Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
Image: PNGAus Partnership Secondary Schools initiative participants meet via Google Classrooms, Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea Twitter page.
Visiting partner schools and countries has usually been the foundation of developing and sustaining international school partnerships. AEF has observed time and again that the close personal bonds that happen through these immersive exchanges have been the glue that sustains long-term school and teacher connections.
But, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that school partnerships have needed to be different.
Like so much else in this pandemic, schools and teachers everywhere have responded with creativity, adaptability and friendship to maintain international links.
Looking across AEF international programs we can identify three hurdles that educators have overcome to sustain strong international partnerships in these times.
The first hurdle is nurturing relationships.
Our neighbours across the Asia-Pacific deeply value building relationships.
Good relationships require trust, openness, and patience. Over the last six months, AEF has facilitated a series of BRIDGE School Partnership webinars designed to share ideas and provide space online for discussion.
Educators across the region have enthusiastically shared ideas on remote learning, online assessment and what it means to be a global citizen in these times. Attended by hundreds of educators across 13 countries, the webinars have affirmed the depth of relationships that can occur between educators across borders.
One Indonesian educator summed it up, “we’re more than partners, we are family.”
Image: Participants across the Asia-Pacific region attend the BRIDGE School Partnerships Program 'Partnerships in the Time of a Pandemic' webinar.
A recent online workshop for the Victorian Building Global Citizenship Course with Chinese school leaders demonstrated an enthusiasm, warmth, and openness that caught many of the Victorian educators by surprise. Building relationships - whether they occur online or face to face - is a core foundation for any school partnership.
The second hurdle is developing resilience.
Education everywhere has navigated unimagined obstacles in 2020.
Educators and students have shown incredible flexibility and curiosity in continuing their learning despite the pandemic’s disruption.
Being able to share these experiences has been a great strength of international school partnerships.
Partner schools in Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have demonstrated impressive resilience in ensuring their schools and students remain connected in the Australian Government’s PNGAus Partnership Secondary Schools initiative.
PNG teachers and students have walked to mountain tops, travelled on long road trips to nearby towns, and persevered with patchy connectivity to continue to connect and collaborate online with their Australian partner schools. Using tools such as Google Classroom have allowed teachers in each country to share their students’ artwork, music, video messages and poetry all aimed at keeping each other positive, healthy and connected.
As part of the initiative, students were invited to participate in an activity called Tokstori bilong COVID-19. Rolled out to the 24 participating schools, Tokstori bilong COVID-19 encouraged students to take lead in sharing skills and raising awareness about staying safe in their schools and communities. The results astounded us.
Video: PNGAus Partnership Secondary Schools initiative Tokstori bilong COVID-19 compilation video.
The third hurdle is harnessing resourcefulness.
Good ideas are made better by collaborating with peers. Throughout the pandemic, webinars across AEF programs have linked educators across Asia-Pacific to share ideas and approaches for improving their professional practice. One key theme has been ‘wellbeing’.
School leaders in Victoria and New Delhi in India are participating in the Victorian Department of Education’s Women in School Leadership Program. They have been sharing school wellbeing policies and practices - and even engaging in online yoga - to deepen their understanding of how they can support their school communities in these uncertain times.
Image: Participants of the Women in School Leadership program attend a webinar on wellbeing.
As it turns out, this pandemic has provided opportunities to create innovative new partnership models.
For over a decade AEF has developed and expanded the Australia Asia-Pacific BRIDGE School Partnerships Program with significant support from the Australian Government. With the upcoming release of AEF’s 2023 Strategy we are launching a new approach to fostering collaboration between Asia-Pacific educators.
It’s called NEXUS.
NEXUS stands for New Education eXperiences Uniting Schools and is a unique school partnership program designed to create professional learning communities that involve schools in multiple jurisdictions across international borders. Each NEXUS network will have a specific focus, such as wellbeing, STEM, student voice or intercultural understanding. Participating schools will share their approaches, resources and promising practices.
AEF is working towards launching NEXUS programs in 2021 with a number of Australian state and territory Departments of Education.
The media might have us believe that people and countries have become more insular in this pandemic – closing our borders and closing our minds to the world.
Schools have painted a very different picture.
Educators have reached out across nations to share and solve the unanticipated problems that we have all encountered and to remind each another that we are thinking of them. That we care.
One of AEF’s priorities in our new 2023 Strategy is to build up international partnerships for schools, educators and students.
We know that partnerships built around relationships, resilience and resourcefulness will outlast this pandemic.
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