Johnson Partners Diversity Series – Stanley Wang
Winner of the Education category in the 2021, 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards is Taiwanese-Australian, Stanley Wang.
Winner of the Education category in the 2021 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards is Taiwanese-Australian, Stanley Wang.
Currently Principal at Abbotsford Primary School in Victoria, Stanley Wang is the Education sector winner of the 2021 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards. As an educational leader, he has instigated shifts towards diversity and inclusion within language teaching teams, also enabling students to engage with their studies whilst appreciating the contribution mixed races make towards a country’s cultural identity. Johnson Partners caught up with Stanley to discuss the role a bilingual education plays to help foster multiculturism, in turn discovering his ambitions to strengthen intercultural exchanges beyond the school gate.
JP Born in Taiwan, at age nine you visited your aunt in Melbourne, taking the opportunity to spend four weeks at a local primary school. Despite speaking no English, you soon returned without your parents to attend classes permanently in Australia. One year later, your parents joined you. Now Principal at Abbotsford Primary School, how have your experiences as an international student affected your approach to the academic and pastoral care of your students?
I would attribute my interest in bilingual education and intercultural communication back to the experience of coming to Australia at the age I did. Academically, I am a strong advocate for understanding bilingualism as something very innately human and approaching language teaching in a way that capitalises on the diverse linguistic resources multilingual children come to our classrooms with. In terms of pastoral care, I am a strong believer of explicitly teaching intercultural understanding from a young age, which I think is more important than ever for both students and teachers.
JP You graduated Dux of School at Haileybury (attending with a music scholarship) and studied Arts and Commerce at the University of Melbourne. So what led you down the linguistic path?
I found learning English from scratch at the age of nine quite a challenge. As a result, at school, I invested a lot of effort into music, essentially because I did not have to rely on my limited English to do well in it; and Japanese and French because I seemed to be much quicker and more comfortable in dealing with different linguistic patterns having had the experience of learning English as an additional language already. This absolutely fostered my love for languages, and linguistics at university became an obvious choice. Nowadays, I see learning languages as a cognitive workout and a humbling experience that is great for character building, whether that is in Korean, Finnish or Auslan.
JP Since commencing work at Abbotsford in 2020, school enrolment has soared, resulting in extensive waitlists for every academic year. Tell us about the key changes you have made there and how students are responding.
To be honest, the biggest change I have brought to Abbotsford has been transforming it into a bilingual school rather than a mainstream school with a bilingual program. The difference might seem nuanced, but when you start to view every aspect of leading a school through a bilingual lens, you would make very different curricular and managerial decisions. I think the consolidation of our bilingual identity and sharpening of focus on delivering bilingual education at the highest international standards have sent a very different message to our students, staff and school community. For a school that had never had a bilingual leader (before me), I think this has been my greatest value add.
JP You have led cultural shifts towards diversity and inclusion within language teaching teams at both Haileybury and Abbotsford. For example, you have ensured that Chinese, French and Japanese teachers include both native and non-native speakers, and among the native speakers, they must represent different sub-cultures. What are the benefits of this for students?
I think there are two main benefits, for both students and teachers. Firstly, for students, seeing diversity within teams of language teachers help to challenge the notion that you must be a native speaker of the language to be successful at the language, or that language study is only relevant for those with that heritage background. For native-speaking teachers, interacting with non-native colleagues can help them to understand how their own language is learnt and what challenges learners face. For non-native teachers, native-speaking colleagues serve as additional exposure and opportunities for maintaining their own proficiency.
Secondly, by having a diverse team of languages teachers, both students and teachers learn to appreciate that in practice, languages are full of variations, used by people across various political borders, forever evolving, and never as ‘standardised’ as they appear in textbooks. This mindset is essential for normalising, embracing and respecting diversity, which I argue is a core purpose of language education.
“Normalising frequent and small dosages of global engagement in our daily life helps to reframe the reality in front of us as something shared globally, rather than “us vs. them.” It is often through this change of perspective and exposure to the world outside our own bubble where we find inspirations that turn into innovations. ”Stanley Wang
JP Your career in education has ascended on a steep trajectory since you completed your Teach For Australia Associateship and Masters thesis on Language Policy. You were invited to join Haileybury College as the Head of Languages across five campuses in Australia and China, introducing a Chinese curriculum to non-Chinese background students, resulting in a record number of them undertaking Chinese as a second language. This garnered your recognition as one of the ‘Rising Stars – the Next Generation of Education Leaders’ by The Educator Magazine for departmental leadership. Are the numbers of non-Chinese background students completing Mandarin for their year 12 studies steadily soaring across the country, and in years to come, do you think other Asian languages are likely to replace the ‘classics’ including French and Italian?
The number of non-background students taking Chinese is unfortunately nowhere near ‘soaring.’ By senior secondary, it is very much a story of the Chinese (teachers) teaching Chinese (language) to the Chinese (background students). A rank-based, choice-based high-stake exam system unfortunately disincentivises non-background speakers to continue with their studies (as opposed to other systems around the world where language exams are mastery-based and simply compulsory.) Interestingly, the number of students now studying Chinese in Victorian primary schools is at a record high, but with such limited time devoted to this challenging language, many students struggle to feel a sense of empowerment after 7 years of primary and end up picking a different language in secondary school.
JP Prior to joining Abbotsford, you re-connected with your Taiwanese roots, joining Teach For Taiwan in Taipei as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) and then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) where you focused on developing a strategic blueprint that would see it leverage its growing alumni network to deepen the impact it had on the communities it served. Can you tell us more about your role and achievements when based there?
The idea of the CSO position was to develop a strategic blueprint for the next phase of the organisation which I would then lead as the CEO (…until COVID threw a spanner in my life plans). At the time, Teach For Taiwan’s main fellowship program had taken shape, and year by year we had alumni with great leadership potential completing the fellowship and looking for ways to collectively tackle issues around educational inequity. Internally, however, the organisation still operated like an early-stage start-up that lacked essential processes and functions to support its expanding operation. My job was about supporting alumni to enter key positions of influence within the education system while developing key functions internally. In 2020, 94% of our alumni continued to work in schools or high-impact routes within education after the fellowship, and 96% reported feeling connected to the TFT mission post-fellowship. These were extremely high levels of engagement by global standards.
JP You’ve said that your career objective as an educator has always been focused on preparation of the next generation’s intercultural capability and global citizenship, particularly regarding relations with Asia. Can you tell us about your establishment of sister school partnerships in China and Japan plus leading inter-school or inter-organisational projects with counterparts in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia?
I have always incorporated global engagement as a significant part of any role I have served in education. Normalising frequent and small dosages of global engagement in our daily life helps to reframe the reality in front of us as something shared globally, rather than “us vs. them.” It is often through this change of perspective and exposure to the world outside our own bubble where we find inspirations that turn into innovations. However, there are key skills and mindsets required to be able to engage effectively at a global level. This is why over the years working in schools I have tried to foster a culture of global engagement by:
- creating sister school partnerships;
- initiating inter-school projects for school leaders, teachers and students in many forms (e.g. co-hosting teacher conferences with other school leaders);
- arranging online TeachMeets for teachers;
- designing and explicitly teaching the intercultural cycle of learning through pen pal projects;
- implementing mystery gift box exchanges;
- organising online interviews (to find out whether certain cultural festivals really play out like how they are introduced through story books and textbooks);
- co-designing solutions to a global problem with a buddy class;
- implementing 1:1 language practice with buddies abroad (to build empathy and give encouragement).
JP Do you know the approximate number of bilingual schools within Australia and do you predict that the number of them will rise steadily over the long term to offer progressive language learning opportunities?
In Victoria, there are currently approximately 15 schools that I would say are offering bilingual programs of sorts (i.e. they teaching other curriculum areas through the target language as well as teach the target language), and across Australia, my rough estimate is that it would not exceed 35. Sadly, bilingual schools continue to be a niche rather than the norm, which is hardly reflective of global best practice and the reality of our multilingual make-up.
Despite many bilingual schools in Victoria having been established in the 1980s, the numbers have certainly not risen much over the last 40 years compared to other English-speaking countries such as Canada, the US and New Zealand where bilingual programs are seen as the pinnacle of 21st century education. By way of comparison, there are 300+ Chinese-English schools in the US (and close to 3,000 Spanish-English schools), and there are nine Chinese-English schools in Australia.
JP It sounds like we have a long way to go in Australia to embrace progressive language learning opportunities and intercultural capabilities. Why do you think we are so slow on the uptake?
I think it is largely an issue that Professor Michael Clyne famously coined in 2005 as the ‘monolingual mindset’ that is plaguing our society. With educational leadership representing one of the least linguistically and culturally diverse sectors in the country, it is hardly surprising that discussions around language education, bilingual education and Asia literacy intercultural capabilities struggle to gain momentum and are frequently put in the “too hard” basket. No matter how diverse the Australian population is, there seems to be little room outside of the home domain and cultural communities for people’s diverse languages, cultures, and identities to play a meaningful role.
JP Lastly, where do you see your career path taking you over the next ten years and what are your immediate goals?
My immediate goals are to lift the visibility of bilingual education and surface the inherent demand for bilingual education in light of our rapidly changing demographic composition. The aim is ultimately for our departments of education or the education market to respond with a strategic vision. From my experience as the Principal at Abbotsford Primary School, I see that the aims and benefits of bilingual education are as relevant and meaningful for families from a culturally and linguistically diverse background as for those who recognise the need for both languages and intercultural capabilities for our next generation to engage effectively globally.
Over the next 10 years, I would like to go beyond language education and the education system and be an advocate for intercultural competencies for all. A systemic societal issue like the monolingual mindset requires a systemic solution, and I believe the forms and avenues via which I can truly contribute and have impact would need me to go beyond the walls of formal education.