International Education – Global Currency or Global Citizenship

Presentation at the Global Knowledge Economy Seminar organised by the Postgraduate Students’ Association held at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, on 15 October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My topic today was New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry in 2016, then valued at more than $4 billion dollars, and supported more than 30 thousand jobs across the country. International education is big business for New Zealand, as it is for the traditional players – the English-speaking nations of the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.

The recent International Education Strategy released by the Ministry of Education has declared is aspirations for international education to be the vehicle for global citizenship. But I do wonder whether the forces of global currency overwhelm such lofty, but certainly important goals.

First, let’s think about why international students come to New Zealand. While the perceived high quality of educational offerings is one factor, research suggests that the stronger factors are:

  1. that New Zealand is overall a more affordable destination, and
  2. New Zealand’s reputation as clean, green, and safe.

Next, let’s consider what international education contributes to New Zealand. As I mentioned earlier, international education is an export sector, meaning, education is treated as a form of goods and services.

Looking at the 2016 stats, there were about 130 thousand international students enrolled in schools, language centres, private institutions, the polytechnics, and universities.

Half of the international students hail from China and India, both emerging middle-income countries and engines of global growth.

Universities take the largest share, hosting a fifth of the international student population, and receiving almost 40% of the tuition income.

This thin slice of statistics reflects what keeps the sector humming along. The sellers – educational institutions – desire income and profit, and the buyers – Asian students – want decent qualifications from an English-speaking country.


You might think that I’ve painted a rather crude picture of international education, but I’ve yet to meet someone who has attributed the $4 billion dollar figure to the desire for world peace.

But even if world peace is not at the forefront or the producers and consumers’ minds, it doesn’t mean that international education is only worth in terms of dollars and cents. It is, after all, not a sector that deals with milk powder or premium beef, but a sector that is capable of transforming lives of all students, the educators, and the community.

The University of Waikato, for example, hosts many nationalities among its students. As an international student myself, I feel privileged to be able to interact with my peers from Vietnam, India, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Vanuatu , Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Timor Leste. I enjoy learning about their different histories and social customs.

I am beginning to build a global network of friends and colleagues. And while I cannot promise there will be world peace, I can say that I have grown to be more sensitive and appreciative of the different, and at times, conflicting, geopolitics across the world stage. In other words, I am learning how to be a global citizen. I’m not sure whether my Kiwi peers have the same experience, or feel the same way. But the research suggests that they are probably ambivalent or indifferent.

Perhaps Prime Minister Jacinda Arden could offer all of us some inspiration to become more globally minded and action-oriented. In her speech to the United Nations General Assembly, she said, and I quote:

“Given the challenges we face today, and how truly global they are in their nature and impact, the need for collective action and multilateralism has never been clearer.”

PM Arden was talking about climate change. I think the same applies to international education.

The value of international education must not remain solely at the level of trade. It has the enormous potential to build bridges across cultural and political divides. My conclusion is for you to take the first step in making it happen.

Being international

The international student experience is a complex one. What factors contribute to making it a meaningful one? Institutional policies and academic support are important, but so are personal attitudes and intercultural perceptions of both students and the host society.

group-239251_1920_international

My PhD research is on international tertiary students, focusing on students from non-Western backgrounds. In the case of New Zealand, most of these students would be Asian – Chinese, South Korean, Indian. My interest in international students stems from my previous study of English language learners. I was interested in their challenges in acquiring and using the English language, and their shifting identities in the process of language learning. In the course of preparing the research proposal in the past year, however, those research interests led to other concerns. My focus of my PhD research is on international students’ informal learning practices, investigating how they engage with their peers to help them in their academic learning.

In between having successfully defended my research proposal, and preparing for data collection, I’m now examining more closely the debates surrounding international students in higher education, or more commonly termed, the internationalisation of higher education, especially in New Zealand. The debates range from macro views of politics and policies, to micro issues of academic support, but are all interrelated. Three articles caught my attention for pointing out essential conditions for successful internationalisation – for both the university/country and the students.

Anderson’s (2015) overview of the higher education scene in Canada, which shares similarities with the scene in New Zealand, highlights the challenges of teaching and supporting increasing numbers of international students who use English as a second or additional language (I use the terminology EAL – English as an Additional Language). Anderson raises the tension between recruiting international students as a source of much needed income, and the university’s social and educational responsibilities to students. It is the latter issue that is often debated – should international students meet minimally acceptable standards of language proficiency (and really, culturally appropriate behaviours and attitudes in the classroom and beyond), or should universities provide ample opportunities and support for students to learn the ways of the academy and increase their chances of success? Or a third, and in my opinion, a rather radical option – “establish more flexible and additive relationships with foreign students coming from non-Western academic traditions instead of expecting them to unilaterally morph into the conventions and practices of their new academic communities and discourses” (Anderson, 2015, pp. 176-177). Citing various research and offering specific examples, Anderson calls for more comprehensive and targeted academic support for international students and concludes that positive student experiences ultimately translates into better reputations for universities.

While the Canadian approach appears to favour student-centred and culturally appropriate support, Jiang (2010) points out New Zealand’s “lack of intercultural policies and strategies” to respond to demographic changes in international student populations. This is not to say that universities do nothing to address international students’ academic needs, but the lack of a culture of internationalisation at the policy-making level affects funding and staffing for timely and specific support. Jiang talks about the importance of developing intercultural or international relationships. She does not discuss what it means to be intercultural, but highlights the various levels at which ‘international’ operates on (i.e. political and educational levels). In fact, none of the readings I discuss here probe deeply into what it means to be intercultural (see Byram’s (1997) Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) model for an in-depth exploration) – but all call for greater facilitation of students’ acculturation to the host environment.

While Anderson (2015) offers an academic perspective, and Jiang (2010) a policy one, Butcher (2010) seems to suggest that societal attitudes and genuine hospitality are key to ensuring positive experiences for international students. Butcher compares different cohorts of international students in New Zealand – those from the Colombo Plan era during the 1950s and 60s and international students today. The scholars from the past were Asia’s elites; they developed close ties with New Zealanders, and vast amounts of goodwill exist between New Zealand and the Asian countries. Today’s students, in contrast, are no longer “unique or rare, [rather], their dominance in New Zealand cities is starkly evident, to the extent they have been referred to as … a ‘cultural invasion'”(Butcher, 2010, p. 12). Noting emphatically that Asia is New Zealand’s future, Butcher concludes that it is in New Zealand’s interest to invest in and cultivate networks with Asian students. The nature of new intercultural relationships require initiative on the part of the host, as evidenced in the warm reception given by New Zealand communities to the Colombo Plan students. Will friendships blossom between today’s international students and their hosts?

I’m not sure if Butcher (2010) is optimistic of a change in attitude, that is, to view Asian students as important bridges to New Zealand’s future, rather than an economic resource for present needs. As an international student in New Zealand, I personally identify with Butcher’s vision for rich intercultural relationships. I also believe that these relationships are multifaceted, complex, and take time to develop and nurture.

I recognise and believe in the potential New Zealand has in terms of creating a unique and valuable international experience for students. While fresh air and beautiful landscapes have always been New Zealand’s selling points, a more important experience takes place between people – people who welcome each other into their lives. The reality of intercultural friendships is never straightforward but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. I hope my research will uncover some of the complexities of the international student experience and start new dialogues – intercultural ones.

References

Anderson, T. (2015). Seeking internationalization: The state of Canadian higher education. Canadian Journal of Higher Education45(4), 166–187.

Butcher, A. (2010). International students and New Zealand’s future. Journal of International Education in Business1(1), 9–26.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, United Kingdom: Multilingual Matters.

Jiang, X. (2010). A probe into the internationalisation of higher education in the New Zealand context. Educational Philosophy and Theory42(8), 881–897. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00547.x

How I Use Open Educational Resources (OER)

How I Use Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are increasingly important when we consider the breadth and depth of material that are being produced by educational institutions, media production companies,  and even individuals. Equipping my students with web-based resources allows both my students and I to have access to high-quality and up-to-date information, whenever we need it, wherever we are. This frees me from creating teaching material from scratch and enables me to focus on teaching in class.

Watch a brief interview I did with Learning Academy , Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTiCr2dw0JM

Let me share some of the OERs I have used :

1. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) OER: Purdue OWL

 

For me, the most useful resource on this site is the section on APA Style. It contains sections on how to cite and reference for different reference materials, including print, web and recorded material. The information is presented in an easy-to-read format with clear examples for readers to follow. The information is also easily searchable which makes navigating a content-heavy website less onerous on the user. The Purdue OWL is a great example of how one educational institution creates and maintains educational resources and makes it available for free for educational use.

Terms of use of Purdue OWL materials in the classroom: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/551/01

 

2. Howcast Media, Inc

OER: Howcast Media, Inc.

 

Howcast is a media production company that specialises in high-quality and entertaining instructional videos. The videos are usually no more than 5 minutes long but contains enough information to keep the audience engaged. I have used their videos on presentations, writing and questionnaires in my classes. My students usually perk up when the lights dim and the video comes on.

Terms of use of Howcast videos in the classroom: http://www.howcast.com/faq

 

3.  The YUNiversity

OER: The YUNiversity

 

The  YUNiversity is a blog (and more) on grammar tips presented in an off-beat, humorous and engaging manner, and is especially suited for the current generation of youths. They post on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Medium and handle Q&As on ask.fm The YUNiversity is managed by an English graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and his wife. I share their posts on grammar tips with my students on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Terms of use of The YUNiversity materials in the classroom: Not obvious but here’s the link to their FAQs: http://www.theyuniversity.net/FAQ

 

OERs are indispensable in any classroom. I hope this post has got you thinking about exploring the world wide web of wonderful educational resources!

 

The Science of Character – Thinking About Grit

The Science of Character - Thinking About Grit

It was Character Day on March 20, 2014. In celebration of, and also to facilitate discussion on character strengths, there was the global cloud film premiere of The Science of Character, “an 8-minute film that explores fascinating new research on character development and our ability to shape who we are” (Let It Ripple website).

The Science of Character – an 8 min film directed by Tiffany Shlain (Twitter: @tiffanyshlain)

Directed by Tiffany Shlain, the film promotes the idea that we can cultivate character by building on our strengths, instead of focusing on our deficits. The central organising structure of character is what has been coined a periodic table of character strengths, which is, in fact, fashioned from the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. The classification itself comes out of a landmark publication, Character Strengths and Virtues written by the late Christopher Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology, and Martin Seligman,  Director of the Center and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Periodic Table of Character Strengths

Periodic Table of Character Strengths from The Science of Character

While the table is a neat way of categorising 24 virtues common across cultures and time, the VIA Institute on Character reminds us that character strengths were conceived as “dimensions and not as categories” and that “[p]eople have more-or-less of all the strengths and not simply a set of discrete strengths versus weaknesses” (VIA Institute on Character, para 7). This is an important point to note as the periodic table may lead to an inventory list ticking exercise, thus reinforcing a false dichotomy between what we are and what we’re not.

To begin to understand the complexity of the character traits, I started with Grit, a trait I see in myself developing over the years. As part of the film’s premiere, there was a series of Q&A sessions with the experts and I  joined a Google Hangouts session featuring Angela Lee Duckworth, the expert on grit and how it contributes to student success.

Angela Lee Duckworth speaks on Grit

I first came across Angela’s work on TED. Today’s expert chat session on Grit brought up discussions on whether there could be too much virtue, and whether grit could be instilled on demand or something that simply needed time to be developed.

To help explain Grit, Angela provided a metaphor of the Christmas Tree where the various levels of goals are hierarchically organised, with the shining star as the highest and unchanging goal underlying Grit. For example, if my highest level goal is providing free education to poor children, my lower level goals could range from studying for a Masters or PhD, setting up projects, and networking. I should be adaptable and flexible with these lower level goals, for example, if I don’t succeed in one project, I can look at starting a new one. However, the overarching goal of free education to the poor does not change. If it did, I wouldn’t be displaying Grit toward my final destination.

The Christmas Tree metaphor is helpful in understanding why sudden bursts of energy for short periods of time does not really count toward Grit, but rather, a deep interest that you hold over a period of time does. The fact that Grit requires stamina and patience also means that older people will exhibit Grit more often than younger people.

I look back on my twenty-something self and see several bursts of energy and nothing close to Grit. Comfortably into my thirties, I have discovered what I’m passionate about and Grit will serve me for the long run.

Character Day may have come and gone but let the Character Conversation continue, with experts, with each other, with yourself.

Sources

Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.

Shlain, Tiffany & The Moxie Institute Films. “The Science of Character (a New 8 Min “Cloud Film”).” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Mar 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

TED. “Angela Lee Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit.” YouTube. YouTube, 09 May 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

VIA Institute on Character. “Guidelines on Use and Interpretation.” VIA Character Use and Interpretation. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/useandinterpretation.aspx.