Times does fly when you are well tuned into whatever you are doing. We fly out tomorrow. Entering a classroom in Fiji almost 25 years later has been a unique experience. The last three weeks have been most rewarding – both professionally and personally. Two things standout – the respect that children have for their teachers and secondly the value they place on education.
We arrived here with lots of uncertainties – not sure on how our initiatives and ideas would pan out. We feel that at Naidovi most of the teachers were able see the value our initiatives would add to their exiting classroom pedagogies. The library cataloguing that we setup was working and it made sense to the teachers. Some staff members had gained sufficient knowledge to continue with this process (including updating of the catalogue spreadsheet) as more books were to their collection.
With the laptops, while there was still an issue of getting reasonable internet access, the software that we had uploaded to the laptops was sufficient to get the teachers to design suitable activities for their students. The professional learning of the teachers had to be continued – one of the ways in which this could be done was through emails and Skype.
From what we had seen and heard from education officers, head teachers, principals, and teachers – the need for teachers’ professional development was evident. It is only through such professional learning that books, laptops and robotic kits can be used to their full potential in classrooms. Such initiatives can also justify the efforts of the many donors – (not just those who donate resources to schools in Fiji). There is also a need to develop a culture of self-reliance – while it is good to donate resources to set schools up, it also important that they do not become over reliant on them. The critical question is what happens when these resources when they reach their use by date. How will they be replaced? Relying too much on donations can create uncertainty and disruptions to school work. Teachers and students both need access to quality resources. A possible way to make such initiatives sustainable is by imposing a small resources levy on students each year. For a school of 400 students, a $10 a year levy can generate $12,000 over three years. Such a policy can generate sufficient funds for schools to renew their print and digital resources periodically.
This has been one of the most rewarding professional and personal learning experiences for us. We have seen not only the other side of the digital divide, but there is also evidence of a print divide. What we have taken here is a baby step towards addressing the bigger challenge of how such issues can be tackled in countries like Fiji. There is clear evidence of teachers who want to teach and students who want to learn. Such a project is most definitely worth doing!