The religious dimension of Asia literacy

Year: 2013

Author: Neilsen, Roderick, Arber, Ruth, Weinmann, Michiko, Kostogriz, Alex, Rosunee, Nishta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Australian Government priorities have become increasingly focused on building Asia literacy in schools. However, what kind of education is appropriate and how teachers and students can understand and respond to Asian identity, language and culture has been the subject of considerable debate. (Singh, 2005; Singh, Kenway, & Apple, 2005).
This paper describes a project which has addressed the current context of building an Asia literate teaching workforce in Australia, focusing in particular on the neglected dimension of Asian religious identities: their recognition, experience, and negotiation. This dimension is not specifically addressed in policy and curriculum documents, yet we argue that it provides a particular vantage point to understand the experienced institutional and normative aspects of Asia literacy and the ways that this priority is recognised and responded to. Religious identities are an important element in a transcultural, globally interconnected world; A more comprehensive understanding of this dimension responds to government initiatives to increase teacher effectiveness and learning outcomes related to Asia literacy and to promote responsive pedagogy.
Based on case studies of a selection of Melbourne schools, the project has used the framework of institutional ethnography to examine how teachers understand and respond to the religious identities of their Asian students, what kinds of ethical demands religious aspects of Asia Literacy put on teachers, and the implications of these demands for teacher practice and education. Institutional ethnography as a method has allowed us to reveal how teachers’ everyday experiences shape the ethical practice of teaching about Asia. We argue that this methodological approach facilitates the rediscovery of the underlying socio-political and racial relations, and experiences, from the point of view of the participants. We focused on four distinctive school-sites as our institutional cases, chosen for their diversity and level of engagement with Asia Literacy practices.
We claim that findings from this research have clear implications for the refinement of policy and for teacher professional development; they provide information as to what constitutes the ethical and relational side of Asia literacy as it is constitutive of responsive pedagogy. It elucidates how teachers participate in discourses of Representation, specifically focusing on their need to be aware that religious identities in diasporic communities in Australia are neither homogenous nor unchanging, but are connected with mainstream society and culture in ways that need to be explored and understood in the interests of social cohesion.