ACU (Australian Catholic University)

Insight

Issue 7, Summer 2012

A time to teach

Education students in Vanuatu Bachelor of Education/ Early Childhood students Jessica Kenny and Imelda Finnegan with Melanie Muniz (BA/BT), Shea Bromley (BA/BT), Michelle Bray (BEd) and Frank Flaviano (BA/BT) in Vanuatu

For a group of ACU students, their recent Vauatu experience involved more than cloud-wreathed volcanoes, plummeting waterfalls and picture-perfect beaches. Margie Dimech spoke to the volunteer teachers about life in the village. 

Six students from ACU’s Strathfield Campus recently spent two weeks on a remote island in Vanuatu, working at Arep School in the province of Torba.

Completing studies in early childhood, primary or secondary education, the students travelled to the archipelago thanks to a partnership between ACU, Rotary, and the government of Vanuatu. 

Dr Marie Quinn, Literacy Education Lecturer, said the students supervised exams and taught classes in collaboration with the local teachers. 

“We participated in extra-curricular sport programs, were involved in community activities including celebrating Solomon Islands’ Day and even taught the students how to use flip cameras,” she said. 

“Speaking in English could be difficult for the students and they sometimes got embarrassed about speaking to people from Australia. Sometimes they are shy, which is part of the culture, but people were happy to see us there and we wanted to make sure what we are doing up there is educationally sound.”

With no access to the internet or running water and with limited access to power, the six undergraduate students – Jess Kenny, Imelda Finnegan, Melanie Muniz, Shea Bromley, Michelle Bray and Frank Flaviano - experienced a cultural setting entirely different to any classroom they had encountered.

“The island we were on was quite small and remote and didn’t have running water or electricity,” said Jess. “It wasn’t a place that tourists usually visit. 

“Half the school is taught in English, and half is taught in French, but these are second languages for the children as they all spoke (the creole language) Bislama.” 

Jess said the process for acquiring teaching qualifications in Vanuatu was vastly different to in Australia. 

“The teachers build up their hours of experience in a school and then, when they can afford to, they go to a teachers’ college,” she said. 

“This is obviously different to Australia where we go to uni first, learn how to teach and then get a job. 

“As a consequence many of the teachers speak broken English, meaning the students don’t have a good opportunity to learn English correctly. While we were there what the teachers really wanted from us was to model the English language.

“The children are so grateful for everything you do, and they are so excited. I was in the Year 1 and 2 composite classroom for English and they had never had an Australian person in
their classroom before. Working with the students and having them so interested in everything we taught or showed them was very rewarding. I found they valued the classroom experience much more because not everyone gets the opportunity to go to school.”

Dr Quinn said the ACU students were a resourceful and highly professional group who made close links with the school and the community in the short time that they were there. 

“They taught with friendliness, respect and a sense of fun,” she said. “The community is very welcoming and appreciative that our students come to Vanuatu to share ideas and work with the children.”

If you are studying education at ACU’s Strathfield Campus and are interested in participating in the 2013 program contact Dr Marie Quinn for more information at marie.quinn@acu.edu.au

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