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Cyril Jackson

Breaking barriers

Teacher Development Schools for English as an Additional Language/Dialect are leading the way in helping teachers deliver the Australian Curriculum to students from overseas countries.  Sue Oldham from School Matters reports.


On Harmony Day each year, each student at Cyril Jackson Senior Campus’s Intensive English Centre places a dot with their name on it on a giant map of the world in the front office.

This year, the spread of students is greater than ever with 149 students from 26 countries speaking 33 different languages.  The largest group of students has come from the war-torn Afghanistan, but the Intensive English Centre is increasingly enrolling students from Iran, Burma, Ethiopia, Thailand, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some are migrants who have been to school in their former countries but don’t speak English.  Others have been taught limited English in refugee camps and some have never set foot in a classroom.

“We have a unique clientele where the educational backgrounds of the students can be anywhere from Kindergarten to Year 12,” explains deputy principal Chris O’Brien.

“Many of our students have never been to school – they don’t know how to hold a pen.  Suddenly they have to learn English – often science, maths and geography in a language that’s not their first language.  It’s a huge challenge for them.”

Chris is passionate about delivering a curriculum for this diverse group of students that will prepare them to go on to mainstream education in Years 11 and 12.

There have been some remarkable success stories.  Three years ago, 15 year-old  Iranian refugee Arash Arabshahi arrived not speaking a word of English.  Last year he achieved a perfect ATAR of 99.95 and is now studying a Bachelor of Philosophy at The University of Western Australia.

But for Chris, it’s not just about academic success.

“I am as thrilled for the student who gets into panel beating as I am for the student who goes on to university,” she says. “Most of our students go on to Year 12 or a trade and, for me, each one is a success story.”

Teacher-in-charge Sakura Ashton echoes the sentiments.

“I’ve had students who didn’t speak for the first two weeks in class, shell-shocked by being in a new country, experiencing a different culture and coming to school as well, sometimes for the first time,” she says. “I often bump into my former students and just to see them smiling and happy and being active members of society is very satisfying.  A lot of what we do is about empowering our students, not just teaching them to read and write in English.”

Sakura tells the story of a student who became terrified while learning about magnets during science.  When the iron filings started to move towards the magnet, she was convinced the teacher was using black magic and wouldn’t take any further part in the class.

Another student thought that catching the ferry across the Swan River to the zoo for an excursion meant they’d gone to another country. 

Information technology is another area where there is a great disparity amongst students.  For some students the first lesson is teaching them what electricity is.

“Meeting these students changes your perspective after realising the gaps they have in their understanding,” Sakura says.

As a Teacher Development School for English as an additional language/dialect, it’s insights like these that make Chris and her team a valuable source of knowledge for other teachers.

“One of our roles is to help mainstream teachers understand were these students have come from, where they are heading and what the gaps are in their knowledge,” she says.

Chris believes there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Australian Curriculum and professional learning delivery, which was evident at a joint learning day recently held with Highgate Primary School, the Teacher Development School for primary English as an additional language/dialect.

“It’s great to be taking a leadership role in helping deliver the Australian Curriculum and providing professional development for schools,” she says.

“It’s an honour to be acknowledged as a centre of excellence in this area.”

 

Courtesy of School Matters May 2012

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