July 2012 issue

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ESL in Australia

Secondary schools in Australia are adapting traditional ESL provision to better meet the needs of international students. Bethan Norris finds out more.

Many secondary schools in Australia welcome the international influence introduced by foreign students and actively recruit overseas. Consequently, programmes designed to help international students acquire the language and study skills necessary to help them succeed in mainstream secondary education are on the rise.

Matthew Rawes, Manager of Student Recruitment at Prince Alfred College (PAC) in Kent Town, SA, says the school moved on from offering a traditional ESL programme for overseas students five years ago. “International students in years seven-to-10 who are new to Australia and/or have inadequate English language skills for them to segue successfully into mainstream classes are placed in the International Students Transition Program [ISTP],” he explains. “In the ISTP they receive intensive language support and training in English for academic purposes as well as integral cultural assimilation activities and enhancement of their maths, science and humanities [ability].”

The aim of any transition programme is to integrate students into mainstream classes with their English speaking peers. Rawes explains this may happen at different times for different subject areas. “A capable maths or science ISTP student whose language abilities are sufficiently developed might initially join just these mainstream classes for further extension while another might join art, technology or music classes to assist with his/her integration with native speakers,” he says.

For many schools, the development of supplementary and ESL programmes for international students occurred with the development of overseas recruitment practices. Tony de Gruchy, Director of the International Office at Canning College in Bentley, WA, says they have provided ESL support since they started offering an international student programme. “It needed to be expanded to cater for more students and [meet] the needs of students from China,” he says, adding that 40 per cent of the student body comes from overseas and their top nationality groups are Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean.

While there is a trend among secondary schools to integrate ESL provision with other academic work and study skills, Leeanne Moriarty at Mercedes College in Adelaide, SA, says they offer up to eight hours of ESL classes a week for international students as well as a separate study skills class after school for two hours. “[There have] not [been] many changes [to the course] over the years,” she adds. “We have educated international students for 40 years so we have fine tuned it over the years and stick to a proven formula for students at our school.”

An important part of any course focussing on the academic and language integration of international students into mainstream education is social integration. Moriarty highlights this aspect at the school. “We blend the internationals from the start with Australian buddy students, a world culture club run by local and international students to ensure social integration,” she says, adding, “We also have a small number of students from a wide range of countries, so there aren’t clusters of nationalities.”

Debbie Kemish, Director of the International School at St Paul’s School in Bald Hills, QLD, says that their international student population used to be focussed mainly in years 10-to-12, but now includes a younger age group and is spread throughout years one-to-12. This makes the language and academic intergration programmes on offer even more critical and the school provides three and a half hours of ESL classes a week. “These are small group lessons which entail about 60 per cent ESL lessons and 40 per cent assistance with assessment issues in all subjects,” says Kemish. “These lessons are taken by qualified ESL teachers, not tutors, and include a maths/science ESL specialist.”

Kemish adds that the courses are reviewed every semester and any changes are introduced. “More focus has been placed on content-based work in recent times, ensuring skills are developed through work that students encounter in mainstream classes,” she says.

At St Paul’s International College in Moss Vale, NSW, which accepts students at all levels of English language ability, students can study on a separate English Language for High School Preparation course until they are ready to move into mainstream classes. However, social and academic integration is still a key priority. Anne-Maree Scott at the school says, “We have been operating for 25 years but recently we have made changes to better integrate students into mainstream classes with local students. In these classes international students have more opportunities for cross cultural communication and cultural exchange.”

Supplementary Ielts courses

With many international secondary school students intending to go on to university in Australia, an Ielts score is an essential qualification and some schools offer extra preparation courses.

Anne-Maree Scott at St Paul’s International College in Moss Vale, NSW, says they offer three hours of Ielts preparation classes a week to year 11 students. “Most of our international students need to sit an Ielts exam for entry into our EAP course and our University of New South Wales Foundation Year,” she says.

At St Paul’s School in Bald Hills, QLD, Ielts preparation courses are available for students in term three of each year. “Approximately four per cent of our school population is international,” she adds. “This does vary up to seven per cent at times. Approximately 40 per cent of this group [are] from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.”

However, for some schools the nationality breakdown of their international students means that Ielts preparation courses are not essential. Leeanne Moriarty at Mercedes College in Adelaide, SA, says they don’t offer any English language exams, “except for mainland Chinese students. The minimum English [level] for EU or South American students is a good English mark in their last three years of academic transcripts and a letter from their English teacher. This is also applied to many Asian countries.”

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