Pre-service teachers and refugee high school students – new ways of becoming a 21st century teacher December 5, 2010Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: academic service learning, exemplary teachers
From Dr Loshini Naidoo
With many of her academic colleagues, Dr Naidoo has helped to pioneer a powerful form of academic service learning at the University of Western Sydney in which our student-teachers work with young people in community learning placements. She comments here on the RAS program, one component of our academic service learning, where our student teachers work as tutors with high school students from refugee backgrounds. Our community service learning program recently won a prestigious Australian Learning and Teaching Council Program Award for promoting learning engagement, and provides a win-win outcome with unique opportunities, as she explains below.
For a number of years students in the secondary teacher education program at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) have been engaged in an enhanced form of learning, by undertaking academic service learning with young people of school age in community contexts. In the wide variety of academic service learning placements that are available, our student teachers are placed in important projects, helping young people from low SES backgrounds, and often having the opportunity to work with these young people on a one to one basis.
One example of a highly successful program of academic service learning is the Refugee Action Support (RAS) program in the School of Education at UWS. The RAS program has been very successful for both high school refugee students in Greater Western Sydney and UWS pre-service teachers in the Master of Teaching (Secondary) course. Each year, around 80 UWS student-teachers are trained as tutors to work with refugee-background students attending high schools in NSW. Several ex-UWS (RAS) pre-service tutors are now employed by the participating RAS schools as full-time teachers.
One such school is Merryvale High (pseudonym) in south-west Sydney, which was identified by the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Multicultural Programs Unit as having a RAS program that represents ‘best practice and what works for refugee students’. The school is situated in Sydney’s most multicultural Local Government Area, with 133 nationalities represented and over 70 languages spoken. Refugee students often enter mainstream secondary classrooms at a serious educational disadvantage. Many arrive in Australia from countries with a history of conflict where school attendance is either interrupted or not possible and many enter high school in Australia with a limited knowledge of English. As such, it is imperative for schools to meet the academic and social needs of these students.
The UWS RAS tutors are able to provide the time, place and structure assumed to be missing from home. Most significantly, refugee students participating in the RAS program at the school indicated that the welcoming climate provided by the UWS tutors was a significant drawcard for the program. The Head Teacher Learning Support at Merryvale said that the tutors were “absolutely brilliant role models … sensitive when it comes to cross-cultural issues” and the school Deputy Principal said that “the RAS program has been a fantastic recruitment program for the school…. they [RAS Tutors] are intimately aware of what the program is about because they did it as student teachers and now they’re doing it as teachers … They’ve definitely built a culture of inclusion with these kids”.
The group of RAS pre-service teachers employed by the school received training in literacy strategies from the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) prior to the mentoring process. This training equipped the tutors for their role as mentors to the refugee students. As such the current Learning Support team at the school is made up of predominantly ex- RAS tutors from UWS who are actively involved in supporting the teaching and learning of refugee students at the school. The current RAS program at the school even has an ex RAS tutor as school coordinator. RAS tutors who found the mentoring experience rewarding and fulfilling were able to identify with the school’s philosophy and bring a respectable degree of harmony to the school so that all students, irrespective of their diverse backgrounds, are valued. This is in keeping with the reputation of the school in the community for its sound academic standards and its supportive staff and high expectations for mediating student outcomes.
Loshini Naidoo is a Senior Lecturer in educational sociology in the School of Education at the Universty of Western Sydney, Australia. She teaches and researches in the area of education and diversity, particularly in relation to secondary education.