While teaching primary school students in the Solomon Islands, ACU student Tim Gilbert believes he learned as much from them as he taught.
Mr Gilbert is one of 20 third year primary education students given the opportunity to travel to the Solomon Islands each year for a four-week teaching placement – a program that has been running for almost 10 years and is making a difference not only to the future teachers but the local community.
“It taught me not to take for granted what we have here in Australia, and made me realise a lot of people take education for granted,” he said.
“On the Solomon Islands they respect education highly as a means of being able to receive a job and actually have a salary and the experience taught me a lot about how important education is to future of children.”
With many of the children having English as a fourth or fifth language, and with limited resources, students are also challenged in their teaching methods.
“You learn a lot of strategies for teaching children with English as an additional language, and methods to allow me to portray a lesson and the content I want to while engaging the students.”
ACU Ballarat’s deputy head of school education and Solomon Islands project leader Dr Mellita Jones said the overseas teaching placement, funded under the federal government’s Colombo Plan, made a difference to the students and the Solomon Islands.
The program recently won another three years of government funding, which will allow ACU to increase the number of teaching students it takes to the Solomon Islands to 30 per year.
“We have done research in to the impact and outcomes for the local community. Their school has got the highest literacy rate in the country and that has never happened before, which they attribute to the English classes of our pre-service teachers,” Dr Jones said.
“They’ve seen increased enrolment through secondary year levels, and education is not compulsory, and students seem to be able to problem solve better and ask questions. There’s a waiting list to get in to the school and we’ve seen a huge difference in the teachers.”
Dr Jones said the overseas teaching placement was part of the ACU belief in educating the whole person, not just providing the academic skills they need for a job.
“The Solomon Island program fits in to that community engagement with a more holistic education. We pursue the idea that we increase our students’ cultural awareness and global awareness as well as developing some really good skills for classroom teaching back in Australia,” she said.
Each year Virgin Australia donates 23kg of luggage space free per participant, which they pack with donated school supplies, and fundraising has allowed the ACU program to build the first library on the island.
On Sunday ACU will host its annual Open Day in Ballarat for prospective students. The Aquinas campus in Mair Street will be open from 10am to 2pm for visitors to discuss study options with experts, talk to academics and current students, and get a sense of what their future might be like at the university.
“ACU offers so much more than simply a place to study. Our students come to us from a variety of backgrounds and they leave us with a combination of professional skills and personal aptitude that will have a genuine impact throughout their lives and their careers,” said campus dean Professor Bridget Aitchison.
“Employers value their ability to think critically and apply ethical principles to their work.”
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