International Education: Hierarchies of belonging in Australian secondary schooling

Year: 2012

Author: English, Rebecca, Thomas, Sue, Singh, Parlo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


International education as a service industry has been hard hit by the global financial crisis. First, the high value of the Australian dollar has increased the costs of tuition fees and living costs, and thereby impacted on international student enrolment figures. In addition, some commentators link lower international student enrolments in Australian education institutions to the poor, and at times, 'racist' treatment of Asian students.  Ironically, the downturn in the international education market, and in particular, the flow of students from Asia has occurred during a time when political rhetoric remains strong about Australian's future intricately aligned to the growth economies of Asia, and the importance of teaching Asian  languages in schools.

This paper reports on a case study of Asian international students enrolled in Australian secondary schools. Specifically, it focuses on teachers' knowledge of the Asian learner, and innovations to curriculum and pedagogy in the context of a diversified student population and the reimagining of Australian national identity.  The paper proposes that discourses of cultural identity and difference dominate teachers' talk and that these discourses predominantly position Asian international students as the negative or deficit 'Other'. In addition, teacher discourses reflect the cultural capital that is valued in schools, such as an active and willing engagement in competitive sports, and particular styles of interaction in the classroom.

The study reported in this paper revealed that many international students struggled with schooling, and attributed these difficulties to poor English language comprehension, as well as cultural differences in styles of learning/ and classroom communication patterns. The paper concludes that a fair and just schooling system must actively engage with Asian international students, listen to their everyday schooling experiences and modify curriculum and pedagogy to cater for their needs.  A socially just education system, which takes into account the experiences of international Asian students, needs to address issues of  recognition, redistribution and reconciliation.