Culture and diversity

NSW Public Schools reflect Australian communities. Students and staff come from a diverse range of cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds.

The department is committed to building a diverse and inclusive learning environment that benefits all students including those from language backgrounds other than English. Students are prepared for engagement and participation in Australian society.

Understanding diversity

Recognising the cultural diversity of school communities helps meet the educational and welfare needs of students and their families. It aids in the planning of teaching and learning activities.

Student enrolment data offers insights into how to support students and their families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, for example, country of birth, languages spoken at home, English language proficiency, refugee status and date of arrival.

Multicultural education provides programs promoting anti-racism and community harmony, intercultural understanding and positive relationships between students from all cultural backgrounds. It addresses educational needs of specific groups of students from language backgrounds other than English and/or who have parents or carers who speak a language other than English at home. They may be Australian or overseas born. They may speak English as a first or additional language.

Find the latest language statistics in the Centre for Education, Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) Language Diversity Bulletin. It outlines language diversity in public schools and languages other than English spoken by students at home.

Students from language backgrounds other than English have additional educational needs and require support to participate successfully at school. This includes students who are newly arrived, are learning English as an additional language or dialect and who are refugees.

Image: Cultural and linguistic diversity in NSW public schools 2022

Understanding culture

Our students identify with multiple cultural identities and ancestries. Culture can impact our perspectives, behaviour, how we interact in the world and our personal identities.

  • "I'm Aboriginal and Croatian."
  • "I'm Anglo Saxon and Australian."
  • "My mum is Chinese and Indian and my dad is Scottish, Sri Lankan, Portuguese and Indian. But I was born in Australia."

Understanding contemporary Australian culture helps teachers build culturally inclusive teaching and learning. Students explore difficult questions around power relations, notions of identity, and cultural complexity. Teachers ensure stereotypes are not promoted.

Key messages:

  • culture is complex and dynamic
  • culture is not the same as identity
  • culture is a widely contested term
  • culture influences perspectives and identities
  • culture adapts with migration, across generations and place and with intermarriage
  • culture can be expressed in a variety of ways
  • culture can be invisible
  • culture does not define people
  • culture can include ways of behaving, thinking, valuing and being in the world.

In the video Defining culture found on the channel Cultural Exchange, Professor Greg Noble from University of Western Sydney (UWS) discusses the complexity of the term ‘culture’.

In the video Culture, ethnicity and identity, Professor Greg Noble from UWS, discusses the relationship between culture, ethnicity and identity.

Intercultural understanding

Intercultural understanding is a key capability in NSW syllabuses learning across the curriculum content. It encourages a pluralist, just and inclusive society. Teachers understand the complexities of culture, its relationship with individual identities, views and perspectives. Teachers help students critically engage in intercultural understanding activities.

Culture is dynamic. It’s vital to avoid ‘essentialised', or traditional, understandings of culture in teaching and learning as this can inaccurately portray particular groups as having fixed characteristics. Teaching and learning facilitates positive interactions and relationships within school communities and broader Australian society.

Australians come from all cultural backgrounds — Indigenous, English speaking and non-English speaking backgrounds. These groups have an equal part to play within society.

The resource Intercultural understanding through texts (PDF 7.5 MB) reviews texts which address the Australian curriculum capability intercultural understanding through conceptual programming. The English KLA concepts explored within it are: Characterisation, Representation, Perspective and Interpretation.

Using picture books for intercultural understanding: Learning across the curriculum (PDF 1.55 MB) is a resource for Geography, History, English, Creative Arts K-10. The resource suggests learning activities based around picture books selected for their value in developing intercultural understandings and their literary worth.

Further reading on intercultural understanding can be found in:


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
  • Learning Improvement
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