International Learners Studying in Australia
There is a growing number of Non – Native English (NNEs) speakers within the Australian Tertiary sector. Figures obtained from 3 Australian Tertiary Institutions shows an overall increase in the number of Non – Native English (NNEs) speakers studying within Australian over the past 10 years. The environs of the Australian Tertiary Institution therefore is one of a multicultural nature. I intend to show that Australian Tertiary Institutions, in teaching to a multicultural clientele in a traditional Éuro-western manner are disregarding the cultural heritage and therefore the needs of these NNEs participating in the course. This then impacts the degree to which these students can integrate and contribute in society.
I will firstly give the historical development as to how these barriers came to exist, followed by the consequences of this. I have then made some suggestions for leaders, social and educational to assist in the process. Cultural hegemony is defined by Erickson as “the established view of things — a commonsense view of what is and why things happen that serves the interests of those people already privileged in a society” (1997: 49). Education is a very effective vehicle for achieving either the empowerment or exclusion of individuals or groups in society (Knoebel & Lankshear:1994:5). The many facets of life which are adversely affected by a hegemonic social order include the political, the economic, the social, the psychological, the personal, and beyond. For the purposes of this discussion on why and how multiculturalism is currently embraced — seeing as it is illogical to assume that any facet of life can be separated from another — all of these aspects inform education, broadly, and pedagogy, specifically.
Goldberg offers a history of the monocultural ideal which fostered the present-day need for a multicultural vision of society. He claims that in the late nineteenth century, monoculturalism emerged as an institutional ideology which served to create the impression of an intellectual tradition where there was none. By the mid-twentieth century, this Western European monocultural ideal, cemented in other ‘Westernised’ nations as hegemonic intellectual and institutional practice, “reflected and reproduced the lines of ethnoracialized demarcation” in order to keep them “white” (1994: 4). As political, technological, and economic interests became global links between countries, cultural hegemony spread beyond the borders of the Western European countries and other Westernised’ nations, such as the United States and Australia. With the creation of the “Third World” order by “First World” dominance and domination, Goldberg suggests that monocultural assumptions and prescriptions abounded for those in the “Third World” who were thought unable to think and act for themselves (1994:4). As monoculturalism universalizes the values, traditions, and language of a single culture while marginalizing and pathologizing all others, in a multicultural society, monoculturalism is absolutely equal to cultural hegemony.
In Australia, monoculturalism was and continues to be operationalised through assimilation. McCarthy (1993) claims that at the turn of the century, assimilationist ideology grew out of a Euro-Western response to the increasing presence of immigrants who were a potential threat to the established Euro-Western monocultural social order. Assimilation was thus a means of giving up one’s “un-European” or “ethnic” culture in order to embrace that dictated by the monocultural interpretation (Goldberg: 1994: 4). This is what blending into the melting pot, in essence, becoming a part of the mainstream, entails — the renunciation of “one’s subjectivity in name, culture, and as far as possible, colour” (Goldberg: 1994: 5). Power in Euro-Western society belongs to those who continue to define values monoculturally, and thus everything is shaped to serve their interests.
With the advent of the 1960s, those who were continually forced to assimilate — all the “others” as defined by the mainstream — began to assert themselves politically and culturally (Goldberg: 1994: 5-6). Due to demographic shifts and social movements, the 1960’s signalled a shift from the ideal of assimilation to one of integration. Integration, according to Goldberg, gave ethnic groups control of their private lives at the margins while continuing to define central values monoculturally (1994: 6). The monocultural centre of Australian life was not challenged very much by small groups attempting to integrate. Even with political and cultural acknowledgment at the margins, however, the “others” continued to be economically oppressed (1994: 6). The fact that ethnic groups were starving for economic and cultural inclusion, “insurgent cultural expressions” could be either suppressed or diluted through the “tokenism of economic and cultural appropriation” (1994: 6). That is, with the offer of a mainstream, middle class lifestyle, the “Others” who made too much noise were quieted down.
In response to the history of rejection, assimilation, integration, and subjugation, Goldberg claims that multiculturalism and commitments to cultural diversity have emerged which are resistant to monoculturalism (1994: 7). Macedo sees multiculturalism as calling into question “Western cultural hegemony and the barbarism Western cultures committed against other cultural groups in the name of ‘civilising’ the ‘barbaric’ other” (1994: 39). The fact that a multicultural ideal has been able to surface is proof that White patriarchal supremacy, which silences and subjugates others, no longer has the magnitude of power that it once enjoyed. “It is an educational imperative that we recognise that in the late 20th century, the needs of humanity to transcend cultural difference or national borders as we share a common future” (Merryfield:1994: 7). Multicultural society, viewed as an aggregation of individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds, is now faced with a challenge: developing an educational system that reflects it’s societal needs. The current era, characterised by an aging middle class population, leaving a smaller percentage of the population to generate the economic needs to fund the society (Drucker et al:1997:19), requires all ‘productive’ members of society as fully functioning, independent contributors. For its very survival, it needs for all society, irrespective of cultural background to be able to access relevant and appropriate education.
Ladson-Billings notes that “for almost 15 years, anthropologists have looked at ways to develop a closer fit between a student’s home culture and the school. This work has had a variety of labels including culturally appropriate, çulturally congruent, culturally responsive, and culturally compatible (Ladson-Billings:1995:159). Bartolome in Ladson-Billings “has argued for a humanising pedagogy that respects and uses the reality, history, and perspectives of students as an integral part of educational perspective (1994:173)” (Ladson-Billings:1995:160). 3 criteria underpins culturally relevant pedagogy: “(a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competance; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order” (Ladson-Billings:1995:160). An integral part of the success of such a program is the ‘methodology’ that the teaching staff adopt. “The teachers kept the relations between themselves and their students fluid and equitable”. Displaying a participative approach, “they encourage the students to act as teachers, and they themselves often functioned as learners in the classroom”. ”For these teachers, knowledge is continuously recreated, recycled and shared by the teachers and the students. Thus, they were not dependant on state curriculum frameworks or textbooks to decide what and how to teach”. As a result, “the teachers exhibited a passion about what they were teaching – showing enthusiasm and vitality about what was being taught and learned”. “..the students came to them with skill deficiencies, the teachers worked to help the students build bridges or scaffolding so that they could be proficient in the more challenging work they experienced in the classroom” (Ladson-Billings:1995:163).
The function of education, it is said, is to maximize the human capital value of persons, in the most effective and efficient manner, for the pursuit of their individual and collective goals within a utilitarian framework (Harris & Schutte:1985:45). Educational quality is thus defined in terms of this function – that is, the effective and efficient attainment of such ends. Any assessment of the educational quality of a program therefore requires that it be done in terms of that program’s effectiveness and efficiency as a means of attaining the specified ends – the attainment of desired ends in terms of educational costs. ‘Indicators’ of educational success or performance must therefore focus either directly on individual educational gains, or indirectly on the consequential market outcomes (such as employment gains or reduced criminality). However, those performance indicators that focus on educational procedures (such as the attainment of targets for the representation of ethnic minorities in educational programs) are therefore seen as only temporary measures to offset the distorting effects of past ethnic discrimination. The ideal free market in education requires only outcome measures: truly outcomes-driven education (Harris & Schutte:1985:47).
Therefore, the maximization of educational effectiveness requires, most importantly:
the prior specification of the intended educational outcomes (as goals or objectives) or their consequences;
the management of the ensuing education in such a way as to maximize the attainment of those desired ends ;and
the evaluation of that education and its entailed learning in such a way as to assess the extent to which the desired ends have been realised in actual educational outcomes or their consequences Harris & Schutte:1985:48).
Given this then, we as a society must reevaluate what outcomes that it is desirous of. Aviram is of the opinion that for this repositioning to occur, a social evolution with the stripping of old parameters is necessary. It would need for the organisation of social beings to be different to that which it is currently. It would need for the definitions of organisations to be changed, causing “the organisation to be regarded as a different organisation”(1996:426). Aviram suggests that the aims, target audience, organisational activities, organisational structure and methods need to be synergised into new constructs. These models developed could then “pave the way for a new educational paradigm”, indicating the starting point of the “new educational world” (1996:435). Teaching Non-Native speakers via a more inclusive curriculum; via a more wholistic curriculum that doesn’t take Euro – Western cultural background, understanding and performance expectation for granted. Yes, a change to the current way of delivering education. To deny an active, productive group within the society of relevant educational knowledge and understanding, is to deny them the opportunity to take their rightful place as social contributors, and to deny the rest of society the opportunity to as a collective, to fulfill our economic aspirations. A multiculturally congruent approach: an approach that satisfies the learning objectives of a much broader population base then is required. To help students become responsible social citizens, teachers should strive to educate students in a more pro-active manner. This can be achieved by a heuristic approach. This would in turn direct the student’s learning by choosing the content relevant to their needs. To achieve the difficult goal of creating independent, thoughtful students choose their content with great care and consideration. The truism about today’s youth becoming tomorrow’s leaders demands education about global issues.
In my experience, differences in learner orientation such as educational background and therefore educational expectation are not given due consideration in the way courses that are offered to culturally diverse groups are being constructed and delivered. Incorporate in this approach are the eurocentric values and beliefs of the European Australian context of its’ design/designers. Attitudes to life, employment, education and learning styles are assumed. Integral to this are cultural thinking processes and a perception of one’s community responsibilities.
By doing this, clients and participants are forced to adapt to the western accepted way in order to succeed, or not. The degree of success therefore of those whose learning style falls outside this western accepted way is dependant upon them assimilating this method as their own learning style. Furthermore, this successful learning culture need not only vary between obvious culturally diverse groups, such as Asian, Indigenous to Western; but also between various sub- cultural groups within the one culture, such as male and female learners/learning styles, visual, auditory, kinesthetic and digital learners/learning styles, irrespective/in addition to the learner’s cultural traditions. For a fully functioning society, the development of human resources could be argued as being of paramount importance. Participation is already acknowledged as an important characteristic of the new order, with a more wholistic, self-understanding, heuristic approach complimenting this way. Armstrong, 1994; Cummins, 1986; Gardner, 1993; and Freire, 1972 show the benefits of a relevant, empowering educational approach and what can be achieved within their community. Whilst the teacher acts more in the vain of a facilitator, they guide the learners to what education they need, the kinds of processes they need to acquire and which global issues could be covered.
Within the tertiary context of my experience, my students create a foundation that covers the basic issues of how the course will be run. Students often plan to research a small number of global topics deeply, and decide their assessment collectively. With students making plans relatively independently, they discover the intrinsic importance of the human rights or environmental issues they choose to study. In order to be sure of the quality of the course, various forms of continual feedback can be drawn upon. Encouraging students to make responsible decisions, demands that as teachers we trust our students: to trust our students as learned recipients of an empowering process. Students empowered to create a peaceful, tolerant, and sustainable environment in the community of their classroom are naturally better prepared to create the same environment in the world itself. Beginning university students irrespective of their cultural background may never have been encouraged to think about global issues before. More importantly, university graduates might never have the chance again. Widespread ignorance of global issues among first year university students is hardly surprising, but it can be cured.
As a university teacher, I feel responsible for demonstrating a meaningful connection between my students’ lives and issues of global significance. For those university ESL teachers who would like to “inject” global ideas into their classes, suggestions have been made by Baerwald (1987), Birch (1996), Crandall (1993), Dorman, (1992), Elder and Carr (1987), Sessoms (1994), Wahlstrom and Clarken (1992), and Wenden (1992). Although they represent a wide variety of disciplines, all these educators advocate “superimposing” (London, 1991, p. 22) global issues throughout the curriculum. As a university teacher, I have used research and trial and error to develop ways to infuse global issues into every university language-learning classroom. Keeping Freire’s (1972) ideas about leaving crucial decisions up to the learner in mind, I have found learners willing to be led in their learning self-responsibility and in the development of their global awareness. I would have liked to offer some specifics about the teacher’s role in this process, but the limits of this essay prevent me from doing it here. I have then made some suggestions for leaders, social and educational to assist in the process.
Within this essay I have attempted to present two issues. Firstly, that the current Australian tertiary education system, being a product of a euro-western, monoculturalist ideal provides a number of barriers to the effective teaching of a multicultural society that today exists in Australia. This multicultural society includes Non-Native English speakers (NNEs). Ineffective teaching, as suggested can impact the greater society in its’ realisation of macro goals. Given this, we as a society need to reevaluate the outcomes that we desire, and to make a conscious decision as to whether the current social ideal (euro-western educational system) is to continue. The question I pose is: should we not be attempting to maximise the contribution of all members of society. It is I believe our leader’s responsibility to ensure that education for responsible citizenship – allowing all to assume their rightful, productive position within our community – so that everybody has an important place in society. The second issue that I chose to broach was how we as educational leaders could contribute once we were in a position to develop an educational system that meets the needs of contemporary Australia.
With reference to my tertiary educational institutional experience, I propose a heuristic educational approach to be adopted. In this approach, the teacher assumes more of a facilitative role, leading the learners to their own self-development, guiding them to greater understanding as to who they are as social members and what they need to learn to become more able to contribute in the contemporary global environment.
This blog series is planned to continue next month with International Education Part 3.
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– updated ©David L Page 16/10/2013
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