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The world is your oyster: embedding international experiences in teacher education

19 March 2020

According to Gone International: Rising Aspirations data, the outward mobility participation rate for education students is 2.2% compared to 7.8% for the whole cohort. Historically, there have been no opportunities for education students at the University of Dundee to have an international teaching experience, so it was important to develop this opportunity to increase engagement in our education programme.

We have embedded a core module into our primary teacher education programme to allow students the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge of international education settings.

We want to help students to develop transferable skills and develop their understanding of international pedagogies and curricula such as the International Baccalaureate. We hope that this experience will help transform their practice as well as develop them as a person.

How it works

The MA (Hons) Education is a 4-year professional degree programme that allows students to qualify as primary teachers. Throughout the programme, students undergo professional teaching placements in Scottish primary schools. In their second year, they have the opportunity to undertake an international placement for either 6 or 8 weeks.

Over the years we have built relationships with many partner organisations, and students have taught across the world including Australia, China, Sri Lanka and Malawi. In addition to this, we promote Erasmus funding and send students to various European countries for an 8-week internship with partner schools.

Lessons learned

So, what are the lessons we have learned about facilitating an international experience among students who previously haven't had the opportunity for an international experience?

  • Firstly, it needs to be embedded into the degree programme – not just seen as an optional add on. This core module is part of the students' degree, it is not an elective. As such, it is assessed like any other module. When we designed the assessment, we kept it as open and flexible as possible in order to account for individual placements
  • Secondly, promote it early. We discuss the opportunity for international internships to prospective students at open days and careers fairs. We address it with students at interview stage and many students have told us that having this opportunity was the reason why they chose the Education programme at the University of Dundee. We promote the placement throughout first year and the beginning of second year and we help students identify what sort of placement they would like to go on
  • Thirdly, we take time to source suitable placements and work hard at building strong relationships with our placement providers so that we can offer placements to as many students as possible

Programme impact

We have seen our numbers for outward international experience rise year on year with provisional figures for next year suggesting that 50% of students may undertake an international placement.

Evaluations from students consistently said that this placement can be life-changing both personally and professionally. Some students have stated that it made them decide to pursue their career in international schools. For other students, it has either been their first time abroad on their own or their first time abroad.

One student, who had two children, took her family on the internship with her. She wanted her children to experience living and learning in another culture and enrolled them into the school in Spain where she was teaching. Two years on and they are now living and working full-time in southern Spain – life changing indeed.

What do the students say?

Year on year, students comment on how this has developed their confidence, maturity and communication skills. Some comments from students reflecting on their time abroad:

'My international experience was the highlight of my four years at Dundee.' Teaching in an international school, Spain

'I have come back from France a changed person. It has actually made me a happier person.' Teaching in a primary school, France.

'My placement was the most amazing experience ever. I have learnt so much about myself and about the sort of teacher I want to be. Living with a host family really helped me develop my German' Teaching in an international school, Germany.

'This was the most challenging thing I have ever done. It was hard but I have learnt so much about myself and I feel so much more confident now' Volunteering for a community outreach project, Sri Lanka.

Final thoughts

The development of the students' international placement has also had a big impact on myself and my colleagues. My increased knowledge of Erasmus+ led me to put in a successful International Credit Mobility bid (a first for the University of Dundee) and prompted me to build new partnerships with institutions to promote staff outward international mobility. This in turn has led to an increase in incoming students coming to Dundee to do a placement in Scottish schools. Developing internationalisation placements for student teachers has not only impacted on them, but also on the whole school and beyond.

Susan Buckman, Lecturer of Education, School of Education and Social Work at the University of Dundee


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