Australia-China Relations: It Starts in the Classroom
With 12-years experience working in the education sector across Australia and China, AEF Go Global Ambassador, Alexis Wagner, explores how teachers and schools can collaborate across international borders to provide students with authentic cross cultural learning experiences.
During my 20s I spent a considerable amount of time in China. I became really fascinated by the cultural differences between the Chinese and Australian education systems. I was eager to learn more about the different expectations placed on children and how the two countries could work together to achieve common goals. I am now in my 30s and working as a first-grade teacher in Shanghai at an international division of a local public school.
In Australia, the curriculum has three cross curricular priorities. One of these is Australia’s engagement with Asia. In theory, this means that when teachers are delivering lessons they should regularly be providing an Asian context. In reality, this can be additional work for a teacher and so is something that is not always done. When you have students in your class who are not meeting literacy and numeracy standards, providing an Asian context or teaching a second language is not always high on the agenda.
However, in China, there is huge emphasis placed on learning English. English as a second language is treated as any other core subject. It’s big business.
After studying Asian Studies and Education (Primary) at university, getting real life experience teaching in both countries, I can see there are many ways for teachers and schools to collaborate together. Ways that don’t need to cost much money or create a significantly greater workload for teachers. The time for tokenism is over. It’s time to create authentic cross-cultural learning experiences for our students. I have seen first-hand how students from low social economic backgrounds in Australia can be inspired by Asia. This is achieved by finding common similarities between their own lives and lives of people in China.
Collaboration with project based learning
Some schools in China have adopted the Australian Curriculum developed by ACARA. For example, my school in Shanghai teaches HASS, HPE and the sciences from ACARA. We also teach these subjects in English. This means that potentially, we could be working on the same Project Based Learning (PBL) projects as students in Australia. Our students can work together to solve common problems or they could have an exchange on problems to solve. Without much effort, students can obtain a global context.
Exchange of student work could be used as a learning resource
In the Australian Curriculum, there are many opportunities for students to learn about Asia. For example, when students learn about celebrations and festivals, extreme weather and even sustainability. Assessment tasks can be given a greater purpose where the deliverable outcome can be used as a learning resource for students in another country. For example, assessment videos produced by students at my school about family traditions could be made available to teachers in Australia to use as a learning resource and vice versa during a HASS lesson. Student writing samples across all subjects could be uploaded and used as stimulus materials. Book reviews, instructions and short stories written by students can be easily shared. This could be a teacher to teacher exchange, but in an ideal situation it would be great if there was a safe online platform where teachers could upload and share resources with a greater audience.
Read aloud exchange between teachers
Teachers or students can film story-time and then the video can be show in other countries. Teachers can also share lists of recommended texts for classroom and school libraries. Cross border story time, isn’t that engaging? It excites me. The Asia Education has some great recommended texts for all year levels on their website.
There are many cost effective and time savvy ways for both countries to work together. More examples include collaboration for PLCs, PD, social emotional learning, the arts and even math. There are many possibilities if we work together. I encourage Australian teachers to reach out to current and former colleagues working in China or across Asia - even at international schools - to develop these ideas. Reach out to the alumni department of your local university; see who is now working in China. You can also reach out to local Chinese groups and families at your school. Start a dialogue about how you can collaborate with their school or if they can connect you with someone able to help.
Without leaving the classroom we can provide students with an international experience. Together, teachers in both countries can create authentic cross-cultural learning experiences for our students and create an Asia capable workforce in Australia.
Asia Education Foundation, Go Global Ambassador, Ms Alexis Wagner, is a Grade One teacher at Fudan International School (Opens in a new window)in Shanghai, China. Alexis studied Asian Studies and Primary Education at Griffith University and since then has been studying and working within the Australia-China space. Alexis's main experience and interest is looking at ways in which education can be used as a diplomacy tool to better foster relations between the two countries. For the past 12 years, she has worked with community groups, schools, universities and businesses to promote Asia literacy.
Asia Education Foundation