Enrolling at high school in a different country is a challenging prospect for many international students, who often have to cope with a new language and culture and being far away from their families. “We are very aware that it is very daunting for young students to come to a foreign country to study high school preparation and then go on to high school daunting culturally as well as linguistically,” asserts Miles Mackenzie at ELS Universal English College in Sydney, NSW. “A good high school preparation (HSP) programme has to address these issues and make sure that when the students graduate from their course with us they are completely ready to make the most of their high school education.”
Some students may not realise the value of a high school prep prior to commencing the course, as Kerry Laws, Director of the Preparation for High School Study Programme at Sydney College of English (SCE), NSW, observes. “We find that some students arrive with unrealistic expectations about how quickly they will be ready to start at their high school, but once they settle into the programme they realise its value.”
Many students, agrees Michael Bartlett at All Saints Anglican School in Merrimac, QLD underestimate the level of English required to cope with mainstream high school classes and the amount of HSP required to get them to the required level of English. “The biggest problem,” he continues, “is understanding the style of expectations of high school education in Australia, especially in regard to assessment. Having a good command of English is not enough. Students must understand what the teacher expects in regards to class work and assessment. The more prep a student has, the better they are able to understand this.”
The foundations of HSP are generally similar at most institutions in that they cover linguistic and academic aspects to aid the transition into mainstream classes, but many go further to prepare students for mainstream school life. At St Paul’s in Bald Hills, QLD, Debbie Kemish says, “Our programme assists students to adjust to learning through English and thus specialist teachers offer lessons to assist with learning maths, science, social science, music and art as well as specific language skills such as note-taking, reading strategies, etc.”
At SCE, in addition to English language tuition, subject specific and study skills classes, overseas students take Australian studies, which provides an overview of key areas and issues relating to Australian history, geography and government and more.
For the student, taking an HSP at a high school as opposed to a private language school can offer good integration opportunities into school life. “Students are considered part of the school from the first day and participate in ‘house’ tutor groups and extra curricular activities from the start,” says Kemish.
At All Saints Anglican School, the course is delivered within the senior school campus, and HSP students wear the same uniform as mainstream students, and partake in student assemblies and the sports programme, reports Bartlett.
In contrast, Laws admits that there is “little opportunity for our students to mix with local students” while studying at SCE, but she adds, “Most of [our students] live in homestay arrangements with local families, providing them with the opportunity to reinforce and consolidate their English and their cultural understanding at home.”
To meet the needs of its younger learners, SCE recently relocated HSP students and teachers to a new exclusive space, and college staff have been trained in the protocol for dealing with younger learners. In addition, it has reviewed and upgraded its curriculum, according to Laws, “to ensure it addresses the specific social, developmental and academic needs of secondary school students”.
Kemish at St Paul’s says that their programme is reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis “to ensure that we continue to prepare students for today’s high schools and to reflect modern practice and research”. Recent changes implemented by the school have resulted in students being more involved in group project work, and that each student has a laptop for research and for organisation.
Not all high schools provide their own HSP programmes. Mentone Girls’ Grammar School in Mentone, VIC, for example, does not have a high school preparation programme itself, says Glenda McDonald at the school, because their international student numbers are so low. Instead, it takes international students once they have done an intensive English course elsewhere.
According to Laws, they receive most of their HSP students through their partner high schools. They also work with education agents and have recently begun to promote their programme at educational fairs, in partnership with a number of their high school partners.
High school trends
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, international primary and high school students accounted for around 3.7 per cent of total international student enrolments in 2010/11, which translated into AUS$633 million (US$651 million) in export revenue.
While demand for high school preparation (HSP) has remained steady for most institutions, some have observed that international high school students are embarking on their overseas education earlier. Debbie Kemish at St Paul’s in Bald Hills, QLD, says they take HSP students between the ages of 12 and 17, but the percentage of younger students has been increasing slightly in recent years.
Similarly Kerry Laws at Sydney College of English, NSW, notes, “We now have more students commencing their secondary studies in Year 10, to do their final three years at an Australian high school, whereas previously there were more starting in Year 11.”
Looking at the nationality breakdown of international HSP students, the majority are from Asian countries, with China, South Korea and Japan featuring highly. Miles Mackenzie at ELS Universal English College in Sydney, NSW, reports that, among their top HSP countries of origin China, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand South Korean numbers have decreased, which he puts down to “competition from government-run intensive English centres for HSP and a drop in the overall market”.
A trend identified by Kemish is that the proportion of students going straight into high school without doing a HSP has increased over the past three years. She believes this is because of the “higher level of [language] proficiency of some nationality groups” as well as the detrimental effects of the strong Australian dollar.