LOCAL and international high school students – along with their teachers – gathered recently for an open and honest discussion on the issue of integration in classroom, and how to pave way for a better student experience for all. Jennifer Zhao reports.
As the number of international students continue to rise in Australia, there are increasing concerns as to how well they are integrating into the Australian education system.
While the issue has only just come into sharp focus for international students at tertiary level, it may come as a surprise that the topic of integration has long been the subject of lively discussion and debate for high school students here in Victoria.
In late April this year, the International Student Forum was held at the State Library of Victoria with some 120 students from 33 schools across Melbourne in attendance.
An annual event hosted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the forum was dedicated to encouraging and improving outcomes for international students at high school.
Language and cultural barriers
Students on both sides were candid about their experiences and challenges they faced when it comes to inclusion and engagement.
Li Chen, a Year 10 student from Melbourne Girls College, admitted her biggest challenge as an international student was to “branch out and fit in the local groups”.
Originally from China, Li said she often feared her local peers would not understand her.
“I have been studying in Melbourne since I [was] eight-years-old and I speak very good English. But for some reason, I think they don’t make enough effort to get to know me,” she said.
Estelle, a local student from Sandringham College, said the “feeling is mutual”.
She said she was sometimes hesitant to talk to international students because they seemed “hard to approach”.
“Without a doubt, there is more we should do as Australian students, but I feel that international students should also open up themselves to our culture as well,” she said.
International student and homestay coordinator at Mount Eliza Secondary College, Frances Komic, believes English proficiency is one of the biggest barriers when it comes to integration.
“If international students’ English proficiency improves, their level of confidence increases and integration will be the natural progression,” Ms Komic said.
How schools are bridging the gap
The Department’s project officer, Gary Shaw, said the forum this year hoped to address issues, challenges and opportunities facing international students in a modern multicultural school environment.
The forum was also an opportunity for schools to discuss what they can do to support international students’ overall wellbeing.
“Schools should be thinking about what can be done to make it a highly integrated learning environment for both local and international students, and we are happy to learn that there are schools already doing great things,” he said.
International student program director at Northcote High School, Lixia Wang, said it was “imperative for schools to put certain programs and facilities in place, ensuring integration does happen and it does work”.
On one hand, the program is about helping international student overcome language barriers and boosting their confidence to engage their local peers. On the other, it is about helping local students value the opportunity to gain a more global perspective through interactions with international students. “See the world beyond their own life in their homeland”, she said.
Sometimes, the solution can be simple.
Homestay coordinator for Kew High School, Daveen Valentine, believes integration can easily be cultivated through daily activities at school.
“Even by playing a basketball game together or just simple things like eating lunch together can help build a stronger bond between them,” Ms Valentine said.
Sandringham College student Tess said international students in her school were being assigned leadership roles such as ‘international captain’ and ‘science captain’.
“Our teachers also encourage them to apply for roles in different school clubs, I think school is definitely feeling more like an integrated community now with all students enthusiastically working together,” she said.