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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

East Meets West: Learning In Australia

I am not sure about this label ''Western education''. I believe the core value of education is universal regardless where it is taught. - Cecilia Tan

Cecilia Tan, a mother of three children, migrated to Australia with her family from Singapore in the year of 2008. Currently living in Melbourne, she shared her experience with me of what was like putting all her children study at an Australian government school.

Coming from a country where education is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world, to a country where the learning environment is more laid-back than most Asian education approaches, her three children seemed to have a smooth transition in adjusting themselves well in Orchard Grove Primary when they first arrived. Two of Cecilia’s children are currently pursuing double-degrees at Monash University and her youngest child is in Year 10 at Vermont Secondary College.

Planning to send your children to study at a high school in Australia? Here are some practical tips from Cecilia.

Cecilia Tan and her three children.

1. When you and your husband first migrated to Australia, were your children able to find "the right fit" in the Australia education system?

It wasn't as difficult as we anticipated. Coming from Singapore, the education system is Commonwealth-based. For example, 6 years of primary education follows by another 6 years of secondary/college education before tertiary. So, it is a similar system. Coming from a more `stringent' education environment in Singapore, the integration hasn’t been difficult.

2. How long did it take for your children to adjust to the Australia education system?

Not long at all! They were able to blend in and made new friends easily. I enrolled them in a public school, they didn't seem having any difficulty adjusting. The fact they were also younger (ages 9-11) at the time made it easy.

I think the only adjustment was, they were encouraged to speak out and share their views in school. To me, that was a positive sign, as this helps build self-confidence over time when children are encouraged to speak coherently and confidently.

3. What are the challenges Asian children faced in high schools in Australia? Do you worry about your children losing the "Asian values"?

A common challenge is the language barrier. If the child does not have the basic English proficiency, the adjustment can be longer. Not able to communicate well in English with his or her peers can lead to self-confidence issue such as anxiety and potentially depression. The issue of bullying still persists in schools but I think this is a universal issue that needs addressing.

As my children started their Australian education in primary school, the adjustment into high school was not a problem. There was no major issues that were brought to my attention that needed following up with the school. Being in an English-medium school in Singapore prior is also a big plus.

Other than that, I am sure they faced challenges here and there in their growing up years, whether in school or outside. I have no major concern that they will lose their `Asian values' , as long as they conduct themselves responsibly, are respectful to all the people they are in contact with and always do the right thing.

4. How do you help your children to find the balance in a foreign land?

If you are living in the metropolitan cities in Australia, you are exposed to multi-ethnicity and culture. This is very similar to Singapore. As parents, my husband and I always encourage our children to have a good mix of friends, try new things in a responsible manner but most of all, we want them to be themselves.

5. What advice would you give to parents who plan to send their children to high schools in Australia?

Researching well is the first step. What is the overall objective you want your child to get out of the whole experience? Understand the requirements for school enrollment is a must. For example, basic English language proficiency is important. Prepare your child first prior to arrival if English is not a spoken language. It will do your child no favour if he or she struggles to speak English.

It is equally important for parents to investigate and evaluate the environment the child will be in, the types of lifestyle they want their child to have and the cross-cultural exposure. Speak to friends and relatives who live in Australia as well to get different perspectives and prior knowledge on the Australian education system.

It is also a good idea to visit Australia and have a first-hand look at the overall school environment there. Also, the public and private school system do vary a bit. To experience it first-hand and figure out what is most important to your child will help you make good decisions. That said, even in weighing all the pros and cons; overall, Australia is still a wonderful place to consider if one is thinking of getting a balanced education for their children.

6. Is it advisable for kids to go to boarding school (high school) without the presence of their parents/guardian?

I believe there is a good system in place here in Australia that offers a safe environment for foreign students to study while on their own. There are multiple options available. Prospective foreign students can stay with local families where home-stay programs are offered in some schools. Others may consider staying in a school boarding facilities or hostels if they are older, and are more independent. Or they can rent apartments near their school. In the end, it will be entirely up to the parents themselves to assess the situation and make the decision as they see fit.

7. Why Asian parents don't mind paying the high fees for schools in Australia?

At the end of the day, I believe each parent will look at the overall values, experience and the opportunities that present to their children when they completed their education journey in Australia.

8. Why Western education remains valuable to many Asian parents?

I am not sure about this label ''Western education''. I believe the core value of education is universal regardless where it is taught. It is only to what degree of emphasis on approaches to teaching that makes one’s learning experience different. Maybe it is perceptions that need to be addressed. In most Asian countries, their education systems are very rigorous and focus on rote learning. Many may find this to be acceptable. However, Australia’s education system offers a viable alternative where the emphasis differs from what many Asian countries currently adopt. I feel it boils down to each parent’s perspective to find out what is best for their child.

Published in Dreamic Educational Magazine 2020.

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