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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Bridges to Understanding: The Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership

Cheryl Ballantyne
Michael Singh

The Australian Government's recently released Australia in the Asian Century White Paper declares that as a nation we need to 'broaden and deepen our understanding of Asian cultures and languages, to become more Asia literate. These capabilities are needed to build stronger connections and partnerships across the region.' (Executive Summary) The Government has also called for all Australian students to have the opportunity 'to undertake a continuous course of study in an Asian language throughout their years of schooling', supported by 'significant exposure to studies of Asia across the curriculum to increase their cultural knowledge and skills and enable them to be active in the region'. In keeping with this emphasis, the Australian Curriculum includes 'Asia and Australia's engagement in Asia' as a cross-curriculum priority.

An initiative in Western Sydney is making a direct contribution to these objectives. Since 2008 a partnership between the University of Western Sydney, the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities, and the Ningbo Municipal Education Bureau, China, has been working to strengthen engagement in and learning of Chinese language and culture among students and teachers in Western Sydney's primary and secondary schools.

The Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership places graduates or experienced teachers from Ningbo, in Western Sydney schools where they help Australian teachers to develop and deliver Chinese language and culture programs. Each of the Chinese educators, known as Ningbo Volunteers or Ningbo Ambassadors, spends two days per week in schools over 18 months. Up to 10 Chinese educators are involved each year and since mid-2008 40 Ningbo Volunteers have helped participating schools to implement Chinese language and culture programs.

The initial aim of the Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership was to promote interest in the teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture in participating schools, and here progress has already been made. The number of primary students studying Chinese in the Western Sydney Region has risen from 4,017 in 2011 to 4,271 this year: 6.7 per cent of the Region's primary school population. The equivalent number of secondary students learning Chinese has risen from 876 in 2009 to 1,358 in 2011: 3.2 per cent of the total population of high school students in the Region.

As the Partnership moves into its second five years, it is seeking to ensure that the study of China and the Chinese language becomes a core component of participating Western Sydney schools, supported by a high-quality Chinese language curriculum that makes learning Chinese rewarding and interesting.

Many schools participating in the Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership have also engaged in formal sister-school partnerships with schools in China as a strategy to further enhance the intercultural understanding of students, teachers, parents and broader school communities.

Developing the research base

As they develop their skills in Chinese language teaching, Ningbo Volunteers also improve their skills as researchers. While undertaking their school experience, Volunteers simultaneously complete a Master of Education (Honours) through the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Educational Research. They participate in fortnightly research seminars, weekly research training workshops and individualised tutorials. Their research and language education program covers teacher-researcher methods, research and information literacy, the use of Chinese theoretical knowledge in interpreting evidence from Australian schooling, developments in the Australian Curriculum, intercultural language teaching and learning theory and practice, and collective reflection on issues emerging from school experience. The language education program is jointly delivered by the University, the Region and the NSW Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre.

Data is now being gathered about how the Partnership has influenced students' levels of interest and academic success in the study of Chinese language (Mandarin), and the extent to which it has helped both parents and the schools as a whole to support students' learning of Chinese. Ningbo Volunteers are exploring:

  • the extent to which this Partnership has helped teachers to become more reflective and interculturally aware (findings will guide teacher training programs for language teachers in general)
  • the challenges and the distinctive issues posed by Chinese teaching and learning in schools, in the context of the theoretical and policy setting
  • how this Partnership might be developed in order to enhance the supply of quality Australian teacher-researchers capable of teaching Chinese as a second language
  • the implications of this evidence for similar teacher-researcher professional learning programs
  • how well the theoretical-pedagogical framework for second-language teaching and learning explored in this Partnership addresses the challenges facing Chinese language education (eg retention of students in language programs and quality teacher supply)
  • the professional development of Ningbo Volunteers as Chinese language teachers in Western Sydney schools, and how these Chinese native speakers learn to understand their role and the challenges of teaching Chinese as a second language to Australian children in schools.

The Ningbo Ambassadors have shown that second-language learners need programs and pedagogies that stimulate their interests, engage their enthusiasm and reward them with successful language-learning experiences. A key finding from their studies is that for beginners, a focus on the social and linguistic similarities between English and Chinese is more successful and rewarding than a focus on differences.

The Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership is working to develop knowledge of the history, cultures, societies and languages of China in schools across Western Sydney. It is already building a strong reputation for educational scholarship and teacher research about making Chinese learnable for beginning second-language learners in Australia.

For further information on the Western Sydney-Ningbo Partnership, contact:

Cheryl Ballantyne, School Development Officer, NSW Department of Education and Communities, 0409 846 382.

Professor Michael Singh, Research Oriented School Engaged Teacher Education (ROSETE) Partnership, University of Western Sydney, 0404012409.


Subject Headings

Social life and customs
Teaching and learning
Teacher training
Language and languages
New South Wales (NSW)