You are on page 1of 8

Social justice in education has always been a key issue in Australia, especially after the

Australian market had been capitalised. Collins & Bilge (2016) and Hankivsky (2014) point

out that one factor cannot holistically explain social inequality. In fact, many axes of social

divisions such as race, gender and social economic status work together to shape people’s

lives and power distribution and these social factors are interrelated. Refer to the case of

children in schools, a student who experiences discrimination based on race, gender, class, or

disability may suffer from more than one form of discrimination (Cassidy & Jackson, 2005).

Unfortunately, many people believe that education is separate from social justice. They

believe that education is about passing on knowledge and social justice is about money, job

opportunities and human rights. However, Connell (1999) argues that to those who are

socially and economically disadvantaged, there is a connection between education and social

justice. Connell (1999) also highlights the current social justice issue in education – student’s

access to educational resources is determined by their social background. Nevertheless,

Marxists support that money determines how well a child performs because children from the

most advantaged groups have more opportunities to enter higher education than children of

the least advantaged groups have.

In education, individuals who fall out of the mainstream in Australia due to their race,

ethnicity and class are rendered invisible by the daily practice of schooling and they are not

receiving sufficient resource from teachers and schools (Ferfolja, Jones-Diaz & Ullman,

2016). In Australia, white Australians have prejudice towards indigenous Australians because

they are different in race, ethnicity and cultural background. Aboriginal students are labeled

“problematic, lazy and dumb”, so they are more likely to be treated unequally. Consequently

their aspiration will be diminished and their opportunities on life chances will also be

hindered. Apart from this, a person’s well-being and development can be disadvantaged
through the person’s negative experiences with an intersection of a multiple factors, such as

race, gender, ability and socio-economic location (Cassidy and Jackson, 2005). Aboriginal

students are more likely to end up with a lower-income job and poverty is likely to be

extended for generations as everyone in the family can experience the same difficulties that

their parents or grandparents experienced. In spite of this, Sever (2012) suggests that there is

a way for those disadvantaged aboriginal students to escape the negative conditions and to

transform their social identity; this can be done by education. Hence, it is important for every

student to receive equal education resources and support.

However, in real world, this social justice issue is overlooked by Karl Marx, a

sociologist who invented Marxism theory. He emphasises that only economic power explains

all kinds of discrimination. In other words, capitalism gives power to controllers of capital to

exploit the working class. Through the lens of Marxism, education plays an important role to

support the existing distribution of power and wealth by reproducing an efficient and

obedient workforce in the society (Kell, 2004). In this way, the responsibilities of schools are

to teach students to accept the ideology of capitalism and to train them to become loyal and

obedient workers in the future. Additionally, schools’ hierarchy structure epitomises

workplace hierarchy. It means teachers, who are at the top of hierarchical structure in a

classroom give order to students and students, who are at a lower hierarchy level have to

obey it. It reinforces the expectation in workplace – Proletariat do what Bourgeoisie tell them

to do. Moreover, Salisbury (personal communication, August 24, 2014) outlines that

education is no longer meritocracy; instead, it is a cyclical process, which the education

system fails the working class and let the bourgeoisie succeed. He also highlights that the

education system manipulates the working class because it deceives them about the fairness

in the education system. For example, giving the same exam paper to an aboriginal student,

who comes from a minority group and whose family has a low social economic status and to
a white Australian student, who was born and raised in a middle-class, seems fair. However,

the wealthy white Australian student has an economic and cultural advantage over the

aboriginal student, which can contribute to their exam. The wealthy student can afford to go

to private school, where there are more experienced- teachers, smaller classes and more

advanced learning facilities. On the contrary, the aboriginal student is more likely to attend

an overcrowded class with less attention and technological support. Some other social factors

should also be considered, the wealthy Australian student can seek extra support from outside

of school: additional tutoring, faster internet access to information and help from parents,

while the indigenous student cannot afford extra tutoring, have no internet access at home

and parents are not capable to help with school work. Such an inequality will end up with

wealthy student achieves higher education degree, find a better job and continue to be a

member in the higher social class whereas the indigenous student becomes a low-achiever

and unable to get rid of the cyclical process. More importantly, such education setting pushes

students to start to believe it is how society works - people with money are meant to be

dominant the power and people who are disadvantaged are meant to sell their skills for

money. Marxism also highlights that people who have the power to dominant the economy

will also be able to dominant the social values, cultures and education. That means rich

people can take more advantages in education while poor people will be “locked” in the

lower bottom as where they are, feeling helpless, unable to improve their educational

situation and unable to achieve upward social mobility. Thus, such inequality in education

can hinder intersectional disadvantaged student’s aspiration and life chances. I believe

schools should be a place where everyone has an equal chance; students who work hard

should receive rewards and get good jobs. Educational system - rewarding students based on

their social background, rather than their academic learning ability can cause social inequality

and has negative impact on disadvantaged students. On top of that, I also believe that
Marxism theory rules out the other factors that contribute to a society, such as values,

religions and culture. Although economy is important to a society, society must not be ruled

by it.

Recall my own experience; three - year bachelor study in Melbourne makes me to

realize the significance of intercultural sensitivity. In china, the teaching strategy is teacher-

dominant and test-oriented while in Australia, teachers focus on student’s development of

critical thinking ability, collaboration spirits and individualities. Therefore, it took me a while

to adjust myself and to engage in class activities. At the beginning, I felt I was kind of being

isolated by other students, I felt stressed, especially, when it comes to group work, I always

said to myself that no one wanted to be in the same group with me because I would probably

drag them down. Despite of this, as a Chinese international student, I was stereotyped “rich,

spoiled, one child policy and love brands”. I was surprised to be called these names by local

Australians, who might have not ever been to China. I was also surprised when a local

student asked if I ate dogs or cats in the classroom. I felt very awkward and embarrassed

because I believed that they must have a bad impression of me and they would start to look at

me differently. Honestly, it was reasonable for them to have “prejudice” towards me as they

did not receive the accurate information about my cultural and ethnicity. Studying here

challenged me quite a lot. Firstly, English is not my first language; I had to put so much effort

and time into studying so that I would not fall behind. Secondly, I had to handle emotional

issues such as homesick and thirdly, I had to cope with the different teaching strategies and

style. There was my real experience, which local students did not perceive. Fortunately, the

University as well as its teachers and staffs promote cultural sensitivities in school and they

tried their best to help students to understand each other’s cultures, values and languages.

They have done lots to help me to integrate in Australian classrooms and help local students

to have a more accurate understanding of my cultural background. For instance, we had


multicultural celebration Day, it offered a chance for both international students and local

students to sit together and exchange values and ideas. Additional, we also had a mentor

program where an international student paired with an Australian student .This program

helped to reinforce our understanding of cultures of each other. Such experience inspired me

quite a lot; I started to build my own understanding of cultural sensitivities. When I taught in

a high school in china, I tried to perceive students’ difference, try to understand those who

come from another city other than shanghai, I tried to create a culturally sensitive classroom

environment. I believe that stay away from talking about differences, races, social

backgrounds does not help to reduce conflicts. Apart from teaching, my job, as a teacher is to

help all the students to develop a sense of cultural acceptance and to deliver an idea of

equality. Morris & Mims (1999) also suggest that social justice can be achieved as long as

teachers are willing to look, listen and learn about diversity and to experience cultural

differences. I believe that diversity should be valued in a classroom, and I believe no one is

superior or inferior to others; everyone should be respect and be treated equally.

Australia is a diversity country where different people from different races, ethnicities,

and cultural backgrounds integrate to form a society and live together. Thus, diversity

permeates in all aspect of the society and education is no exception. In order to ensure that

diversity is encouraged in schooling, the NSW Department of Education has introduced

“Multicultural Education Policy”, this policy responds to the cultural, linguistic and religious

diversity of NSW. It has committed schools to provide opportunities for all students so that

they are enable to achieve equitable education and social outcomes and get involved

successfully in Australian culturally diverse society. (Multicultural Education Policy, 2012).

These measurements have a positive impact on diversity in schooling. It helps to retain the

diverse environment and it promotes equality all well.


Education is important to an individual, to a family, and to a whole society. To take

every student’s leaning needs into account is a key to achieve social justice in education. In

real world, everyone is unique, we are different from each other in some way, however, it is

important to realize that diversity should be respected. Any race, ethnicity and class

difference should not be the obstacles to hinder a student’s aspiration and their life

opportunities.
Reference lists

Collins,P.H.,&Bilge,S. (2016). Intersectionality. Retrieved from

http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uwsau/reader.action?docID=4698012

Connell, R. W. (1999). Social justice in education. Overland, 157, 18-25.

Cassidy,W.&Jackson,M. (2005). The need for equality in education: an intersectionality

examination of labelling and zero tolerance practices. Mcgill Journal of Education, 40,

435-456. Retrieved from http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/viewFile/585/467

Ferfolja, T., Jones-Diaz, C., & Ullman, J. (Ed.). (2015). Understanding sociological theory

for educational practices. Cambridge University Press.

Gay, G. (2010). Acting on beliefs in teacher education for cultural diversity. Journal of

Teacher Education.61(1-2), 143-152.

Hankivsky, O. (2014). Intersectionality 101. The Institute for Intersectionality Research&

Policy, SFU. Retrieved from

https://www.sfu.ca/iirp/documents/resources/101_Final.pdf

Kell,P. (2004). A teacher’s tool kit: Sociology and social theory explaining the world. In

J.Allen Ed.), Sociology of education: Possibilities and practices (pp.29-51). Southbank,

Australia: Social Science Press

Morris, R. C.,&Mims, N.G.(1999). Making classrooms culturally sensitive. Education and

Culture16(1), 29-32. Retrieved from

http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1436&context=eandc

NSW Government Department (2012). Multicultural Education Policy. Retrieved from

https://www.det.nsw.edu.au
Sever, M. (2012). A critical look at the theories of sociology of education. International

Journal of Human Sciences, 9(1), 651-671.