ACU immersion program that takes pre-service teachers to Solomon Islands wins Uniservitate Award

The leaders of a program that takes Australian Catholic University (ACU) pre-service teachers to live and teach in Solomon Islands have been named winners of a Uniservitate Award. 

Associate Professor Dr Mellita Jones, Dr Renata Cinelli, Mary Gallagher and Dr Lily-Claire Deenmamode from ACU's National School of Education are the joint winners of the Uniservitate Award (Asia and Oceania regional hub) for their work on the Solomon Islands Teacher Education Immersion Program.

The award is presented by Uniservitate, an international program led by the Latin American Center for Service-learning (CLAYSS) that promotes service-learning in Catholic higher education. All winners receive €5,000 and the opportunity to attend the III Uniservitate Symposium being co-hosted for the first time at ACU’s Rome Campus from 26 to 30 October. 

Every year, ACU undergraduate education students are given an opportunity to live and teach in Solomon Islands for one month, supported by staff of ACU’s National School of Education. In Solomon Islands, ACU students and staff live in similar conditions to the locals, including living with limited or no power, limited access to fresh water, shopping and cooking with traditional and locally accessible foods, and use of local transport. 

Over 200 ACU undergraduate students and three in-country Solomon Island schools have participated in the program since its inception in 2009.  

The immersion program secured a three-year New Colombo Mobility Grant in 2019 from the Australian Federal Government. The grant covered the travel cost for pre-service teachers, and the supply of computers and Internet to one of the partnering schools to deliver an online program. 

Through the program, ACU was also able to support the Archdiocese of Honiara in establishing a new school for children who come from extreme poverty. 

St Vincent de Paul Primary School was established in 2019to support a community parent group who wanted to teach their children, who could not access education, to read and write. 

“Due to our existing partnership with Catholic schools in Honiara, we worked with the Catholic Education Office to assist fundraising to build classrooms and a toilet block on the site,” Dr Jones said.  

“In 2019 we also had our pre-service teachers work with the parent teachers and children for a four-week teaching program in the school.”  

Dr Jones, who has led the Solomon Island immersion program for 14 years, said the team hoped to use the award prize money to install solar panels at St Vincent’s, which currently has no access to electricity, and to provide ICT professional learning for staff at another school.  

When it came to the experience of ACU students, Dr Jones said the research showed the program had a significant impact on the lives of pre-service teachers. 

“Our research shows that it impacts pre-service teachers in profound ways, with many of them making substantial changes to their own lives on return to Australia, for example, being less consumer-driven and more family focused, and even teaching about equity and access issues and opportunities to Australian children once they graduate,” Dr Jones said. 

“The program has also changed the way education is perceived at the participating schools, leading to increased enrolments and longer waiting lists at one of our participating schools, as well as teachers reporting increased literacy rates and improved confidence.” 

National Head of ACU’s School of Education, Professor Donna King, congratulated the program leaders for being recognised by the Uniservitate Awards. 

“Dr Mellita Jones, Dr Renata Cinelli, Mary Gallagher and Lily-Claire Deenmamode are to be congratulated for their hard work and dedication in ensuring that our students are inspired and challenged to be outstanding educators, not just in Australia, but in Solomon Islands,” Professor King said. 

“Thanks to our inspiring educators, the Solomon Islands Teacher Education Immersion Program at ACU has become one of the highlights for our education undergraduate degree. 

“At ACU we pride ourselves on preparing and equipping our future teachers to be impactful and inspiring in any classroom around the world.” 

 ACU will accept the Uniservitate Award at the regional ceremony in Manila on September 7.


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