Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
Image: China Leadership Grant recipients exploring an interactive display at a Chinese school in late 2019.
It’s probably easier to count the days when China isn’t mentioned in the news than when it is. The news often isn’t good. The latest threat of the spread of the coronavirus from China raises public anxiety and taps into a wider fear of China. The Coronavirus is, of course, a sign of the interconnected and interdependent complexity of our world and comes at a time in China when the Lunar New Year connects families and friends in the Year of the Rat. Our team have made a short video message sending our well wishes for the Chinese New Year.
Perhaps these are the times for greater intercultural understanding for the good of the world. Times which might challenge our assumptions and stereotypes about China and Chinese people and encourage more empathy and respect. It is hard to do for some, especially when the media often feeds a constant negative narrative that ignites misleading opinions and conversations.
Through our work at AEF we are privileged to connect with China and Chinese networks in Australia - linking experiences into education that open up new perspectives and connections. Here are some of the recent and emerging ways we will be developing our collaboration with China.
In November last year we led a group of Australian school leaders, including our China School Leadership Grant recipient, Collette Harrold, Principal of Bagdad Primary School in Tasmania, on a program in Hangzhou and Ningbo. This program highlighted just how advanced many Chinese educators and schools are in developing strong global citizenship programs and principles. One school had a very large sign at the gate stating ‘Chinese Passion, Global Vision’. Another Ningbo school stated –
“We hope our students are capable of possessing global mindset with enough cognition toward the world, enough confidence in our Chinese culture and respect of other nations, cultures and religions. They shall also learn to co-exist and co-operate concerning human’s common development and hold the responsibility and obligation of World Citizens”
Image: China Leadership Grant recipients, Ms Collette Harrold, Principal of Bagdad Primary School in Tasmania, in Hangzhou signing an MoU.
These school visions deeply impressed the Australian educators, all of whom had never been to China. It shifted their understanding of just how ambitious and passionate Chinese school leaders are in growing stronger links with the world. These experiences ran counter to the assumptions the Australians had previously been exposed to.
AEF will be offering more of these kinds of unique and personalised learning experiences for Australian educators in China. Coming up in April, AEF is offering a China STEAM Education Study Program. This takes educators to Shanghai and Nanjing to explore the interdisciplinary ways education is addressing STEAM learning areas.
A key Victorian program starting soon is our Building Global Citizenship Course delivered through the Bastow Institute. This will take 20 Victorian school leaders to China in May to shape their own global priorities and goals for their school communities. AEF also runs customised programs for visiting school leaders and teachers from China each year, developing their intercultural and educational skills with Australian education through site visits and workshops.
On youth engagement, AEF continues its work coordinating and delivering the Victorian Young Leaders to China program for the Victorian Department of Education, in partnership with the Confucius Institute at Melbourne and High Resolves. Participating Year 9 students always show significant growth in Mandarin language, leadership, and intercultural learning over each program. Students navigate their 5-week immersion in China with the support of their peers and teachers. This year also marks the start of AEF’s work with partners at the Melbourne Intercultural Learning Centre, a purpose-built site in Brighton, Victoria for delivering short-term immersive intercultural programs for students from China.
All of this work requires AEF, as well as the educators and young people in our programs, to collaborate in a variety of ways. Patience, respect, creativity, and communication are all central to these collaborative endeavours.
While we will continue to monitor the challenges of travel during these health warnings, this doesn’t mean we will stop exploring ways to develop the understanding and empathy to open up rich opportunities for collaboration and equip Australians for a positive future.