EMBEDDING INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCE: TEACHING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS HOW TO THINK CRITICALLY AND COMMUNICATE ACROSS CULTURES
In Australia the topic of English language proficiency in higher education is not new. With the rapid progress of global higher education, universities in other countries are now also prompted to address the complex issues of learning and teaching in multilingual environments. Consequently many universities are seeking better ways for non-English background speaking students to develop their language proficiency. Like most western English speaking countries, Australia uses standardized entry test which allow students, once they have achieved their required score, to enrol into their programs with the expectation to be sufficiently equipped for disciplinary study.
This process has now been recognised as insufficient. Graduates have been found to be lacking intercultural communication skills as well as the ability to think critically. In early March 2009, the Australian Universities Quality Agency AUQA) has responded to these findings by distributing the so called ‘Good Practice Principles for English language proficiency for international students’. In these guidelines language proficiency is defined as ‘the ability of students to use the English language to make and communicate meaning in spoken and written context while completing their university studies’ not identifying intercultural communication and critical thinking as valid skills in their own right.
Against this background it will be argued that in the global university climate, where the number of international students is often disproportionally high, language proficiency without the ability to think critically does not prepare adequately for tertiary study. If the abilities to critically analyse and communicate across context and cultures are considered global tertiary graduate attributes, students need to be taught how to develop those skills. Examples and strategies will be discussed with reference to course content, assessment tasks and the use of Blackboard.