This background summarises the evidence base from which the Intercultural understanding capability's introduction, organising elements and learning continuum have been developed. It draws on recent international and national research, as well as initiatives and programs that focus on intercultural understanding across the curriculum.

Intercultural understanding is a relatively recent addition to Australian school curriculums. It has its origins in several fields including cultural studies (Hall 1997), language education (Kramsch 1998; Liddicoat, Lo Bianco and Crozet 1999), multicultural education (Banks and Banks 2004; Noble and Poynting 2000) and more broadly in sociology, linguistics and anthropology. Given its diverse origins, it is not surprising that the nature and place of intercultural learning are by no means settled and the definition of the term 'culture' is itself not agreed upon.

The Intercultural understanding capability adopts the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages (ACARA 2011) definition of culture as involving:

'… a complex system of concepts, values, norms, beliefs and practices that are shared, created and contested by people who make up a cultural group and are passed on from generation to generation. Cultural systems include variable ways of seeing, interpreting and understanding the world. They are constructed and transmitted by members of the group through the processes of socialisation and representation'. (p.16)

Drawing on this definition, Intercultural understanding focuses on sharing, creating and contesting different cultural perceptions and practices, and supports the development of a critical awareness of the processes of socialisation and representation that shape and maintain cultural differences.

Furthermore, in acknowledging the founding status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, it is alert to the place of negotiation and boundaries in engagements at the cultural interface (Nakata 2007) and mindful of practices that both celebrate and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage (Janke 2008). In recognising the importance for Australia of maintaining positive relations and communications in its region, it promotes recognition, communication and engagement with the different countries and cultures within Asia. It also supports the development of a strong vision for a sustained and peaceful global future.

Intercultural understanding assumes an integral connection between language and culture, acknowledging language as the primary means through which people establish and exchange shared meaning and ways of seeing the world (Scarino, Dellitt and Vale 2007). It works on the assumption that, in learning to live together in a world of social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, students need to look beyond their immediate worlds and concerns (Arigatou Foundation 2008) and engage with the experience and ideas of others (Appiah 2006) in order to understand the politics of culture on the world stage (Sleeter and Grant 2003).

Intercultural understanding identifies knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that assist students in developing and acting with intercultural understanding at school and in their lives beyond school. At a personal level, intercultural understanding encourages students to engage with their own and others' cultures, building both their sense of belonging and their capacity to move between their own worlds and the worlds of others (Kalantzis and Cope 2005), recognising the attitudes and structures that shape their personal identities and narratives.

At an interpersonal level, it considers commonalities and differences between people, focusing on processes of interaction, dialogue and negotiation. It seeks to develop students' abilities to empathise with others, to analyse their experiences critically and to reflect on their learning as a means of better understanding themselves and people they perceive to be different from themselves (Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino and Kohler 2003; Wiggins and McTighe 2005). It provides opportunities for students to question the attitudes and assumptions of cultural groups in light of the consequences and outcomes for others.

At a social level, Intercultural understanding builds students' sense of the complex nature of their own histories, traditions and values, and of the history, traditions and values that underpin Australian society (MCEETYA 2008). Students learn to interpret and mediate cultural inequalities within their own and other societies. They learn to take responsibility for their interactions with others, to act on what they have learnt and to become intercultural citizens in the world (Byram 2008).


Appiah, A. 2006, Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers, 1st edn, W.W. Norton, New York.

Arigatou Foundation 2008, Learning to Live Together: an intercultural and interfaith programme for ethics education, Arigatou Foundation, Geneva, Switzerland.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2011, Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages, Sydney: (accessed 7 October 2011).

Banks, J.A. & Banks, C.A.M. (eds) 2004, Multicultural Education: issues and perspectives, 5th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

Byram, M. 2008, From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship: essays and reflections, Multilingual Matters Ltd, Clevedon, Buffalo, England; Multilingual Matters, Buffalo, NY.

Hall, S. (ed) 1997, Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices, Sage, in association with The Open University, London.

Janke, T. 2008, 'Indigenous knowledge and intellectual property: negotiating the spaces', The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 37, pp. 14–24.

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. 2005, Learning by Design, Common Ground Publishing, Melbourne.

Kramsch, C.J. 1998, Language and Culture, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Liddicoat, A., Lo Bianco, J. & Crozet, C. (eds) 1999, Striving for the Third Place: intercultural competence through language education, Language Australia, Canberra.

Liddicoat, A., Papademetre, L., Scarino, A. & Kohler, M. 2003, Report on Intercultural Language Learning, Commonwealth of Australia, ACT.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training & Youth Affairs 2008, Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians: (accessed 7 October 2011).

Nakata, M. 2007, 'The cultural interface', The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 36, pp. 7–14.

Noble, G. & Poynting, S. 2000, 'Multicultural Education and Intercultural Understanding: Ethnicity, Culture and Schooling', in C. Scott and S. Dinham (eds), Teaching in Context, pp. 56–81, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell, Victoria. 

Scarino, A., Dellitt, J. & Vale, D. 2007, A Rationale for Language Learning in the 21st Century: (accessed 7 October 2011).

Sleeter, C. & Grant, C. 2003, Making Choices for Multicultural Education: five approaches to race, class, and gender, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2006, Guidelines on Intercultural Education, Paris: (accessed 7 October 2011).

Wiggins, G.P. & McTighe, J. 2005, Understanding by Design, expanded 2nd edn, Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, New Jersey.