Improving cultural understanding through international teacher collaboration

AAYLF delegate from the Philippines Ben Duggan highlights the integral role that teachers play in society and shares ideas on future opportunities for collaboration between ASEAN and Australia in this area.

Teachers around the world seek to answer the same question: ‘how can I best help students to learn?’ From Sydney to Singapore, this common quest to teach effectively creates a bond, a shared understanding of the hope, joy, and wonder of teaching.

Governments are seeking to answer a similar but different question: ‘how can we improve student learning outcomes [8]?’ Multilateral forums and institutions such as ASEAN and the OECD showcase how nations are grappling with this difficult challenge. While various education barriers exist around the world, including funding, infrastructure, materials, and gender, there is one policy challenge that is the most important to address.

It is widely acknowledged that teacher quality is the most important indicator of success in a school system [5,7]. A high-quality teacher is one who constantly seeks to learn, reflect and improve while supporting colleagues to improve their practice [6]. We also know is that a great teacher in Jakarta is also a great teacher in Bangkok [3].


While we understand the importance of teacher quality, more must be done to support and empower teachers with the resources they need to succeed. Governments should continually invest in evidence-based initiatives that support all teachers to be excellent.

Evidence shows that opportunities where teachers can exchange ideas, learn from each other, and collaboratively solve challenges, teacher quality improves [4]. Teachers are natural collaborators, working together to create and share resources, interpret data, and improve their instructional practice, but they need structure and clear guidance.  

Schools are increasingly investing time and resources into establishing and refining more formal professional learning communities (PLCs) [2]. PLCs are proven to improve the passion, practice, and connection of teachers. The common experience and shared bond of teachers makes PLCs possible on an international level.

I distinctly remember having a cold drink on a hot afternoon in New Delhi with a reflective young educator. I had only spent a few hours with him, observing teachers he was coaching, but already the conversation was flowing. After our discussion ended, I wondered how many other educators would benefit from such a connection, fostered through a more formal international exchange or dialogue.


From ‘tweet chats’ and WhatsApp groups to blogs and Zoom collaborations, teachers are using technologies to connect online and shared ideas. Enhanced communications technology, increased access to the internet, and social media have made it increasingly possible for teachers living in different nations to work together and form strong ties.

While foreign policy efforts focused on improving economic and security ties are essential, it is the connection of people and communities within nations that will improve cultural understanding and promote peace [1]. Investing in international PLCs where teachers from diverse nations come together would support this aim.

Governments of ASEAN states and Australia should support the development of a South-East Asia & Australia Teachers Network. This Network would encourage and support initiatives and opportunities that foster international teacher-to-teacher collaboration through online PLCs. It could also act as a platform to share evidence-based teaching practice, spreading what works throughout the region.

International PLCs would improve the teaching quality of participants while also enhancing their intercultural understanding. It would also create new opportunities for teachers to connect their classrooms and establish new sister school relations.

ASEAN and Australian universities should also develop or expand student-teacher exchange programs. This would enable education students can develop intercultural understanding during their degree and provide advocates for international teacher collaboration.

Teachers are on the front line in the battle for intercultural understanding in our children. We should invest in building the capacity of these teachers as it will be through their efforts to inspire and nurture the next generation that we will see long-term peace and prosperity.


  1. Ang, I Isar, Y & Mar, P (2015) ‘Cultural diplomacy: beyond the national interest?’ International Journal of Cultural Policy 21:4, pp. 365-381
  2. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) (2017) ‘Professional Learning Communities’ AITSL Melbourne, Australia
  3. Clinton, J (2010) ‘Investigating the key characteristics of effective teachers: a systematic review’ Centre for Program Evaluation University of Melbourne, Australia
  4. Darling-Hammond, L (2010) ‘How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers’ Stanford Centre for Opportunity Policy in Education Stanford University
  5. Hattie, J (2003) ‘Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence?’ Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: What does the research tell us ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia.
  6. Mockler, N., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (2017). Teacher research: A knowledge-producing profession?. In Practice Theory Perspectives on Pedagogy and Education (pp. 215-230). Springer, Singapore.
  7. Rowe, K (2003) ‘The Importance of Teacher Quality As A Key Determinant of Students’ Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling, Australian Council for Education Research
  8. The World Bank (2019) ‘The Education Crisis: Being in School Is Not the Same as Learning’, The World Bank, via:, accessed 10/11/2019

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