At the end of May, Whitney Eadon represented BSSC at a forum to discuss ‘Sharing cultures, developing intercultural understanding, building capability’. From this gathering of students representing 34 government and non-government schools, a group of ten—seven international and three local students—were invited to attend a second meeting.

“At the first forum I spoke about including references to other cultures in both school curriculums and the wider community, as a way of being more inclusive,” Whitney said. “When I finished, one of the DET staff approached me to ask about participating at the next forum.”

Whitney and her nine fellow-students recently met with Secretary, Gill Callister and Deputy Secretary of Early Childhood and School Education Group, Katy Haire. This second meeting, at Treasury Place, drilled more deeply into ways relationships could be built between international and local students, and how language learning and intercultural understanding could be supported.

“At this forum I focused on how the curriculum needed to be written so that it promoted more understanding of other cultures,” Whitney said.

Ms Callister described the students’ feedback as well prepared and insightful, and said the Department would use the feedback to improve the way it applies knowledge of the backgrounds of international students to build intercultural capability in our schools.

“As well as contributing, I also learnt quite a lot,” Whitney said. “And because I have travelled—to the Solomon Islands and China—I understand it’s a really big thing for international students to come to a new place. We need to realise how scary it is to be somewhere where everything is different—language, food, culture. And especially for refugees who didn’t want to leave their homes in the first place…”

Reflecting on BSSC’s international students’ program, she wondered, “Maybe as well as Cultural Diversity Week, we could also have individual days spread throughout the year.”

Executive Director of the International Education Division, Joel Backwell said that “Victorian schools are creating global communities through curriculum, teaching languages, sister school relationships and welcoming international students. This is helping students to see themselves as global citizens.”

The International Student Program—one of the Department’s biggest—started in 1994, and the international student forums have been held annually since 2010. More than 800 students and their teachers have participated since then.

“In terms of BSSC, the international and refugee students I have spoken to do feel supported here,” Whitney said. “In terms of being global citizens, I think it depends who you ask. There are some really good things happening, but I think we need to offer safe shelter to refugees.”