Amelia Dunn for SBS

The pathway to becoming a teacher for those with qualifications from overseas can be complicated in Australia, potentially blocking thousands from joining the industry. A special master's degree is helping to fix that.

For Chinese language teacher Yongfei Lin, education is her lifelong passion. So when she migrated to Australia, getting professionally accredited was paramount.

"Teaching for over 15 years, it's become part of my life. It's a habit,” she told SBS News.

But even with years of teaching experience, transferring her qualifications from China to Australia was complicated, and much of her study was not accepted.

"Few of the units can be transferred because the system is absolutely different. Western and Eastern style, and also with the language difference and the pedagogies [teaching methods]."

Now, with the help of a special university course, Ms Lin is preparing to be able to work in an Australian school in just a year's time.

She is one of 60 teachers studying a Master of Teaching through the Sydney Institute for Community Languages Education (SICLE) and its university partners Western Sydney University and the Australian Catholic University.

Its aim is to offer a smooth pathway into the mainstream teaching system within Australian schools.

The cohort has just finished their first year of the degree and will continue their studies after the summer break. 

SICLE director Professor Ken Cruickshank said Ms Lin's story is not isolated. His research estimates 6,000 teachers are currently locked out of the system.

"We did a study last year of the teachers in the NSW community languages schools and what we found is that 80 per cent of the 3,000 teachers want to be teachers in Australia, but only two per cent have made it,” he said.

“You've got this huge pool of teachers with skills in science, maths, languages, who are unable to get into the system."

Professor Cruickshank said the process is currently over-complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

“It's a lack of information, it’s not knowing where to go, it’s how to upgrade qualifications, it’s how to get their English improved; there’s no pathway for them."

The vast majority of those enrolled in the Master of Teaching - considered the only one of its kind in Australia - are also women, many of whom have children.

For that reason, the course has been built to be flexible, offering classes at the weekend, online and during school holidays. 

Program manager Maya Cranitch says the course is “tailor-made” to suit all timetables.

“It allows people who have children and jobs, and are still working in community language schools on Saturday, to participate … and fits in with all these various responsibilities,” she said. 

It also includes career advice and English language support.

The course has not only reached qualified teachers from overseas, but also other university graduates with relevant qualifications or experience.

Armenian-born IT professional Anna Chokekchyan is also completing the course. She rediscovered her passion for teaching when she volunteered to work at Toomanian Saturday School, an Armenian school in Sydney.

She is planning to use her expertise to teach business and commerce to high schoolers.

"At the age of 42, I decided to listen to my heart … and this is how I started my first steps in professional teaching,” she said.

Professor Cruickshank says the teaching workforce is ageing in Australia, meaning the country must prepare for a huge demand of teachers - especially in STEM and languages - in the future.

Employing a more diverse range of teachers should also be front of mind, he says. 

"Our problem here is that although something like 20 per cent of our students have a language other than English at home, only about 10 per cent of teachers do.

“We need teachers in the schools who are bilingual and are bicultural. That's the benefits."

Ms Chokekchyan agrees.

"This is an opportunity for teaching staff to appreciate their [students'] cultural identity and to inspire them to preserve it,” she said.

“That's actually something that teachers with other backgrounds can bring into multicultural Australia's education."

School students in New South Wales are set to reap those benefits from teachers like Ms Lin and Ms Chokekchyan by 2022.

The course is set to accept another 100 teachers in 2021.

On its website, the NSW Department of Education states: "If you have completed teacher education studies at a tertiary institution outside of Australia and would like to teach in NSW public schools, you will need to be accredited by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and gain approval to teach by the NSW Department of Education."

"To apply for permanent teaching positions in NSW public schools you will need to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident."

(Original article from SBS)

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