International students – adapting to Australian learning styles

Overseas students often find Australian teaching and learning methods very different to those with which they are familiar. Find out how you can best support international students adapt to the Australian classroom.

international students adapting to australian learning styles
Geoff Peel BA, DipEd, BEd, MEd, GradCertTESOL, GradCertCorpManagement, AdvDipSchoolMarketing Friday, 16 August 2019

Four aspects of Australian schooling where this contrast is evident are outlined here. Awareness of these differences is helpful for both students and parents, and it can be a valuable first step in acclimatising to the Australian education environment.

1. Role of the teacher

Perhaps the most striking classroom difference for many international students starting school in Australia centres around the role of the teacher. The Australian teacher is often seen as a guide for students – rather than the enforcer of the rigid discipline and rote learning that may have been the norm in their native country.

Here, the role of the teacher goes beyond just imparting knowledge. Students are challenged and encouraged to become responsible individuals who are confident in acquiring new skills for a changing world.

2.  Class discussion

Class discussion of topics is a feature of Australian schools. Students are expected to participate in discussions by making thoughtful contributions and to express their opinions. This form of learning is quite different to some other education systems.

Asking questions in class is also important and students should feel free to ask their teacher to explain any points or instructions about which they are uncertain. Teachers welcome questions from students as it indicates engagement with the course.

3. Project-based and group learning

Group activities are a common feature of Australian schooling; students may work in small groups on an extended project task. The ability to undertake individual research is also a highly regarded skill. Research, interpersonal skills and organisation are all valuable assets for young people in their studies, in their wider lives and in future employment environments.

4.  Learning through media and experience

  • Most secondary schools in Australia now use laptops to access digital learning resources instead of relying on printed textbooks.
  • New students will also find that teachers regularly use technology and audio-visual material as tools in the learning process.
  • Guest speakers may visit their classes.
  • Excursions to places of interest such as museums, art galleries, zoos and industry locations provide valuable educational experiences to complement classroom learning.
  • School camps are often organised to encourage interaction between students and to develop life skills in an environment away from the school.

Embrace the difference

Parents and homestay families can play their part in helping students to assimilate by reminding them that experiencing difference is a natural part of moving to a new country and school environment. It will take some students a while to adapt to the systems of learning and expectations. They should be discouraged from continually comparing their new education system to their former school; this will only extend the time it takes to accept that they are now part of Australia and its teaching styles.

A more useful mindset is to embrace the fact that things are done differently in Australia, and to transform their thinking in a positive way to approach the schooling experience. By encouraging them to see Australia as a different – but challenging and exciting – place to study, you can assist students to quickly overcome the natural emotion of being homesick for familiar places and processes.

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