A characteristic of today’s society is increased mobility across borders, which poses a challenge for teacher education in many countries. Future teachers need to reflect upon the changed conditions for learning and education.
Moreover, teachers have to facilitate a multicultural classroom in all types of schools in order to meet the needs of children from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. These new challenges require the development of an international perspective in teacher education, which is the main task of this course for international student teachers.
Comparative Educational Studies is an exchange programme taught at the Faculty of Arts and Education at the University of Stavanger. This is a one semester exchange package that offers students of teacher education programmes a comparative view of educational systems and practical work in fields as diverse as inclusive education, migration, music or drama. The programme admits mainly exchange students from European Erasmus+ partners, but accepts also other students on exchange.
Four weeks practice
In Comparative Educational Studies the two courses «Inclusive Education» and «Music Crossing Borders» are compulsory, and students can choose one of the two optional modules «Migration and Intercultural Relations» or «Drama in Early Childhood Education». The students can also choose the course «Extension Module: School Experience». Caroline Walsh from Ireland chose this course and learned a lot from it.
«The course included a period of four weeks of practice in a local school where we learned a lot about Norwegian culture and the Norwegian school system. I think this course was one of the best things about the study programme. It was really interesting», Caroline says.
Embrace the opportunity
Caroline Walsh is a primary school teacher student at St. Patricks College Drumcondra in Dublin. This semester she attended the Comparative Educational Studies at the University of Stavanger with other international students from all over Europe. All instruction is in English and the course is offered in the spring term. Two of Caroline’s class mates are Maria Rubio from Spain, a kindergarten and primary school teacher student at the Universidad Católica de Valencia San Vicente Mártir and Sophia Bosch, a pre-school teacher student at Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany.
«I have learned so much this semester. Not only about the school system here in Norway and Norwegian culture, but also from my class mates. I also discovered new things about my self when I decided to embrace the opportunity and just pack my bags and leave for the unknown. The course environment is really good because everyone are in the same position which forced us all to be open minded, and it ended with all of us getting friends for life», Caroline says.
Living and studying in an unfamiliar environment offers students the opportunity to rediscover the familiar, everyday life and culture at home and become aware of differences. Such an experience can provide new perspectives on the previous school experiences and on the future task as role models for children. The outcome of studying abroad is, therefore, more than academic outcomes.
«Developing friendships and mutual understanding between people of different nations is important for the teaching profession and is of value in itself», Sophia Bosch says.
She and her class mates are also impressed with the support from the International Students Union in Stavanger, ISU. They all felt included and were really happy about the events that ISU arranged at campus. They conclude that the University of Stavanger has a good environment for international students.
Sophia chose Comparative Educational Studies because she had learned that Norway has one of the best educational systems in the world. She wanted to learn how the Norwegian school system works and maybe implement some of the methods when she starts working as a pre-school teacher in Germany. Maria chose Comparative Education Studies because she thought it looked interesting.
«This has been a really great experience and I have learned a lot about how different educational systems in different countries works. All the students in my class have been open-minded and we have helped each other out. It has been great and I don’t regret taking this semester abroad as an exchange student».
The students will return home this summer, but they say they never will forget the exchange experience at the University of Stavanger.
«This semester will always be a main part of our lives», Caroline says.
Text and photo: Maria Gilje Torheim