Document Type



Department of Education Studies

Conference End Date


Conference Title

Education, Ethnicity, and Inequality Symposium: Issues and Insights


This paper aims to contribute to the discussion on educational issues relating to ethnicity and inequality, drawing on data from a recent research study undertaken in a low socio-economic, culturally and linguistically diverse urban community in Australia. Specifically, I explore some of the research issues (theoretical and methodological) in dealing with this topic, as well as the relation between research knowledge and practitioner knowledge. In the Australian policy context, the topic of ethnicity and educational inequality has been explored by recourse to three broad categories of theoretical literature. The first category uses terms such as cultural deficit, cultural difference, culture frame of reference, cultural ecology, and cultural styles of learning to explore and explain educational inequality. All of these theories attempt to locate the problem of educational inequality within the ‘ethnic’ group, attributing issues of poor educational achievement, either to the different forms of language, interaction patterns, or values placed by different ethnic groups on formal schooling. The implication is that students from specific, minority ethnic groups find it difficult to actively participate in school and classroom cultures because they lack cultural or linguistic resources to bridge the distance between home/community and school cultures. A second category of literature draws on semiotic constructs such as ‘gap talk’ and ‘Language Background Other than English’ in the context of global policies of high stakes standardised testing regimes to produce a politics of ‘misrecognition’ which again holds minority ethnic groups accountable for lower educational achievement outcomes. The lack or deficit is placed squarely on the ethnic group rather than on classroom or educational cultures of schooling. By contrast, a third category of literature draws on concepts from postcolonialism and cultural globalisation to suggest that cultures are actively produced in the routines and rituals of everyday life, and are contested, challenged, and reshaped in ways that reveal both continuity and discontinuity of social practices. Consequently, it is important to not only focus on the cultures of minority ethnic groups, but also the historical and ongoing contact between dominant and ethnic minority groups, as well as the ways in which cultures of schooling and classrooms position ethnic students in relation to privileged forms of knowledge.

The research study reported in this paper, A Smart Education partnership, aimed to improve the educational achievement levels of students attending schools in culturally and linguistically diverse, low socio-economic communities. The aim of the partnership was to collaboratively identify the problems or issues leading to poor student learning outcomes, and then design, construct, implement and assess multiple iterations of interventions to raise student literacy levels. The project generated a complex set of data about students’ learning achievement, changing teaching practices, school cultures, leadership styles and project evaluations using questionnaires, classroom observation schedules, interviews and focus groups, over a three year period. End-of-project interview data were collected from regional administrators and school leaders. In addition, interviews were conducted with five school-based researchers, who worked intensively with classroom teachers and lead literacy teachers across the 12 schools.

This work focussed on teacher capacity building, specifically assisting teachers to develop skills in data gathering and analysis and to design pedagogies that would improve students’ learning outcomes. Focus group interviews are currently being conducted with cohorts of teachers who engaged with the intervention, design-based research partnership project. In this paper, I explore the ways in which researchers and practitioners worked together to shift deficit assumptions about the socio-economic contexts and cultural and linguistic attributes of ethnic minority groups to design pedagogies that made a difference in students’ educational achievement over the three years of the partnership project.

Conference Location

Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR


Equity, poverty, ethnicity, education, Australia, culturally diverse schools, CALD

Publication Date


Place of Publication

Hong Kong SAR