The conference, which was themed Thriving in changing times, provided a snapshot of Australia’s ELICOS sector, was attended by more than 250 delegates.
“Change for the sake of change is a waste of time”
“The sector helps provide international students – as well as some immigrants and refugees – with one of the most important tools for success in Australia, and that’s proficiency in the English language,” said New South Wales MP Jonathan O’Dea, at the conference’s opening.
“Without quality English language skills, students’ overall learning experience suffers and that would only undermine all that work that’s gone into building up the international profile of our education sector.”
In her keynote speech, businesswoman and former teacher Wendy McCarthy said teachers had a significant part to play in setting up students for a lifetime of learning.
“Education is the gift the keeps on giving,” she told delegates.
“It’s the gift that can not be taken away from someone. You can lose wealth, you can lose friends, relationships, but once you have an education, in an ideal world, if you have a good education, you’re embarking on a life of learning.”
Focusing on changing modes of education delivery, she reminded those attending that all forms of disruption must centre around enhancing outcomes for students, especially within vulnerable circumstances.
“Students come first… they are at the centre of it. And you as leaders reach across cultural barriers to enable your students to communicate about what matters in their life,” she said.
“Change for the sake of change is a waste of time. You have to do it because that community needs and wants to do it.”
According to Denise Metzger, UNSW Global’s education manager for global languages and training, increasing the success rate of students lay within how teachers mentally prepared them.
Speaking on fixed and growth mindsets – the belief that intelligence and ability can either be improved or not – Metzger said educators needed to move away from talking about concepts such as in-built intelligence.
“We need to be really careful that we don’t limit or restrict the learning process too much”
“We have a lot in pop culture that reinforces this concept that intelligence is innate, you have it, or you don’t,” she said.
“We put a lot of value to this innate concept, and we don’t really talk that much about the effort. In fact a lot of the time I think we have this idea that if I have to try hard, it means I’m not that good at it.”
Using terms around natural intelligence, Metzger continued, resulted in adverse language learning outcomes, which she said set students up to fail and created a situation whereby labelling some students as “smart” meant other students must be “dumb”.
“That’s a problem as a teacher,” she said, continuing that instead, teachers should prime students to ask for help and look to grow their knowledge base rather than be led to believe they are a fixed level of intelligence.
Antonia Clare, an ELT writing professional, said time and creativity was needed for students when learning a language.
“We’re so bogged down with the pressures of standardisation and assessment and curricula,” she said.
“But creativity doesn’t just have to be thinking outside the box. Sometimes creativity involves thinking differently about the box.”
“As teachers, we need to be really careful that we don’t limit or restrict the learning process too much, by forever moving quickly onto the next thing,” she said.
The 2019 English Australia Conference will be held in Melbourne.