Face the Facts: Introduction - rightsED

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Face the Facts

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Teaching strategies

Subject: Civics and Citizenship, History, Geography

Level: Year 9 and up (14 years and up)

Time needed: 1 - 6 lessons


The Face the Facts education resource is designed to complement the material in the Commission's Face the Facts publication. First published in 1997, Face the Facts reflects the continued demand for accurate and easy to understand information about Indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Face the Facts draws on primary research information from a variety of sources, including laws made by the Australian Parliament, government policies, academic research and statistics gathered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, including the 2006 Census data. The factual information gathered here, from various sources, provides a reliable snapshot of some aspects of the social realities of Australia.

NOTE: the following resources should be used with a degree of sensitivity, particularly in classrooms with students from diverse backgrounds.

Asylum seekers and refugees
The activities provided will enable teachers to explore key current issues relating to 'unauthorised arrivals' and asylum seekers, immigration detention and refugees. Simple information is provided to help students identify the reasons people become refugees and how the different ways they flee persecution impact on their treatment in Australia.

Migrants and multiculturalism
The information provides a useful starting point for the exploration of the history of migration policies and patterns that influenced Australia's settlement since the end of World War II, and the development of policies to promote multiculturalism and acknowledgement of the diversity of Australia's population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
The information provided in Face the Facts gives an indication of some of the experiences of Indigenous Australians in regard to work, health, education, housing, criminal justice and the historical effects of government policies of separation. Students are given the opportunity to explore current research, including statistical data.


The activities aim to provide students and teachers with relevant, up-to-date facts about current issues in Australia. They can be photocopied for class use and used individually or as an entire resource.

Learning outcomes

Students will develop:

  • a stronger understanding of issues concerning asylum seekers and refugees, migrants and multiculturalism and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • analytical and research skills, including internet research skills
  • critical literacy skills, particularly in relation to representations of issues central to social, economic and political debate
  • an understanding of the importance of numeracy skills during research and when studying society and culture.


1. What's it like to be a refugee?

2. Refugees in the media

3. Readers' theatre and storytelling

4. Statistics - Migration in Australia

5. The facts - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

6. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander - web activity

These activities are supported by the Face the Facts publication and Glossary available at: www.humanrights.gov.au/racial_discrimination/face_facts_08/index.html

Teaching strategies

1. What's it like to be a refugee?

The following activities will help students to:

  • identify reasons why people become refugees
  • explore the circumstances in which refugees flee their homes
  • encourage empathy with refugees
  • promote understanding of the spontaneous exodus experienced by many fleeing their home countries
  • encourage students to empathise with their flight
  • foster debate about priorities in a survival situation.

Step 1

Using the activity sheet What's it like to be a refugee?, students are encouraged to explore the meaning of the words 'refugee' and 'asylum seeker' and brainstorm the reasons why people might seek asylum and become refugees. A follow up discussion is useful here to assist students in developing an understanding of the concepts 'refugee' and 'asylum seeker'. Key questions to break down the definitions provided in Face the Facts could include:

Q1: Are refugees the same as migrants?

Encourage students to explore this question by looking at push and pull factors that cause people to migrate. Push factors may cause people to leave their homelands while pull factors attract people to new countries. Explain that the push factors are more important for refugees than for migrants.

Q2: Are refugees all people who flee from dangerous situations?

Assist students in understanding that while there are many reasons people may be forced to leave their homeland (for example war, or environmental disasters like floods or earthquakes), refugees are fleeing because of a well-founded fear of specific kinds of persecution related to their: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Teachers may wish to explore difficult terms like 'well-founded fear' (i.e. there has to be a real chance of being persecuted) or 'persecution' (ie a serious punishment or some significant disadvantage inflicted by a government or by individuals or a group that the government cannot or will not control). Teachers may also wish to explore in more detail the reasons for fleeing persecution by providing specific individual or group examples. For example:

Race: Albert Einstein fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933.

Religion: The Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet after the Chinese take-over in 1950.

Nationality: Bosnian refugees from the former Yugoslavia Membership of a particular social group/ Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka after 1948.

Political opinion: Lenin fleeing Tsarist Russia in 1900.

Q3: Who decides who is a refugee?

Refer to Face the Facts Question 3.1 - who are asylum seekers? and explore the concept of asylum pointing out:

  • refugees seek asylum outside their country of usual residence or origin
  • governments of individual countries and organisations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determine who is a refugee
  • everyone has a right to seek asylum from persecution - this is a fundamental human right set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14)
  • no country can forcibly return refugees to a territory where they face persecution - this is set out in Article 33 of the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and is known as the principle of 'non-refoulement'.

Step 2

Divide students into small groups and ask them to create the story of an imaginary family who are seeking asylum using the factual information identified in the previous step as a starting point.

Encourage students to consider how the situation could occur and the circumstances that could lead to the decision to seek asylum in another country.

Depending on classroom objectives and resources, teachers may wish to explore first-person testimonies during this activity. There is a range of useful information available online including:

Road to Refuge: Developed by the BBC, this site explores the stories of refugees from around the world, using first-person testimonies and in-depth interviews. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/in_depth/world/2001/road_to_refuge/

Scattered People: Developed through a partnership between Lifeline Brisbane, the Refugee Claimants Support Centre, and Brisbane City Council, this site includes the stories of refugee claimants and their response to seeking asylum in Australia. http://brisbane-stories.powerup.com.au/scatteredpeople/

Step 3

After students select their reason for seeking asylum, each group undertakes the role play activity detailed below 'Seeking Refuge - What will you take with you?'

Note: It may be wise to provide a sample small suitcase, or something of equal size, to minimise the 'will it/won't it fit' arguments.

Seeking refuge - what will you take with you?

  1. You have half an hour before you must leave your home. Work out the list of things that you would like to take with you. All members of your group must agree about what's on the list.
  2. You are allowed to take one small suitcase with you. You cannot take anything that doesn't fit. You cannot take anything that has to be carried separately. You cannot ask family members to carry anything for you. Revise the list of things so that it will fit in your suitcase. Everyone in your group must agree about what's on the list.
  3. After you have finalised your list, identify ONE item you would keep if you had to leave all else behind.
  4. After your group has finalised your list, report back to the class on the situation you imagined which forced you to become a refugee and explain the items you have included on your list and why.

After completing their group lists, teachers facilitate compilation of a class list of items deemed most valuable by students divided into sections with headings such as 'clothes', 'food', 'luxuries'.

Discuss making decisions under pressure, reasons for personal choices and emotions evoked by the decision-making process.

To consolidate understanding;

  • re-introduce the meaning of the term 'refugee'
  • highlight the value of items that assist refugees to survive the trip and support a successful claim for asylum in a foreign country (items like threatening letters, newspaper articles, photographs or identity cards).

Step 4

Students work individually to create a more detailed story of their refugee family (using the lists that students have created and the scenario they imagined at the beginning of the activity).

This could include a written testimony, an imaginary diary of their journey to Australia, artwork, or an audio recording of their refugee's story. Encourage students to research the stories of real asylum seekers to gather ideas.


2. Refugees in the media

The Refugees in the media activity is designed to assist students to explore the representation of refugees in the media, particularly in relation to news and current affairs reporting in newspapers, and to look at the language used in describing them.

Throughout this activity, teachers should encourage students to refer to Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Asylum Seekers and Refugees for clarification of terminology and statistical information included in the newspaper articles they explore.

Step 1 - Class discussion

The role of the media in helping shape public opinion in relation to refugee and asylum seekers and many other issues has long been debated. The Australian Journalist Association's Code of Ethics describes the role of journalists as:

Respect for truth and the public's right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists describe society to itself. They convey information, ideas and opinions, a privileged role….

To explore these concepts, lead students in a class discussion about how refugees and asylum seekers are portrayed in the news and current affairs media and how the use of language by the media can affect attitudes towards various minorities in the community. The following question may be useful as a discussion starter: Australia is one of the most diverse nations in the world.

Q1. Is this reflected in how news and current affairs journalists report on refugees and asylum seekers? Or do journalists, editors and newspaper proprietors actually shape public perceptions and opinions?

During the discussion, get students to respond to the questions/discussion points on their activity sheet.

To conclude the discussion, lead the class in a brainstorming activity to identify some of the common words and phrases used in newspapers to describe asylum seekers and refugees. The list could include: boat people, illegal aliens, unauthorised arrivals, queue jumpers, illegal immigrants, genuine refugees, unauthorised immigrants, detainees, prisoners and/or terrorists.

Step 2 - Auditing the news

During this activity, students access at least two newspaper articles focussing on refugees and asylum seekers, sourced from at least two different publications.

The articles should have been published around the same time and must relate to similar issues on refugees and asylum seekers - eg. teachers may provide a selection of articles relating to refugees, immigration, detention centres or alternatively identify a collection of articles which are appropriate to the class for students to analyse.

The National Library has developed a useful portal with links to most Australian newspapers - both in major cities and regional areas. Available at: http://www.nla.gov.au/npapers/npapers_state.html.

Students are asked to access selected newspaper articles and identify key words used to describe refugees and asylum seekers. A table has been included in the worksheet to assist students with their audit.

During this step, encourage students to think critically about the ways in which refugees and asylum seekers are portrayed in the media. It is important to highlight the ways the language they have identified in their audit influences the reader to perceive the text in particular ways.

Follow up the newspaper audit with a short class discussion to debrief. Ask students the following questions:

  • What is your evaluation of the media's recent coverage of refugees and asylum seekers?
  • How do the words you have discovered in your audit influence the reader? Do they have a positive or negative effect on the reader's attitudes?
  • How does language assist the reader in making judgements and assumptions about the issues discussed in the articles you have read?

Step 3 - Rewriting the news

During this activity, students are asked to write their own newspaper article using the language they have discovered during their audit.

Task: Write a 300 word story on an Iraqi family who were forced to flee their homeland due to ethnic persecution and have arrived ('illegally') in Australia seeking refuge. Present your story in newspaper format - include a headline that describes your story.

Once complete, encourage students to share their newspaper articles with others - either via peer review or publication. Teachers may wish to extend this activity by working with the class group to develop a website to publish the stories or design and publish a newspaper which can be included in the school library or distributed to others.


3. Readers' theatre and storytelling

Exploring the stories of migrants and their journey to Australia is an engaging way for students to gain an understanding of migration and the importance of multiculturalism in Australian society.

The following activity has been designed to assist students in exploring the history of migration in Australia since the 1940s and includes both a Readers' Theatre and Oral History activity. The Commission thanks Herman van Haren for sharing his personal story of migration to Australia, which has been provided for use during the Readers Theatre stage of this activity.

Encourage students to explore Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Migrants and Multiculturalism before commencing the activities.

Step 1 - Who are migrants?

What is migration? In the first step, students work individually to discover definitions, using Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Migrants and Multiculturalism and the Face the Facts Glossary to inform their answers. A table has been included in the worksheet to assist students in identifying important information.

Engage students in a short class discussion to follow-up where any areas of confusion can be clarified. During the discussion it is important to highlight the changes in both the number of settlers in Australia and the countries of origin since the 1940s. If appropriate, teachers may also wish to explore the origins of class members and their families' stories of migration to Australia.

Readers' Theatre teaching strategy

  1. Form groups according to the number of characters in the story. Supply a complete copy of the script for each member of the group. Students are allocated a character role and read the script through together to get an overall understanding of the storyline.
  2. On the second reading, students highlight their specific reading sections.
  3. Groups rehearse their scripts and decide on a minimum of props and costumes to support their performance. It is recommended that the props be limited to one item for each group member so that the group has to prioritise what is important to convey meaning in their script.
  4. Groups perform by reading their scripts aloud in front of their peers. The setting should be kept to a minimum. The best arrangement is one where the group forms a semi circle and actions are limited.

As students perform, they should try to maintain eye contact with the audience.

This is possible if they have had sufficient rehearsal time to become less reliant on reading the script closely. It is recommended that groups are scheduled to perform over a period of days rather than in one sitting.

Step 2 - Readers' Theatre

Exploring the stories of migrants to Australia through Readers' Theatre is a form of minimalist theatre. Through group interaction around the text, students gain an understanding of the important elements of story, oral expression, and the role of characters, as well as knowledge of a real-life migration story.

Readers' Theatre is a fun strategy for exploring texts, using limited actions and does not require elaborate sets, costumes or props. Readers' Theatre is also a powerful reading strategy. It has the support of a group and the group provides the necessary encouragement for those who are less confident when reading aloud. The group rehearses the script prior to performing it and any assistance with unfamiliar words is provided at the time of need.

Additional resources

When exploring migration in the classroom, teachers may also wish to draw on SBS's Tales from a Suitcase series, which was originally aired in 1996, and explores the stories of migrants and their journey to Australia.

Alternatively, teachers may prefer to access the Tales from a Suitcase book, which was published in 2001. The book brings together a collection of stories that reveal the migrant experience and highlight how multiculturalism has influenced Australian society.

Publication details are as follows:
Tales from a Suitcase by Will Davies and Andrea Dal Bosco
Published by Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 2001. ISBN: 0 7344 0237 6 A

The Readers' Theatre script focusing on Herman van Haren's story of migration to Australia in the 1950s (as told to his daughter Rita van Haren) has been included for use. However, if appropriate, teachers may wish to assist students in developing Readers' Theatre scripts based on their own family's story.

Step 3 - Oral history

Working in groups, students are asked to brainstorm a list of elements of storytelling. (Teachers may wish to explore text types and story-telling more explicitly at this stage.) Elements to be identified include:

  • the difference between oral and written traditions
  • elements of fiction such as character, plot, theme and style
  • dramatic techniques of suspense, conflict and climax
  • the importance of eye contact and use of the voice, body, and facial expressions.

After identifying some of the important elements of storytelling, students work in their groups to write and present a recent real-life story of migration to Australia - either personal or based on research - for presentation to their classmates. Students must create the story and devise a presentation that communicates the story in an effective way.

It could be presented as:

  • Readers' Theatre performance, where each student plays a role or series of roles
  • a puppet show, where students play out the action of the story
  • an exhibition of old photographs or artwork which explore a story of migration to Australia.

Step 4 - Classroom discussion

To consolidate this activity engage students in a class discussion about multiculturalism and diversity in Australia, using Question 2.8 - What is Multiculturalism? as a starting point. Areas of discussion could include:

  • the main principles of the Australian Government's policies on immigration
  • the impacts of migration in Australia from a range of perspectives including economic, social and environmental
  • citizenship rates for overseas-born people resident in Australia.


4. Statistics - migration in Australia

This activity has been designed to assist students in accessing the statistical information included in Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Migrants and Multiculturalism. During this activity students will gain skills in gathering, analysing and presenting statistical information.

Step 1 - Identifying the facts

Working individually, students are asked to explore Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Migrants and Multiculturalism to gather the facts about migration and multiculturalism. A series of questions have been included in the worksheet to assist students to extract information from the text.

Step 2 - Charts and tables

During Step 2, students are asked to work in small groups to produce graphs and tables that display the statistical data. Students are asked to present the following:

  • a line chart which illustrates the changes in settler arrivals in Australia from 1988 - 2008
  • a pie chart which illustrates the percentages of religious identification in Australia in the 2006 census

Step 3 - Diversity survey

During Step 3, students explore the issue of diversity via a survey of their classmates' cultural heritage. A survey form has been included in the worksheet. However, teachers may wish to encourage students to explore additional questions to gain a broader statistical 'picture' of diversity in their class group.

Step 4 - Collating the data

After collecting their data, students collate it and create a series of charts or tables to illustrate their findings, including:

  • the main countries your classmates were born in
  • the main countries your classmates parents were born in
  • the main countries your classmates grandparents were born in
  • the main languages your classmates speak at home.

Step 5 - Classroom discussion

To conclude the activity, ask students to report back on their findings. Compare the findings of each group with the statistics in Face the Facts - Questions about Migrants and Multiculturalism.

Additional resources
For further statistical data on Migration and Multiculturalism in Australia visit: Australian Bureau of Statistics website at: http://www.abs.gov.au


5. The facts - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

This activity is designed to assist students in accessing the information included in Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to identify some of the important issues facing Indigenous peoples today, and to identify how statistical information can be used to support an argument or proposal. This activity can be used in the classroom when adequate computer resources are available or alternatively set as a homework or individual assignment where more appropriate.

Step 1 - Before/during/after reading activity

This B-D-A activity is designed to assist students in accessing information in Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The before/during/after reading activity is based on the K-W-L (what I know, what I want to know, and what I learned) strategy.

  1. Students begin by brainstorming and listing in the 'before column' everything they know about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A series of headings have been included to assist students with their responses. This step can be done individually, with partners, in small groups or the whole class can participate at once. However, it is important to always have students share and debate this information as a group before moving to the next step.
  2. After brainstorming, students read Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, writing brief notes on the new information they find in the 'during column'. This can also be done individually, with partners, or in small groups - depending on classroom dynamics and objectives. When students locate information in the text that agrees with statements they wrote in their 'before' column, they place a tick next to those statements to indicate that their background knowledge was correct.
  3. In the next step (after reading), students briefly summarise the new information they have learned in the 'after column'.
  4. Next, group or whole-class discussion should take place to revisit the 'before reading' statements that were listed on the worksheet and to share the information they have discovered and clarify any areas of confusion that may have arisen. The aim of this discussion is to establish what students already know about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  5. Each student must then identify three questions or issues they have identified during the B-D-A activity for further research.

Step 2 - Identifying the facts about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Using the questions they identified during the B-D-A activity, students must locate the facts. The focus of this investigation should be on statistical information that supports or challenges each student's assumptions about Indigenous issues.

Useful statistics are available in Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. However, students should also be encouraged to use their research skills to discover additional facts.

A table has been included in the worksheet to assist students in recording information discovered during their research.

Step 3 - Using statistics to develop a report, proposal or argument

During this step, students must reflect on the information they have discovered and evaluate whether the data they have discovered is sufficient to construct a report, proposal or argument. At this stage, teachers should work with students to finalise their report topics and assess the information they have gathered. The following instructions have been included in the worksheet.

Student instructions

Statistics are a powerful tool and can be used to provide the basis of strong arguments for change. Governments, community groups and individuals can all use statistics to make decisions about how to: best allocate resources; to identify those groups most in need and provide effective services in the community; to propose change or development to address social issues; or simply to satisfy one's curiosity.

Now that you have located some statistical information about each of the questions/issues you have identified, select one area to investigate further. There a many issues/questions you could explore including:

Indigenous population
How many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are there in Australia? Where do they live?

Indigenous health
Compare statistics on the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Compare statistics on home ownership for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Compare statistics on the levels of unemployment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

There are many other areas you could investigate. Use Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to identify other areas which interest you.

Step 4 - Presenting your report

To complete this activity, students must report on their findings, using statistics and other facts to support their argument. Students should be encouraged to share their reports with classmates. This could include publication of the reports in hard copy or on a website.


6. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - web activity

This web activity is designed to lead students through a series of steps to enable them to locate, analyse and synthesise information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the reconciliation process in Australia in order to construct a response and reflect on their learning. They will also develop valuable skills in web research and writing proposals.

This activity can be used in the classroom when adequate computer resources are available, or alternatively, set as a homework or individual assignment where more appropriate.

Step 1 - Class discussion

Building on the knowledge students have identified in the B-D-A activity, teachers should engage students in a short classroom discussion to clarify the definitions they have discovered. During the discussion it is important to establish a working definition of the word 'reconciliation' and the importance/relevance of reconciliation in Australia today.

During the discussion teachers should ensure that students have gained an awareness of:

  • some of the important events in Australia's history in relation to reconciliation including Reconciliation Week and 'Sorry Day,' the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and the National Apology
  • the history of government policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples including the separation of Indigenous children from their families, self-determination, and native title
  • what a Reconciliation Action Plan is.

Step 2 - Online research and proposal writing

Using Face the Facts - Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as a starting point, students are asked to work together to undertake online research on the reconciliation process in Australia.

During this activity, students must access a range of different web resources to gather information to present in their report.

Following the class discussion, students form small groups and take on the role of committee member. Each group must use online resources to research the reconciliation process in Australia. The following outline has been included on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples - Web activity worksheet.


You are a member of a committee established to report back on the reconciliation process in Australia to your local council.

  1. Identify important events during the reconciliation process at both a local and national level.
  2. Plan an event or some other form of celebration to mark the importance of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in your community (use your findings to justify your decisions).
  3. Present a short proposal to your local council. Include the background information you identified in questions 1 and 2 to support your proposal.

Step 3 - Planning a reconciliation event

In the final step, students are asked to plan a reconciliation event for their local community. During this stage, students must identify how the issue of reconciliation relates to them and their community and addresses some of the issues that were identified in Steps 1 and 2.

Using their research as a starting point, students must plan an event (or some other form of celebration) for their community that highlights the importance of ongoing reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Some key questions to assist students in structuring the presentations are provided:

  • How does your proposal promote reconciliation in the Australian community?
  • How will you consult with local Indigenous peoples when planning your event?
  • How will you involve the local Indigenous community in your event?
  • Where will you stage the event?
  • What form will the event take?
  • What special guests have you arranged and why?
  • How will you advertise it?
  • Will the Indigenous community/the non-Indigenous community accept the event?

Students should be encouraged to be creative when planning their event and could organise:

  • an art exhibition which explores ideas about reconciliation
  • a sculpture or some other community art project to be installed in your local park or mall
  • an Indigenous cultural day, where traditional foods and customs are observed
  • a statement about reconciliation which can be displayed in your classroom or school
  • a photo collection with images which illustrate important events in the reconciliation process in Australia.

Dependent upon learning objectives and resources available, teachers may wish to undertake to hold a reconciliation event at their school to conclude this activity.

Additional resource
A useful resource for exploring the issue of reconciliation is: http://www.reconciliation.org.au/i-cms.isp.