like them, and who they would have commonalities with, is very important. How are children meant to respect themselves and assert confidence in their identity when there is little to no representation of their voices, faces and names in the content that they learn? How often do you remember reading about Harry the wizard going off to magic school, compared to hearing your teacher reading the story of Farah, a young girl who wanted to be a sports star? Recently, we have seen a push for more authentic representation on our screens. We also need this in our school curriculums.

Secondly, from the other side, for students from other backgrounds, connecting with stories about Australians from different backgrounds and religions builds up their familiarity with those cultures and faith systems, allowing them to develop some foundational understanding.

Children are taught at a young age in school to be mindful and respectful of the diversity we have in Australia. In order for this to occur, familiarity and the ability to understand another culture is something that needs to be developed. However, young people aren’t able to understand the scope of diversity since most of what they learn at school is predominantly based on European or white Australian experiences.

As a teacher, I believe that it is vital to educate children and bring them up to be compassionate global citizens who value the differences and similarities between communities. Intercultural competence is the ability to acknowledge, respect and understand the different world views and lifestyle needs of all cultural backgrounds. This concept needs to be modelled and taught to children from a young age. It goes beyond that of tolerating different cultures and encapsulates the complex and multifaceted skills to deal with the differences that there are between cultures.

Facilitating this process is crucial for young people, especially those in their adolescence. Adolescence is the period where young people are developing attitudes towards certain groups of people, which is driven by the influence of their social context, perception of media

narratives and experiences. However, for this developmental understanding to be properly effective it is best to initiate this education in the early years. Although social competence doesn’t mean that all behaviour should be explained with cultural factors as we do not want to create preconceptions and stereotypes of certain groups. Instead, it is teaching young people to start asking the right questions to facilitate their understanding rather than making assumptions. It is teaching them to suspend their judgements and consider alternative explanations. Importantly, this must not be done in the tokenistic manner that is often implemented. The onus should not be placed on individuals to be the spokesperson for their culture or religion. Rather, it is pertinent that the curriculums being taught include a proper understanding of the cultures and religions represented in Australia. To do so would require placing individuals from minority groups in the relevant positions within the education system.

It is also important to recognise the more subtle forms of racism that are rampant within the education system. Standardised testing, for example, has been proven to be culturally biased. The norms of standardised testing are based on the information, language and understanding of White majority groups. Furthermore, the unequal distribution of educational resources between affluent White communities and lower socioeconomic minority communities creates an unfair advantage.

While these changes require a significant overhaul of the current education system in Australia, it is incumbent upon us as educators to strive to create an inclusive and safe environment which represents and respects the diverse culture of the school community. This can start with the supplementary texts we use in class and recommend to students. Students need to see the diversity of cultures, religions and backgrounds that we see on a day to day basis in Australian society. They must be reminded, however, that just as White characters are viewed as individuals so to must characters and authors from minority groups. Minority groups are made up of individuals with their own stories, experiences and perspectives and the privilege afforded to White people to be viewed as an individual must be awarded to all.

As a starting point, I have compiled a short list of stories – please enjoy.

1. A story of a half-Muslim, half-Hindu 12-year-old young girl by the name of Nisha who is caught in the middle when India is partitioned into India (Hindu) and Pakistan (Muslim) in 1947. The people in government who are supposed to protect the citizens seem to be tearing everything apart and Nisha is not certain where she will land.

2. An empowering and humorous story about a 16-year-old girl standing up for herself and the ridicule of her peers as she decides to start wearing the hijab full time. 

3. The story of a Muslim teenager, who has completely withdrawn from her social life a year after the 9/11 event until she meets Ocean James in her biology class and is tempted to let her guard down. 

4. An adventurist story about Lu and Min, princess of an empire and their mission to reclaim their throne when their father betrays them. While the sisters are trying to reclaim what is theirs, Min discovers a dark power within her which can ultimately win her battle against her father. Yu crafts a tremendously stunning world with complex characters and a heart-pounding adventure.

5. The story about a girl named Susan who had just moved from Saudi Arabia. As she strives to meet her parent’s expectations of her, she struggles with her passion for arts. A charming story that many can relate with as it touches on the complexity of family, friendship and love.

6. Written by New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams Garcia, this book tells the story of three young sisters who travel across America to meet the mother who abandoned them. A funny and moving story with diverse characters was highly praised for being witty and original. 

7. The story of Jordan Banks, a seventh grader who loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enrol him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of colour in his entire grade. Jordan is torn between two worlds, and not really fitting into either one. A relatable story of a young boy who struggles to find his place in the world. 

8. Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-proud, super-likable guy who friends, faculty, and fellow students alike admire for his cheerful confidence. The only person who isn’t entirely sure about Remy Cameron is Remy himself. Under pressure to write an A+ essay defining who he is and who he wants to be, Remy embarks on an emotional journey toward reconciling the outward labels people attach to him with the real Remy Cameron within.

9. Part mystery, part romance, Mad, Bad and Dangerous is a sweeping, feminist novel about equality and identity. It is about a seventeen-year-old named Khayyam, who is obsessed with 19th century art world mystery. She is convinced that a woman in the poems of Aledandre Dumas and the paintings of Eugene Delacroix was based on a real person: Leila, a Muslim woman living under European colonialism. As she embarks on a journey to find the truth about Leila, Khayyam learns about the past, which has an incredible effect on her future. 

10. A remarkable story about the power of tolerance from one of the most important voices in contemporary Muslim literature, critically acclaimed author Randa Abdel-Fattah. Michael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael … until he meets a beautiful girl on the other side of the protest line.

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