Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education (SICLE) has funded and developed programs for some 2,000 professionals with overseas qualifications to help them become accredited in Australian schools. Sixty have already begun Master of Teaching upgrade programs that will see them work in local schools in 2021.
It is the only bridging course of its kind for overseas-trained teachers in the world.
“At the moment, it is harder to become a teacher than a doctor in Australia if you have overseas qualifications,” said Professor Ken Cruickshank, who has organised the teacher training programs at Western Sydney University and Australian Catholic University, Strathfield.
“So many highly qualified teachers with years of teaching experience overseas get lost in the system; it is so hard for them to get information and find a pathway and they are often directed to the wrong courses,” Professor Cruickshank said. “We need teachers in NSW and this is such a waste of skills. It is a much bigger problem than people think.”
Professor Cruickshank said there are over 2,000 teachers with experience in teaching overseas who are not recognised in Australia. Around 90 percent of them are women. Many are refugees from Syria, Iraq or Burma.
“These are teachers with decades of experience who are also juggling childcare and work and adapting to a new country, they need information and support,” Professor Cruickshank said. “Our new course takes two to three years to attain Australian accreditation. It is a real pathway for migrant and refugee women and men.”
Anna Chokekchyan is retraining as a high school teacher after a career in computer software and engineering in Armenia. “Teaching was my passion in childhood but I followed another career path. But in Australia, aged 42, I decided to follow my heart,” said Chokekchyan, who began teaching in Sydney in an Armenian community language school before enrolling in Master of Teaching Upgrade.
“This course is life changing,” she said. “I didn’t realise there is so much to learn, especially in an Australian context. I’m studying an Indigenous and cultural responsibility unit and I’ve learned so much. The teaching profession is really dynamic because the environment changes and the times change, we need to be learning new things all the time.”
Balu Moothedath wants to teach robotics to teenagers after a 20-year career in IT. He moved to Australia after working in India, the US and Europe then started teaching Sanskrit and Malayalam in community language schools across Sydney. He now wants to teach in high schools.
“I want to ignite curiosity in students. I started a non-profit class for youth on robotics with elements of mechatronics and computer science. Now I’m teaching STEM projects to enable children to be inquisitive and to question things and to reason. I want to share my passion for learning with kids.”
Yongfei Li came to Sydney from China where she was a Mandarin language teacher for 15 years. “As an overseas-trained teacher I didn’t have any knowledge of the curriculum so I needed to restudy but I didn’t need to start again as a beginner,” she said.
“I had a lot of practical experience but I lacked the theoretical knowledge and the system. Doing a Master of Teaching Upgrade has given me a lot of support, it’s like someone giving me a push to work hard and telling me, now you are ready!”
Over 20 percent of students speak a language other than English at home, but the teaching profession in Australia is predominantly monolingual English. Teachers with overseas training often take on volunteer teaching in community language schools but it is difficult for them to get information on how to get their qualifications recognised. They rely on family or friends to tell them about a pathway.
Thanks to a $7.6 million grant from the NSW government, SICLE can now provide advice about further study and careers free to teachers in the community languages schools. The centre also provides classes to improve their English and supports migrants in sitting for the English tests needed to become a teacher in Australia.
“Having teachers who know different languages and cultures in our schools is really important for all Australian students in this multicultural society and diverse global environment,” said Professor Cruickshank.
In 2021, SICLE has 100 places available in the Master of Teaching programs for teachers needing to upgrade their qualifications. These programs enable teachers to gain accreditation in NSW as generalist primary teachers or as secondary teachers in all subject areas. Teachers will get support in study skills; they do teaching practice in local schools; there is a lot of support in classroom management and topics such as using technology
For more information or to register go to SICLE website ‘Master of Teaching Upgrade’. All photos by Stefanie Zingsheim/University of Sydney