Asialink: Building bridges in a digital world

Online discussions and video conferencing are among the latest tools bringing Australian and Chinese students together, writes Lisa Hayman.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to a Beijing high school during her trip to China in April highlighted the importance of sister-school partnerships in supporting Australia-China engagement.
 
Beijing Chen Jing Lun High School is a partner school with Mount Lawley Senior High School in Western Australia. They were brought together two years ago through the Asia Education Foundation’s BRIDGE School Partnerships Project. The BRIDGE (Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement) project allows Australian teachers and students to partner with their peers in Asia through a blended model of face-to-face and online interaction. The program runs in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Korea.asialink_gillard_beijingversion2_web

*Pictured: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with students from Beijing Chen Jing Lun High School during her China visit in April. (Will McCallum/Asialink)

 
The AEF, which is part of the Asialink group, was established in 1992 to provide teachers, education leaders and school communities with innovative programs, curriculum resources and networks to support Asia literacy for all young Australians. It has established 36 Australia-China BRIDGE school partnerships since 2011, connecting primary and secondary schools across Australia with schools in China. These partnerships benefit students and teachers in both countries by building relationships, understanding and Asia literacy skills. For Australian students, the partnerships also support the school education objective of the recent Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, which states: “Every Australian student will have significant exposure to studies of Asia across the curriculum to increase their cultural knowledge and skills and enable them to be active in the region.”
 
Mount Lawley and Beijing Chen Jing Lun High School were part of the inaugural Australia-China BRIDGE School Partnerships Project. In July 2011, Grace Wang from the Beijing school and Anita Chong from Mount Lawley joined teachers from 11 other China BRIDGE school partnerships for a five-day professional learning program facilitated by the AEF. Grace then travelled to Perth for a two-week school visit and homestay program at Mount Lawley where she gained a unique insight into Australian schools by observing classroom practice, teaching Chinese-language students and being part of everyday school life.
While Grace was at Mount Lawley, teachers made plans for a collaborative project on the Three Gorges Dam, and the project was implemented on Grace’s return to China.

Teachers and students used their Wikispaces partnership site to upload and share content and responses on the project. The online messaging network QQ International has been used to maintain regular contact.

In January 2012 another Mount Lawley teacher, Anne Tumak, travelled to China as part of the reciprocal BRIDGE professional learning program. She was able to deepen her knowledge and understanding of contemporary China and spend two weeks immersed in daily activities at Beijing Chen Jing Lun High School.
Mount Lawley Senior High School also led a student study visit to China in October 2012 and the two schools have continued to connect and engage with each other through video conferencing to support classes in Chinese and English language.
The AEF works closely with Australian states and territories to establish school partnerships with their sister states and cities in China. Twelve teachers from Catholic Education South Australia were scheduled to travel to Shandong Province in April to establish 12 new Australia-China BRIDGE school partnerships, building on a longstanding sister state relationship.
Victoria has a strong sister state relationship with Jiangsu Province which has seen more than 40 sister school partnerships established since 2011. Teams of principals and teachers from across Victoria have travelled to China on AEF study programs that enabled them to build Asia-relevant capabilities and develop knowledge and understanding of the history, geography, culture, arts and language of China.
Under these study programs, each school team has been partnered with a school in their sister state and has spent four days in a school visit and homestay program. This in-country learning builds professional and personal relationships that are the foundation for long-term sister school partnerships.
Australia-China school partnerships connect young Australians with their peers in China.
Students build the skills that allow them to engage, communicate and effectively “live, learn and work in the Asian region” as articulated in the Asia cross-curriculum priority of the Australian Curriculum.
Technology is fundamental to teacher and student engagement in these partnerships. This includes web 2.0 tools that allow shared learning spaces for students to upload content and participate in online discussions, and video conferencing where students can meet face-to-face and have conversations to support language learning.
The online collaboration of many sister school partnerships have been enhanced by Australian schools hosting teachers and students from their Chinese partner schools, or travelling to China to visit their partner school.
School partnerships play a key role in ensuring that Australian students are prepared for their part in the Asian Century. 

*Lisa Hayman is Associate Director of the Asia Education Foundation.

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