Benefits of Sister School Partnerships

Sister school partnerships have been studied extensively. The findings about their value to those involved are remarkably consistent. These are some of the findings, for example, from an extensive study in Victoria.

Sister school partnerships contribute significantly to:

  • increased intercultural understanding within the school community
  • opportunities to better understand one’s own culture/country
  • improved competence and confidence in the use of technology by teachers involved in the program
  • creating opportunities for sharing pedagogies and engaging in joint curriculum development
  • enhancing the reputation of the school – the school is seen to be ‘doing things’.

As one principal in this study commented:

‘When the Chinese kids come out here they are embraced as part of the culture and provide a kind of richness to our school. The main thing is that it centres on development of kids as a whole; being able to appreciate other cultures, to be able to talk and meet with people from other countries, learn about life in other places.’
Principal, Government regional secondary school.

Impact on language learning

It is well documented that personal communication with native speakers can improve language learning. Established links between schools can provide an excellent opportunity for purposeful, genuine, authentic, personalised communication with a real audience.

Approximately three-quarters of principals and teachers in the Victorian sister school partnership research mentioned above indicated that their partnership aimed to meet objectives focused on language learning and that these objectives were being met.

The specific benefits of sister school partnerships that related directly to language learning included:

  • increased understanding of the importance of learning languages
  • support for language learning
  • increased motivation/enthusiasm to learn a language among students
  • increased numbers of students continuing their language studies beyond the compulsory level.

Teachers reported that their sister school partnerships gave students a sense of accomplishment when they found they could effectively communicate with their sister school classmates. The real life communication provided them with a sense of purpose for learning another language.

‘The partnerships are really motivating for learning a language. Students will continue a language until Year 12 having had that sort of experience, really enjoying it, feeling like they could communicate. However, when Chinese students travel over to us it probably has an even greater effect on the quality of the language skills of our students.’
Teacher, Government metropolitan secondary school. (Victorian DEECD op cit)

‘Brought the language to life! It is REAL! Real time conversations have motivated my students to try very hard to improve their language skills. We have all realised that we are alike even though we speak a different language. We have bridged a gap in our understanding of one another. It has really boosted the language confidence of my students.’
Teacher, NSW Government secondary school, China BRIDGE evaluation

Intercultural understanding

The most consistent, and consistently achieved, reason for establishing a sister school partnership is to develop intercultural awareness in the students involved.

In a multicultural country like Australia and in an increasingly globalised world, intercultural understanding is a highly valuable capability in its own right. But it has also long been recognised as central to language learning.

The role of intercultural understanding in language learning is firmly present in ACARA’s paper, The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages:

The major rationale for learning languages is that being able to communicate proficiently gives learners essential communication skills in the target language, an intercultural capability, and an understanding of the role of language and culture in human communication. (our emphasis)

The benefits for students

In Jane Orton’s paper, The Current State of Chinese Language Education in Australian Schools, she recommends:

‘Ways to provide frequent sustained opportunities to hear the language used naturally and inviting opportunities to use it productively need to be created.’

She talks about the issue in this video.

Video with Standard Audio:

Dr Jane Orton discusses approaches to Chinese language learning.

Video with Audio Description:

Dr Jane Orton discusses approaches to Chinese language learning.

Students and teachers make the same points about the value of authentic contact.

Video with Standard Audio:

The value of sister school partnerships for learning Chinese.

Video with Audio Description:

The value of sister school partnerships for learning Chinese.

The benefits for language programs

Despite the fact that Chinese has been taught in some Australian schools for 50 or more years, a recent study of Chinese programs in Australian schools suggests that ‘the teaching of Chinese … still has much of a pioneer quality to it.’

The vast majority of Chinese programs have much shorter histories, and teachers and administrators are still searching ways to effectively embed such programs into the life of their schools.

What makes a good program? The Asia Education Foundation’s report Building Demand for Asia Literacy: What Works includes this list

The characteristics of successful language programs

Successful language programs have all these elements:

An established and respected place in the life of the institution

  • the program is well supported by the school leadership in authentic and effective ways
  • it is accepted and supported by staff who don’t teach language
  • it is accepted and supported by influential members of parent and advisory groups
  • it has a growing or stable enrolment.

A substantial and attractive program

  • attention is paid to the balance of the four skills [reading, writing, listening and speaking], and there are diverse activities tailored to students’ skill level
  • there is ample timetabled time for learning
  • there is regular exposure to the language in use
  • contacts (face-to-face or via ICTs) with native speakers are maintained
  • regular cultural activities occur involving the whole school.

Good teachers

  • that they have a good command of both the target language and English; knowledge about learning processes; pedagogical craft knowledge; and, above all, a confident belief that the language can be taught, coupled with a commitment to doing so
  • that they have ample opportunities for their own professional learning and growth.

Well resourced

  • the existence of and accessibility to dedicated teaching space/s
  • use of up-to-date, high quality teaching materials
  • good and consistent access to reliable ICT infrastructure.

Good results.

Sister school partnerships can obviously help with regular exposure to the language in use via contact with native speakers. They can also have a powerful impact on strengthening interest in, and commitment to, language programs from students, from school administrators and non-language teaching staff, and from the community.

Video with Standard Audio:

The impact that sister school partnerships have on Chinese language programs.

Video with Audio Description:

The impact that sister school partnerships have on Chinese language programs.