Major, national events occur throughout the year, and are generally a reason to acknowledge our Australian culture. In the next few weeks we have two significant ones, Harmony Week, and ANZAC Day, that both provide a context for both honouring who we are, and examining stated and unstated values in our everyday context. We also have significant religious festivals.
In the Australian Curriculum, intercultural understanding is one of seven general capabilities. It is concerned with students valuing cultures and beliefs, and recognising those things we all have in common. It is about taking responsibility. The development of social skills and mutual respect is described for every subject.
Intercultural understanding is an educational responsibility.
Harmony Week – ‘Everyone belongs’
Harmony Week recognises diversity and inclusion, and includes 21 March, the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Local events and celebrations in Australia are held throughout the week, and schools have an important role in the acknowledgement of our cultural richness.
While most schools will have their Harmony Week program already in place, additional learning value can be gained from extending our understanding.
We cannot pretend that everything is perfect in Australia. Our children are frequently exposed to inequities, to discrimination, to racial slurring and both deliberately and ‘inadvertently’, to overt racism. We have a duty to be guided by our curriculum materials, and our values as educators, to make our conversations about Harmony Week honest and significant.
The Federal Government’s Department for Home Affairs and the NSW Department of Education have extensive ideas and resources for schools to acknowledge and celebrate our diversity. This year’s theme for the poster and songwriting competition conducted by the group Moving Forward Together is ‘Picture a world in harmony’. The competition is open to all students in NSW and the ACT; cash prizes can be won.
21 March is also World Poetry Day, so you can respond to poetry or write a spoken word poem that reflects Australia’s cultural diversity and submit to SBS Face up to Racism. This is a partnership with the NSW State government.
See also ideas in our resources titled Working with poetry can be a feature in our study of language and literature.
‘Racism’ by Ayan Salat is powerful – worth getting a transcript; read and listen to Ayan reading the whole text (Stage 3); choose elements from the poem for Stage 2.
‘Little Murri Be a Murri before an Australian’ by Lionel Fogarty aims for inclusivity in relevant, generous terms.
For long-term considerations, the NSW DoE’s multicultural resources are extensive and excellent. They help ensure we are addressing our responsibilities to intercultural understanding, demanded by syllabuses, and owed to our students, all year round.
ANZAC Day is commemorated on 25 April each year. It is the anniversary of the first campaign where many Australian and New Zealand soldiers were killed and injured in the First World War, at Gallipoli, on 25 April, 1915. On this day Australian and New Zealanders remember the service men and women who fought and died in war.
It is a public holiday in Australia. Dawn religious services, usually with Christian hymns and prayers, are held, at the time the soldiers started landing at Gallipoli. The ANZAC Day march along town streets by people who have served in wars overseas. Other groups, like members of the current Australian Defence Forces, the Rural Fire Service, Scouts and Guides, and representatives from schools join them.
The commemoration of ANZAC Day can be confusing for students.
Ideally, the day honours what is sometimes called the ‘spirit’ of the ANZAC soldiers. There has been a sense that all the soldiers were strong and brave and honorable. We know this isn’t necessarily so.
It doesn’t alter the fact of being sad about the deaths of people in war, being angry about war’s brutality, and recognising that universal peace is an aspiration that many people don’t, in fact, want. We don’t usually address this too deeply in K-6, even though some students will have experienced war first hand.
The acknowledgement of ANZAC Day can be an opportunity to examine some of the complexities of our world. Talk needs to be sensitive, and carefully planned.
NSW DoE developed History resources that are interesting and engaging for all students K-10 for the 100 year anniversary of WWI in 2016. Excellent ideas to start conversations and activities to build on, across K-6.
The words that we put together about war continue to move and stimulate deep thinking about ourselves as human beings.
The tribute to ANZAC soldiers that was delivered by Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli is inscribed at both Gallipoli and on the Memorial in Canberra. Share it with your students.
The full poem, ‘For the Fallen’, by Laurence Binyon is moving. Use it to contextualise the last stanza, known as ‘The Ode’.
Poems: Classic war poems from both the First and Second world wars can be accessed at the Hypertexts. As with all poems, read each through to yourself first, then aloud, to make sure it is suitable.
Contemporary poems include:
‘Write Peace Poetry’ by Mohsin Maqbool E;
‘Poppies’ by Jane Weir is one to consider with Stage 3 students. The annotations on this site are illuminating.
Australian War Memorial has resources, from boxes of artefacts that can be borrowed through to virtual and online resources.
Some religious festivals in March – April
Easter is the most important event in the Christian calendar, and has its culmination in Australia with a holiday weekend of Friday 10 to Monday 13 April. It is acknowledgement of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
The Muslim month of Ramadan begins on or about Friday 24 April to Saturday 23 May. It is a time of sacrifice and fasting. It culminates in Eid ul Fitr.
Jewish Passover is from Wednesday 8 April to Thursday April 16. It commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.
The growing commercialisation of religious festivals can obscure their meaning and importance.
However, we will have students in our schools for whom these festivals hold great significance. We can use these to help foster the intercultural understandings we want for all our students.
Intercultural understanding is addressed in all Australian Curriculum subjects:
Intercultural understanding combines personal, interpersonal and social knowledge and skills. … It offers opportunities for … [students] to consider their own beliefs and attitudes in a new light, and so gain insight into themselves and others.