Border restrictions as a result of COVID-19 have, and continue to, impact education providers in Australia who have CRICOS registration. The once flourishing abundance of international students arriving to study in our country have ground to a halt leaving a void of cultural richness in our local schools.
So, what is happening behind the scenes and who are the voices representing each State and Territory working to see the return of international students…? Mr Taliessin Raeburn, Director, International Education & Tourism at Department for Trade and Investment chairs South Australia’s initiative to return international students and has regularly met with schools through Study Adelaide forums to provide regular briefs on current discussions he and his interstate colleagues are having with State, Territory and Commonwealth agencies including the Department for Education.
Whilst there has been no Commonwealth Government media release suggesting the exact date, Taliessin acknowledged that significant discussions were regularly taking place with a view to finding a way to get students back quickly and safely. He has confirmed that South Australia was the first State in Australia to receive Federal government approval for the return of international students based on, the submission of a return plan approved by South Australia’s Chief Health Officer, and a purpose built quarantine facility located at Parafield Gardens.
Despite this, NSW and VIC are most likely to be the first states to see the return of international students having achieved 80% double vaccination prompting the incumbent NSW Premier announcing ‘no quarantine requirements’ for fully vaccinated international arrivals. This sudden announcement has obviously prompted significant response Federally and is most likely to perhaps have other Premiers re-consider their student return plans. Regardless, it is generally accepted that those studying at tertiary level, and skilled migrants will be the first arrivals with school aged students to follow early/mid 2022.
But what about the students who have been unable to return to their home countries, how has this affected them, what impact has this had on their schools, and will schools need to rethink how to support students when they eventually return to our shores…?
Talk with any of the boarding schools who have international students that did not return home because of COVID-19 and they will tell you the monitoring of student wellbeing became overwhelming. Where schools would typically see students return to their home country at semester breaks, they have had to schedule meaningful activities to occupy the students time and comfort their feelings of homesickness. Some schools collaborated and shared these activities including combined day excursions, camps, and even allowing their students to accommodate in each other’s boarding facility with a dual purpose, to create a greater friendship network for students, and provide a break for boarding staff.
Study Adelaide has continued to provide a variety of initiatives to support international students over the pandemic including, but not limited to, free social events, summer smart packs, Easter & Christmas gifts, and combining with Foodbank. Universities and education agents continue to offer varies activities and services to support students.
So, what lessons have schools learnt because of COVID-19, how might they do things differently when students once again return to our shores, and will they want to return…?
What became evident was the significant role performed by a schools International Coordinator at maintaining communication with families offshore. Constantly reassuring families about the safety and wellbeing of their children including providing positive images in the classroom and participation in fun activities. Smiling and happy faces will generally comfort parents. Equally, the role of the Principal to regularly send video messages demonstrates the school’s responsibility to keep families informed.
School’s also recognized the psychological support students will provide to each other and the importance to increase their network of friends where possible. Events such as birthdays and home country cultural traditions should be celebrated, and efforts made to include participation in local western celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, etc. This might include asking parents of local students if an international student can join their family to join the celebration.
If a positive can be drawn from the past 18 months it might be how schools came together, shared their experiences in supporting international students and openly collaborated. Equally, local government support and initiatives highlighted to parents our priority to care for their children. I believe the efforts schools provided over the past 18 months, combined with SA/NT handling of COVID-19 will have international students arriving in our airports once borders are open.
I am sure by the time this goes to print there will have been new announcements, and hopefully, a date when students will return.
by Steve Eden