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Dapto High School NSW

International students enriching steel mill town culture

Dapto High School, located in the Illawarra region of New South Wales, is renowned as a heavy industrial area with a fairly homogenous population.

Recently, Dapto High School has been making significant inroads in its quest to develop Asia capability and intercultural understanding, using a mix of strategies such as student exchanges, staff professional development and the enrolment of international students.

Developing intercultural understanding

Staff and students of the school are conscious of Australia’s location within the Asia-Pacific, and of the challenges a global economy brings to local industry and to the Illawarra region in particular.

“It used to be all about the coal in the hills here or the steel mill, but if you’re not internationally competitive, you don’t exist. So developing Asia capability and intercultural understanding is becoming a great asset for our students in their future careers,” says Dapto High School’s Principal, Andrew FitzSimons.

In recent years, students at the school have been quietly gaining an appreciation for Asia and the region’s rich heritage through school cultural trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea and Japan. Staff are encouraged by the school’s leadership team to participate in professional learning on how to incorporate Asian content into the curriculum.

International students come to Dapto

In 2012, the enrolment of a small cohort of international students has enabled students at Dapto High School to further develop their knowledge and understanding of Asia. As part of a NSW Department of Education program to encourage government schools to enrol fee-paying foreign students, four students from Shandong Province in China joined the school. The program matches similar larger tertiary intakes at the nearby University of Wollongong.

“These students have enriched our culture as a school,” says FitzSimons. “They’re bright and dedicated students—and while they are here to experience Australian culture and education, the rest of the school community has also benefited. It is a great exchange.”

A mentor and support teacher was appointed for the international students. Jenny Shaw, a humanities teacher with a lively interest in Asia, took up the role with enthusiasm. She says the attitudes of the four international students has rubbed off a little on their Australian peers.

“They are very committed students and that has been encouraging to the local students. One is a pianist, another is a singer and saxophonist and they are all keen to work hard. We have also drawn very much on their experience and knowledge to enrich our understanding of how people live in China,” she says.


The broadening of the Dapto High School student population has also helped the school’s small Indigenous student cohort.

“Encouraging cultural diversity and an understanding of other cultures pays off for our local Aboriginal student population,” said FitzSimons.

According to FitzSimons, “All the work we’ve done over the years has been culturally transformative and has probably helped make the school and the community more receptive to our international students. It’s about gaining that harmony and understanding—and also about assisting all our students to engage with their Asian peers.”

Principal, Andrew FitzSimons, participated in the 2008-09 Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia professional learning programme.

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