Should we assess students’ international competencies?

August 2017


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Growing good global citizens is becoming an increasingly important focus for schools. But how do schools know if they’re hitting the mark? JUDE BARBACK looks at the many ways in which schools are encouraging their students to be internationally capable and the scope for measuring this. 

International competenciesAround 160 different ethnic groups and over 126 languages are spoken in New Zealand’s schools. But while an Auckland classroom may be a picture of diversity, classrooms in other parts of the country – such as Otago and Southland, for example – are largely European. Some schools are well-equipped with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programmes, Māori immersion classes, Mandarin teachers, Muslim prayer rooms and so on. But other schools are not.

In 2015 the Education Review Office found “limited evidence” that cultural diversity was understood in many schools, even though it is supposed to be incorporated into the curriculum.

So how do schools enhance their students’ understanding of cultural diversity? How do they incorporate global citizenship and an intercultural perspective into students’ learning, regardless of the diversity of their student population?

Learning languages

At a recent PwC Herald Talk in Wellington, speakers suggested our schools should be equipping Kiwi kids with better entrepreneurship and language skills. Nick Mowbray, founder of innovative and award-winning toy company ZURU, said digital, social and entrepreneurial skills were the new requirements for success. New Zealand Story Group director Rebecca Smith added to this the importance of learning a different language.

“We need to be teaching our children more about the opportunities that are in the world, creating global citizens, ones that understand different cultures and the diversity of what the world has to offer,” she said.

However, many New Zealand schools already embrace language learning, with a growing emphasis on Asian languages.

Outside the main urban centres, primary and secondary schools in Cambridge, Whanganui, Tauranga and other parts of the country, have taken a collaborative approach to teaching Mandarin, through the help of programmes funded by the Government, such as Confucius Classrooms and Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS).

Should we assess students’ international capabilities?

An Education Counts research paper on New Zealand students’ international capabilities showed some interesting perceptions among teachers and students.

Surveyed teachers believed their schools supported the development of students’ international capabilities through “a strong focus on learning languages and a schoolwide focus on celebrating and recognising cultural and linguistic diversity”.

The research showed that many New Zealand schools are also looking beyond language learning programmes to encourage global citizenship. Overseas student trips, service programmes with an international connection, international student programmes, and sister-school partnerships feature in many Kiwi schools.

Interestingly, teachers raised some questions about students’ equity of access to intercultural learning opportunities, both within and between schools. They also discussed whether students’ international capabilities could and should be assessed.

Students felt that their international capabilities could be assessed by looking at what international or intercultural opportunities students had been exposed to at school and at home, by keeping a record or portfolio of students’ activities and experiences that contribute to international competence, and by evaluating students’ knowledge of languages.

Being internationally capable

One interesting theme to emerge from the research was the significance of the highly multicultural social interactions and friendship groupings students experienced in their schools. In parts of New Zealand, many students are “growing up internationalised” in ways that their parents and teachers may not have experienced.

“This suggests value in continuing to involve young people in shaping a New Zealand discourse on what it means to be internationally capable, as their lived experiences might offer insights on international or intercultural capability that differ from those of adult policymakers or teachers,” the report states.

Auckland Girls’ Grammar School student Scarlett Parkes believes global citizenship could be better incorporated into New Zealand education. Earlier this year she represented New Zealand and Oceania at a UNESCO forum in Canada, where she worked alongside students from 10 other countries to spread awareness about global citizenship in education at the forum.

 “We want more critical thinking and new school structures that allow for understanding complexity and diversity,” she told Stuff. “I’d love to see less competition within school systems.”

Ensuring a quality education for ESOL students

For a school to truly foster an understanding, inclusive culture, it needs to provide a quality education and positive school experience for students who don’t speak English as their first language.

The Government recently acknowledged New Zealand’s increasingly diverse student population with a $9.4 million injection over the next two year for the English for Speakers of Other Languages programme. The number of students receiving support from the ESOL programme has increased from 32,000 students in 2012 to 39,000 in 2016.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye said schools are using their ESOL funding to provide support in a range of ways. She gave the example of an Auckland school that uses digital tools to support students and their families who are learning English, and the example of a Wellington school whose ESOL teacher maintains a calendar of festivals to help celebrate the diverse cultures of the students. NCEA achievement data also shows that students who have received ESOL support achieve NCEA Level 2 as often as English-speaking background students do.

On a recent visit to Freeman’s Bay School in Auckland, the Education Minister met with students and staff who are benefiting from
ESOL funding.

“The school has a strong focus on ensuring that children are well-supported as they settle into school, and on making community connections. There are strong bicultural practices, and the school celebrates cultural diversity in a range of ways.

“In addition to ESOL funding for supporting students, additional funding has been used to support staff with training for teaching English as a second language, and there are several bilingual tutors working at the school. 

“For them to be truly successful in their education, they need more than a basic grasp of the English language. Just attending class won’t give them the level of English they need, which is why ESOL funding is so important.”

The value of international students

Many schools will count short-term and long-term hosted international students among their ESOL students. Indeed, a strong and well-supported international student programme is another way to nurture global citizenship within a school. Murrays Bay Intermediate’s thriving international student programme (see side article) is a shining example of this. Such a programme is not possible without significant input and effort from school leadership and dedicated staff.

It’s common knowledge that international students bring in a hefty chunk of revenue for schools, but schools need to think bigger than the balance sheets, if they want to truly flourish as a result of hosting international students.

A Deloitte report on New Zealand school income and expenditure looked at the financial information it had available for 101 schools that had either 20 or more international students or where international students made up five per cent or more of the total school roll. In 2015 these schools had a total revenue from international students of $84.3 million and a net international student revenue of $42 million – a margin of 49.8 per cent.

Additional income generated from international students creates opportunities that benefit all of a school’s students. However, most agree that if schools are running their international student programmes solely because they want to make money, and neglecting the opportunities to leverage global citizenship and intercultural learning, they are going to run into trouble.

Oropi School principal Andrew King believes a successful international programme must run much deeper than the school’s accounts.

“If it’s purely financially driven, it’s going to fall over or you’re going to have issues,” he says.

Everyday global citizens

Global citizenship can be enhanced in schools in so many ways. Well-supported international student programmes, learning languages initiatives and quality ESOL programmes are only the beginning. With the help of digital technologies, Kiwi kids are collaborating increasingly with overseas students in an effort to learn languages, make friendships and understand our complex and diverse world. Whether students’ international capabilities will one day be assessed remains to be seen. In any case, all evidence shows the importance of incorporating an understanding of cultural diversity and global citizenship into our everyday education.


Deloitte report on school expenditure and revenue:

Global Citizenship Education and Youth Leadership Development 

Leading research from the OECD and Harvard’s Fernando Reimers positions young people as a driving force for promoting the values, skills, and competencies that inform Global Citizenship Education.

In urban centres, young people learn and develop in culturally diverse, globally connected, and multidisciplinary classrooms. Increasingly, access to technology and social media gives young people from rural and isolated settings this opportunity, too. Wherever learning takes place, teachers have an important role to play as they support young people to make meaning of the world around them.

Teachers guide young people’s connections and collaborations with other places, cultures, and systems, and they use the outcomes of these interactions to solve complex problems and create social, environmental, and economic value for our communities.

This is not necessarily a future-focused endeavour, however. This is also about our present.

Our economy and employers need young people who can create and lead initiatives that build resilience, develop soft-skill competencies, and establish new forms of enterprise. New Zealand has some exemplary young leaders who have paved the way. The Inspiring Stories Trust, Student Volunteer Army, and the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network are full of such examples.

How do we, as teachers, inspire and challenge all students in their pursuit of innovative solutions for present-day challenges? This is a question on which Cognition Education, as a global organisation, is passionately focused. And it’s why we see Global Citizenship Education as an ideal vehicle for youth innovation and leadership development.

Chris Henderson, a principal consultant with Cognition Education, has developed an inquiry-based workshop to explore Global Citizenship Education and youth leadership development in New Zealand schools. Through a review of current practice and the introduction of place-based and global learning tools, Henderson supports teachers and leaders to establish innovative and integrated approaches to Global Citizenship Education and youth leadership development.

Over the past 10 years Chris and Cognition Education have worked in New Zealand and internationally with United Nations agencies, not-for-profit organisations, and companies such as Google in the field of youth development and global learning. Chris’ energy and engaging facilitation approach guarantees an impactful professional learning experience for teachers and school leaders alike.

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