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The International School

What’s an international school? Historically the answer would have been a school, generally in Asia/Africa/Middle East or even in Europe, providing education for the children of expats and well-to-do local citizens. probably delivering the international baccalaureate. These days the answer is more complex. There are great reasons for all schools to be considering how they provide their students with international perspectives: the globalisation of commerce, the emergence of challenges requiring global responses and mindsets (climate change, poverty, refugees, terrorism), the ease and affordability of travel and recalibration of the focus of the global economy. It’s increasingly likely that many of our students will work and live overseas at some stage. We’d better start preparing kids for this.

So what do we need to do in schools? This is not just about teaching foreign languages, celebrating festive occasions or tasting exotic foods. We should be considering how we incorporate international perspectives into our curriculum. How we expose our students to other cultures and how we tap into our diverse local communities to broaden the experience of our students. For schools serving culturally diverse communities this is a question to be confronted every day. For others, serving more Anglo Saxon populations, it can also be a challenge.

Here’s what we do at our school:

  • In 2001 we were the first government school in the world to be accredited with the Council of International Schools. This exposure to a set of international standards, including the requirement to develop international perspectives among students, was significant for us.
  • We have a full fee paying international student program. The 25 or so students are predominantly Chinese and apart from the opportunities we’re providing them, they enrich our school community. They are housed in home stay accommodation and we’ve developed a series of practices that link them with other students and celebrate their culture.
  • We always have a group of international exchange students in the school.
  • We support a group of refugee students who are part of a growing Karen community in our regional city. We run after school activities for these students and those from other schools.
  • We teach a number of languages – German, French, Indonesian, Chinese (first language and second language). We also teach Auslan.
  • We have sister schools in China, Indonesia, France and Germany.
  • We have annual student exchanges and overseas trips for our students.
  • We have established a Confucius Classroom in partnership with Hanban, the Chinese government agency that support the broadening of understanding of Chinese language and culture. A Confucius Classroom is different to the Confucius Institutes found at universities. It requires a partnership with a Chinese school and collaboration on a range of fronts.
  • We are supporting 25 other schools to develop Chinese language programs. We do this with the support of staff provided through the Confucius Classroom program and others we employ ourselves who then work across more than 20 Bendigo primary schools and a handful of secondary schools. At present we have a team of 10 native Chinese teachers undertaking this work. It’s a unique model and it addresses some of the challenges that bedevil government attempts to broaden the study of foreign  languages. In particular, it ensures we have alignment of languages across many schools and provides a clear languages pathway in Bendigo from K-12. In many schools language programs are dependent on one teacher working in isolation and can fall over if the teacher leaves. Here we have a substantial team of teachers and we will sustain their collaboration as local primary schools start to employ their own staff. This year we’re also delivering some Chinese online. We have a fully documented Chinese curriculum supported with online resources for all year levels.
  • We deliver community Chinese classes. Around 30 participants each week.
  • We’ve embedded Asian perspectives into our curriculum wherever possible, although I will say this is more challenging within the VCE than it is at lower year levels. This is a means of getting all students involved.
  • Later this year we expect to start delivery of the VCE into China. This will provide great learning opportunities for our teachers, who will mentor the Chinese staff doing the delivery, and fund subsidised travel and learning opportunities for our students and staff.
  • We celebrate diversity through a range of events each year.

For us Chinese was a logical focus given the 150-year old connection Bendigo has with China, although our focus is more extensive because we’re conscious (as government needs to be) about having too many eggs in the one basket. It’s also important to note that the ‘Team China’ group comprising principals from several Bendigo primary schools has played an important role in developing links with Chinese schools and supporting the establishment of Chinese language programs. I think we’re showing that local leadership and collaboration makes a difference.

Today I had the great pleasure of attending two separate but related events. The first was a schools forum run by the education department’s international unit, where we were briefed on emerging policies and approaches and contributed to discussion about how we can further develop international perspectives among our students and broaden our existing programs. There are many schools doing really exciting things in this area and we can all learn from one another. I was then able to attend the premier’s launch of Victoria’s new China Strategy. I came away enthused and optimistic about the opportunities that we can create for our students in the years ahead, and confident that our school is well placed to take advantage of the focus our government is placing on international education. I’m proud of our leaders who have created this culture at our school and the staff who continue to support it.

For reference, I wrote a post on the wider issues we face in getting more students to study languages a couple of years back.

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