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«A Cross-Cultural Teacher Training Program for Singaporean Muslim Students Margaret Bowering Edith Cowan University Recommended Citation Bowering, M. ...»

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Australian Journal of Teacher Education

Volume 32 | Issue 3 Article 2

A Cross-Cultural Teacher Training Program for

Singaporean Muslim Students

Margaret Bowering

Edith Cowan University

Recommended Citation

Bowering, M. (2007). A Cross-Cultural Teacher Training Program for Singaporean Muslim Students. Australian Journal of Teacher

Education, 32(3).

http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2007v32n3.2 This Journal Article is posted at Research Online.

http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol32/iss3/2 Australian Journal of Teacher Education



Margaret Bowering Edith Cowan University Graeme Lock Edith Cowan University Abstract: Drawing upon evaluations of a teacher-training program for Muslim participants presented by Edith Cowan University staff in Singapore, this case study provides readers with insights into program design and management. It reports on lecturer and student attitudes as revealed in evaluations of the Singapore short course. In drawing the conclusion that attention must be given to cultural matters such as religious values and obligations and issues of language and assessment, the article asks the reader to rethink the universality of prevailing notions about internationalisation, particularly those relating to the necessary redesign of the curriculum. It ends with the suggestion that the by-product in terms of new knowledge and mutual understanding of such cross-cultural experiences for both teachers and learners may provide a valuable outcome of the internationalised curriculum.

The presentation of special-purpose short courses for international participants is increasingly becoming a feature of tertiary teacher training programs and this article describes the reaction of both lecturers and students to one such program, conducted by Edith Cowan University education staff in Singapore for Muslim students.

Therefore, readers will find in the report insights into tertiary cross-cultural education in general and into relationships with special cultural groups in particular.

Background to the Study In July 2003 Edith Cowan University (ECU) commenced teaching a Diploma of General Education course, through the Asian Educational Consortium Education Group (AEC), to teachers employed in the Singapore Muslim religious schools (Madrasahs). The course consisted of 16 units, 15 of which were based on undergraduate units taught at ECU and one Islamic Educational Philosophy unit, taught by a locally appointed lecturer in consultation with the ECU course coordinator. The diploma was awarded by the AEC, with ECU responsible for teaching 15 units and quality assuring the entire course. The quality assurance process included moderation of assignment marking and the ECU unit coordinator setting and marking the examinations. Local tutors were also encouraged to attend the classes taught by ECU lecturers. During the period in which this research was undertaken two groups of 25 students were enrolled in the course. Subsequent to the collection of data, in July 2005 a third cohort enrolled in the course.

August 2007 14 Australian Journal of Teacher Education The course was delivered in Singapore; students studying two units per trimester. ECU lecturers taught 15 hours over Saturdays, Sundays and Monday evenings, with students attending classes over two consecutive weekends. The intensive teaching periods were followed by three hour tutorials, conducted by local tutors appointed by the AEC, over a 5 week period. Approximately two weeks after the final tutorial, students sat for the unit examination. ECU lecturers were responsible for developing unit materials, teaching the 15 hours as previously described, liaising with the local tutor, quality assuring the marking of the local tutor, and setting and marking the examination.

At the end of the calendar year the course was formally reviewed by the ECU course coordinator, who was a senior School of Education academic. The review included a course evaluation questionnaire comprising 19 items (each with a 5 point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree) informal interviews with students and a review of the individual unit teaching evaluation questionnaires completed by students. Copies of the review report were provided to the AEC, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), ECU School of Education School Executive, the Faculty Associate Dean International and Commercial, and members of the ECU teaching team.

Prior to the description of the course participants and data collection, pertinent issues emerging from the literature on international education are discussed.

Issues arising from the literature

Although literature in this very broad educational area is diverse and at this stage fragmentary, it is possible to discern certain issues for follow up in this paper.

Those that are discussed here are the internationalised curriculum and the acknowledgement of aspects relating to cultural difference.

The internationalised curriculum

Two decades after the era of globalised education began universities are still struggling with the application of internationalisation to teaching programs and curriculum (Welch 2002; Liddicoat, 2003). It is even argued by Marginson (2002) that many international programs are inappropriate for overseas students because most courses remain largely monocultural. This is despite the fact that Australian universities have been active in translating the internationalisation concept into policy statements for the guidance of staff (Marginson, 2000). One recommendation in a recent policy statement about global education and internationalisation, presented in 2005 to the ECU Academic Board, is a case in point (Quin, 2005).

All Operational Plans at Faculty and School level should be aligned and identify their strategic directions for internationalisation, indicating clear objectives and outcomes for the planning period with reference to the curriculum, recruitment and staff/student mobility.

Giving weight to the view that this issue has not yet been adequately addressed in Australia generally is Bell’s (2004) interview study of 20 staff on one Australian urban university, where half the group was opposed to curriculum internationalisation. In

stating this position, staff gave a variety of reasons, namely:

August 2007Australian Journal of Teacher Education

• an Australian not an international degree is desired by the students;

• theory and facts of the relevant discipline are considered by lecturers as incontestable;

• integrity of the discipline could be harmed;

• different ethnic groups represented in any one course group may not value each other’s culture; and

• science based subjects are particularly vulnerable to suggestions of flexibility because of the particular nature of the research.

Studies reporting on how teaching programs could be adapted to suit international student bodies are sparse and limited to certain fields such as business and education.

Lamenting that the internationalisation of the Monash university undergraduate business degree was in its infancy in 2003, Edwards, Grosling, Petrovic-Lazarovic and O’Neill proposed a typology of stages, whereby students would be progressively challenged to reconsider their views before moving onto cross-cultural interaction and finally to refining their expertise by working in an environment outside of their comfort zone.

Such a view, though valuable as a basis for undergraduate programs, presupposes a more prolonged period of training than is available for short programs such as is the subject of this paper. More applicable here may be the type of experience gained by staff members from the presentation of an Educational Management Masters’ program to Chinese educational leaders in Zhejiang province. Deriving understanding from three years’ work in China, a paper by Leggett, Bowering, Campbell-Evans and Harvey (2005) recommended the addition of an ‘outside-in’ approach, whereby overseas teaching provided authentic opportunities for adding additional interest to the curriculum by means of reciprocal effects made possible by exchanging examples and views within the two programs. One instance of this noticed quite early in the program is that these Chinese students expressed a strong preference for starting with the big picture ie the driving forces in the society and area before moving onto concrete examples. This has been found to have great importance for both the introduction of new topics as well as the consideration of actual examples and scenarios in both programs. With the imperative of the internationalisation of curriculum for cross-cultural groupings in mind, it is important to examine other fields of research, which could provide input for the paper. The most fruitful area for comment on a wide range of subjects including curriculum, language use and “globalisation” training for lecturers is that from overseas specialist courses taught specifically to second language speakers within both English speaking and nonEnglish speaking communities. This is the source of the largest body of research to date.

Again in the area of curriculum positive example is difficult to locate. However, if a slightly wider interpretation of ‘course’ is adopted, the abundant literature from overseas aid and development programs has set the scene for the criticisms of western ideas and practices, on which many educational programs themselves are based.

Adrian Holliday (2001), writing in the tradition of such critics of overseas educational projects in English as Phillipson and Pennycook, spoke of the need for cultural continuity in curriculum. In working towards change in another culture, his suggestion is that we have to find “an alternative way of looking at the people we work with in innovation scenarios – in their own terms rather than ours.” Earlier, Coleman (1996) took up this theme to describe how English language programs in eight leading countries, where English is taught as a foreign language, illustrate how ‘cultural continuity’ in each case creates its own individual style in

August 2007Australian Journal of Teacher Education

teaching, despite strong efforts to counter this by western practitioners. Along the same lines, a body of research from different Asian countries now exists for decrying the spread of student centred English language learning as being unsuitable for educational transplant (Burnaby & Sun, 1989; Li, 2001). More recently Carrier (2003), in critiquing teacher training for second language speakers, gave his support to internationalisation of the curriculum. It was his view that such students need to be helped to acquire an understanding of how far any particular educational practice is not necessarily a universal, but a response to culture. The estimation of how far the materials and methods students meet is ‘compatible with the language education climate in their home countries’ needed to be included in any training program, where international students are involved.

Cultural differences

Over and beyond this issue of what is taught, it is evident that researchers have paid greater attention to how such courses are taught. The key areas of research, which address issues raised later in the report, are the use of the second language in teaching and the possible cultural mismatch between the presenting and the recipient cultures, particularly as it relates to Asian learning styles and Muslim culture. The areas of language, learning style and values will now be treated separately.


Although courses presented to international groups almost invariably involve participants in the adequate understanding of both spoken and written English, in research terms most work has been concentrated in the former area: i.e. upon listening to academic lectures. Two studies in the mid 1990’s (Lynch, 1994; Flowerdew & Miller, 1995), which drew on data from both lecturers and students, have given useful

advice to intending lecturers in terms of:

1) Clarity of speech enhanced by pauses between sentences and reduction in colloquial and metaphorical usage.

2) Use of redundancy for the repetition and scaffolding of ideas.

3) Support in terms of appropriate gestures, board notes, overheads, diagrams etc.

4) Inclusion of breaks in lectures with time for questions/feedback and indications about changes in content/argument.

5) Careful use of examples including local ones.

The authors of both reports, in seeing lecturer delivery style as a major problem for the overall value of a program, provide useful guidance for international course providers.

Teaching/learning styles

The question of teaching and learning style is an even more vexed one.

However, central to it for this study are at least two questions. How did these Asian Muslim students react to constructivist learning styles, which might have been different from those experienced in their previous education? Did the students have concerns about the presentation style of these programs?

August 2007Australian Journal of Teacher Education

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