Education and Arts

CEO of non-profit organisation receives Outstanding Community Engagement Award

Kate Shuttleworth did not imagine that her family trip to Cambodia in 2002 would prove to be so life-changing. The trip, which was supposed to be a break from corporate life, became a wake-up call prompting Kate to re-evaluate what was really important in life and make changes.

"The devastation and suffering my husband and I witnessed in Cambodia was overwhelming and it sparked a real desire to help. We started engaging in various forms of volunteer work related to the country and it put us on track for the establishment of SeeBeyondBorders in 2009."

A not-for-profit organisation, SeeBeyondBorders plays a critical role in improving access to quality education for children in Cambodia. It undertakes a three tiered approach – teacher education, development of school infrastructure and support for local families trying to educate their children.

Kate was awarded ACU's 2012 Student Award for Outstanding Community Engagement for her work with SeeBeyondBorders.

SeeBeyondBorders facilitates a two-week Teach the Teacher program that enables practicing Australian teachers to travel to Cambodia and model best-practice teaching methods to local teachers.

These workshops have a specific focus on improving and developing mathematics education skills. Currently they involve approximately 300 Khmer teachers, including 70 mentor teachers, across three locations in Cambodia. To date 42 volunteer teachers from Australia have participated in the program which is also accredited as a provider of professional development with the NSW Institute of Teachers (NSWIT).

Kate's own experiences as a teacher have been instrumental in providing appropriate and sustainable educational change.

"We did not want to simply impose a western model of educational professional development without any consideration of the cultural, economic and environmental context within which the teachers work.

 "One of the most significant understandings I gained through my Master of Educational Leadership program at ACU, was in relation to 'sustainability'. I learned that it is vital throughout the change process, to keep the concept of 'sustainability' at the forefront of planning and implementation. As change agents we must look at the effects the change will have on every aspect of the change environment. We then need to decide whether that particular aspect of change, or strategy, will have an impact that is likely to lead to resistance or ultimate failure of the change process that we are trying to implement."

To ensure that their work is sustainable SeeBeyondBorders collaborates with its local staff in Cambodia to ensure that the change is supported by the teachers and their local communities.

The strategy seems to be paying off.

While change has been slow, it is starting to show real benefits. Detailed evaluation reveals strengthened relationships between local teachers and their mentors. This ensures that teachers are able to implement the learnings from workshop in to their day-to-day teaching.

Teachers and students alike are using concrete materials in the classroom and demonstrate a real understanding of the need for mathematical conversation, student recording, questioning and reflection.

The program has also empowered the local staff to become more independent and take greater responsibility for everyday operations of the Cambodian offices, including organising workshops and monitoring staff.

"Recently, two of our education co-ordinators have started delivering some of the workshops themselves, including refresher workshops for the mentors. They have also put in place structures which help them share the achievements and challenges encountered by the mentor and mentee teachers."

The self-sufficiency and confidence which the program is building within the Cambodian educational community will ensure that the children of Cambodia have a strong educational future.

Today, they also have the support of the Provincial and District offices of education – an essential endorsement if they are to make a positive change to traditional teaching practices.

Under Kate's leadership, SeeBeyondBorders has touched the life of many Australians who have followed her path to build a better and sustainable educational system in Cambodia. She is currently a teacher at St Mary's Catholic School in Sydney.