The Celebrating Cultural Diversity (CCD) Program is part of the inclusive commitment to all students studying in the School of Education at the University of South Australia. In Australia, professional experience placements form a significant component of a pre-service teacher’s (PST) study programme. In principle, it is the professional experience that enables PSTs to apply and test concepts they have learnt in the university in a real life educational context.
However, for many students, both domestic and international, the assessed professional experience practicum can be rewarding, as well as stressful and challenging. There are challenges that PSTs have to learn from their individual experiences (such as behaviour management issues of students, the lack of respect for PSTs, and problems with communicating their mentor teachers etc). These challenges are further intensified for international PSTs because of their cultural and language differences, previous education experiences, limited understanding of Australian teaching and learning styles and the various curricula used in early years, primary and secondary settings.
As a pioneering program in the School of Education, the CCD program aims to provide international PSTs:
- a safe space and time for the international PSTS in their first years to be exposed to the unique culture in Australian schools and education sites;
- some initial mentoring guidance from field-based experience by the educators in the sites;
- experience in intercultural communication and various cultural complexities at the education sites.
These aims will continue to be achieved through a series of on-campus workshops and non-assessed experiences in sites, supported by teaching and academic staff.
- Through on-campus workshops, the CCD program is designed to help international pre-service teachers build support networks, provide knowledge about the Australian educational context and landscape, and to share the experiences of international pre-service teachers who have successfully studied at UniSA. After attending the 3 on-campus workshops conducted by the CCD academic staff, international pre-service CCD participants were then posted out to visit their allocated education sites for four consecutive visits.
- Depending on the specialisations the CCD participants were enrolled in, they would be posted to kindergartens or childcare centres or early learning centres for those who were specialised in Early Childhood Education (ECE). While majority of the international pre-service teachers were enrolled in the ECE stream, the CCD program also catered for those who were in the Primary and Secondary specialisations.
- Although each of the specialisations has different focal area for the CCD participants to observe and learn, each time the international pre-service teachers visited the site, they would keep a journal (either in digital or paper) to reflect on the following area/s for each visit:
· The first thing I learned…
· Questions I asked on the first day…
The site visits were found to be the most beneficial component of the CCD program. It gave them unique opportunity to engage in site visits in children’s centres, kindergartens, primary schools or secondary schools without the pressure or added stress of being assessed. These site visits allowed international PSTs to see first-hand what an Australian educational setting looks like, and to learn from teachers, staff and children about what is expected of PSTs on their professional experience placements.
The CCD program was first started in 2014 as a pilot project with one primary school site. It has since expanded, in 2015, with 8 early childhood centres (kindergartens and children’s centres), 1 primary school and 1 secondary school; and in 2016, our partnerships with school field continue to increase to 12 early childhood centres, 2 primary schools and 1 secondary school. Given the foundation we have built with our site partners over the years, this pioneering program to support our international students will need to continue for 2017 and beyond.