Bridging a cultural divide in schools

International Manager, Bonnie Hermawan speaks to the development of intercultural understanding through the use of direct ‘real world’ experiences for teachers and students.

“I’m here to build a connection, to build a bridge between the two schools” Ms Sonia Chhabra, Headmistress at Bal Bharati Public School in Delhi, told ABC Illawarra when reflecting on her goal for participating in the Australia-India BRIDGE School Partnerships Program with Dapto High School in country New South Wales.

Ms Chhabra is one of 32 teachers from across Asia currently being hosted by Australian teachers as part of the Australia-Asia BRIDGE School Partnerships Program.

In 2016 schools from all over Australia competed to participate in BRIDGE, a teacher professional learning program that builds partnerships between schools, teachers and students with countries throughout Asia; right now these include India, Indonesia and Singapore.

Following the intensive professional learning program in Sydney, which focused on intercultural understanding and tools teachers can use to build and sustain meaningful school partnerships, such as ICT and design thinking, teachers returned to their homes and schools with their Indian partners to develop deeper connections. The program is reciprocal; the Australian teachers were also given the opportunity to visit India earlier this year. 

Dapto High School and Bal Bharati Public School plan to run student exchanges between Australia and India each year starting in 2018 and to collaborate on a street theatre performance. Nukkad Natak is traditional Indian street theatre that spreads social messages. Australian and Indian students will be encouraged to collaborate on issues that they are passionate about to write a script and then perform together in the streets of Dapto in May next year during the Indian students’ visit to Australia.

Discussing the inspiration behind the theatrical collaboration Ms Chhabra sited her counterpart’s visit to India in January. When Darcy Moore, Deputy Principal of Dapto High visited his BRIDGE partner school he was struck by the traditional art form. “We thought: this is it. This is how we go across to Dapto and touch Dapto’s hearts”.

Whether through online communication, collaborative learning or face-to-face visits, BRIDGE school partnerships support students to develop intercultural understanding through direct ‘real world’ experience. Intercultural understanding is a general capability across the Australian curriculum for which the BRIDGE school partnership program is an ideal vehicle to engage student learning in this area.

In a recent interview with Nick Heinberger on ABC Illawarra Mr Moore emphasised the importance of connecting Australian and Indian communities, and that indeed many of the important issues facing young people in both countries are similar in an increasingly interconnected world. “Some of the contemporary issues that they are experiencing … are very similar to the issues that our students are experiencing. Our world has changed so much, and Indian people like Australian people are connected to ‘global culture’ so it is great to hear their perspectives on that” says Mr Moore.

To learn how you can get your school involved in 2018 please visit, Australia-Asia BRIDGE School Partnerships Program.

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Natasha Redden

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