South Australia’s education system is balancing different but complementary approaches to cultural diversity and the coverage of international material in the curriculum. Ron Hoenig reports on developments in the State.
Today’s students are global citizens. Every day, they will meet people from a diversity of national, cultural and religious backgrounds, and many students are also likely to spend some time working and living overseas. In a world of fast electronic communications technology and cheap travel, students expect their education to give them an international perspective that enriches their learning and prepares them to work in a global workforce.
What’s more, there is a world of international students who want to benefit from the quality of the Australian education system and the fact that South Australia
is a safe, comfortable and relatively cheap place to learn English. International students constitute the fifth-largest export industry in South Australia
and the fourth-largest in Australia
, generating significant income for the country and for educational institutions.
With such high financial stakes, South Australia’s Strategic Plan (2004) set a target of doubling the State’s share of overseas students within 10 years. There are currently 1,000 individual full-fee-paying students in government schools, and there has also been a focus on generating group study tours across primary and secondary schools. Challenges in achieving this target will include increasing options for student accommodation, building school capacity and managing international education within competing migration policies.
However, internationalising education is about more than dollar signs. Both local students and international visitors benefit from opportunities to interact with cultures vastly different from their own. International education aims to develop knowledge, skills, understandings and values to enable students and the education community to think globally and act responsibly as local and international citizens.
This starts with curriculum. Internationalised curriculum emphasises skills such as appreciating the diversity of the world’s nations and peoples and their links with Australia; developing informed attitudes and values towards other cultures, both traditional and modern; and interacting and communicating with people from diverse cultural environments. It includes schools teaching more about other countries and cultures and teaching languages, including Aboriginal languages, as well as supporting the teaching of English to students from overseas.
DECS is committed to a curriculum that caters for both domestic and international students, and ensures that all of them are able to work together ethically, capably and sensitively in shaping a better world. A project to internationalise the South Australian curriculum is currently underway. The project plan has looked at integrating efforts across seven aspects of DECS programs: Curriculum, Student Opportunities, Staff Opportunities, Community Engagement, Commercialisation and Export, Quality Assurance and Interagency Collaboration.
Studies of Asia
A significant part of internationalisation for Australian students is a focus on Asia. The recently released National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools
articulates a rationale for including studies of Asia and Australia
in Australian schools. According to the Statement, 'Internationalising' includes appreciation of Australia’s geographic situation, the value of language learning and the need for Australian students to learn about other countries’ cultures and politics – in particular those of our largest trading partners.
The same issues that educators are confronting with regard to diversity within Australia’s communities are central to providing an international curriculum.The statement’s authors say that it aims to develop an appreciation of the diversity of cultures, faiths and groups both locally and internationally. It also aims to support social cohesion and the maintenance of Australian competitiveness, prosperity and peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world.
Speaking at the National Summit on Studies of Asia in 2003, Carillo Gantner, former Chair of Asialink, expressed a national vision about including Asia
in all aspects of curriculum. He looked forward to an Australia
'that understands its Indigenous connectedness to land and is fed as much by the influences of the great civilisations of Asia as by those of Europe'.
He said our children will need to be able speak with respect and knowledge about Islam, communicate with our nearest neighbour, Indonesia
, and take up the opportunities offered by the 'ntellectual and economic powerhouses' of China
Implications for policy and practice
Studies of Asia was adopted as a federal program in 1996, and Commonwealth funding (the National Asian Languages and Studies for Australian Schools (NALSAS) strategy) to support its implementation across the curriculum was due to continue until 2006. Federal funding was removed from the program in 2002, but schools themselves generated programs relating to cultural diversity through programs such as Studies of Asia, Multicultural Education, Languages Education, Countering Racism, Civics and Citizenship initiatives and Values education. When the South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability (SACSA) Framework was developed, the relevance of Asia had not been fully realised. New directions in internationalising education will require education leaders to look more creatively at SACSA and explore its potential to accommodate emerging issues. The challenge for teachers is that they will need to expand their world views and change their ways of teaching to address those issues in every area of curriculum.
The benefits of internationalising will include increasing international recognition of SACSA, facilitating global mobility for South Australian students. Already, South Australia has national recognition as a leader in implementing the Studies of Asia program. Countries such as the US are also recognising Australia as a world leader in Studies in Asia.
More schools are beginning to provide a curriculum that’s inclusive of a diversity of people, world views and experiences. Schools need to explore the meaning of ideas such as internationalisation, multiculturalism and globalisation, and develop pedagogies to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by each concept. School leaders will be instrumental in leading the change towards wider appreciation of the value of Studies of Asia and an internationalised, inclusive curriculum.
Case study: Flaxmill Primary School
A case study of Flaxmill Primary School, in Adelaide’s south, reveals the impact that studies of Asia can make on student wellbeing and attitudes to cultural diversity. Flaxmill has a predominantly Anglo-Australian student body, but has for some years encouraged staff professional development around studies of Asia and Australia.
Last year, the school’s work culminated in a Studies of Asia Week. Classrooms and corridors were festooned with Tibetan prayer flags, Buddhist symbols and mythical Tibetan animals. Students discussed issues such as human rights and produced a school magazine featuring articles on Tibet’s tumultuous history and human right issues. There were mock dragon-boat races and kite flying on the school oval, traditional Indonesian games and Asian cooking lessons. Tibetan Gyuto monks visited the school for two days and shared their sacred arts and rituals.
The school’s Studies of Asia coordinator reported that meeting the monks challenged students’ stereotypes of Asian cultures, and allowed them to link the Tibetan culture to their own. Even students who were normally disruptive were absorbed in the experience. The change in behaviour inspired by the monks remained evident for the remainder of the school year. Children showed their appreciation in initiatives such as fundraisers for the refugee monks of Gyuto monastery, as well as for victims of both the Asian tsunami and Pakistani earthquakes.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Xpress 24 August 2006.