On June 26, I flew out to Fiji with 13 undergraduate students who were enrolled in degrees that would lead to qualifications in Education, Engineering, Architecture, Film and TV, and Fashion. It was an interesting evening – the check-in computer system had crashed at the Brisbane Airport so it was back to the good old days with pen and paper. We won the State of Origin and Kevin Rudd was the PM of Australia again. We checked in on Air Pacific in the evening and landed as passengers on Fiji Airways the next day. For me it was a history making event – it was going to be the first time I would have the opportunity to work with students from multidisciplinary teams in two primary schools in Fiji. I am sure the students shared similar views – for many it was their first trip to Fiji. Therefore, apart from the challenge of teaching (most were not training to be teachers), they were going to do so in a classroom which was quite different to what they were used to. They were also going to engage with adults and children from a very different cultural background in various activities. But all of us were pumped, excited and motivated….looking forward to what was to unfold.
This project was made possible through the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Engagement Innovation Grant in 2012. These grants involve a competitive application process and it enables the recipients to engage with external stakeholders that is consistent with the university’s Engagement Strategy. Graeme Baguley (Manager, International Student Services), Geoff Portmann (Associate Professor, Creative Industries Faculty), Martin Betts (Professor and Executive Dean – Faculty of Science and Engineering) and I were awarded the grant in August 2012. Graeme, Geoff and I met several times prior to the trip to give the project shape and direction. QUT staff – Zarina Shahban (International Student Services), Carly Lassig and Kathy Mills (Faculty of Education) also participated in the project in a range of activities.
There were many phone calls and emails sent to the schools and the stakeholders in the Sabeto village along with QUT Alumni in Fiji to fine tune the activities. The project involved a number of preparatory activities throughout Semester 1, 2013 with the field placement in Fiji from 27th June to 15th July 2013. While the project was very time consuming and challenging, it was an exciting venture.
The rationale of the Sabeto Schools and Community Project project was to provide QUT students with practical field experience and an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the community as a member of a multidisciplinary team in an international setting. For students to participate, they had to be enrolled full-time in the Faculties of Education, Science and Engineering, or Creative Industries.
Aims of the project
The aims of the placement (for students) was as follows:
- to work with their fellow students from three faculties to pursue the aims and design of the schools and community components of the project.
- to gain an understanding of the functioning of primary schools in Fiji, including the needs and aspirations in terms of ICT education.
- to design, develop and integrate ICT related activities in classrooms.
- to be given the opportunity to observe and interact with members of the Sabeto Village community and pursue common aims in a community based project.
- to be provided with an opportunity for incidental learning via personal contact with teaching staff, primary school children and community members of the Sabeto district of Fiji.
- to build on communication skills in terms of improving their intercultural competencies.
- to develop lifelong friendships with teachers and members of the community.
The learning environment
This project was focussed on the Sabeto community which is a rural settlement in the Sabeto Valley in Fiji. The valley is nestled at the base of the Sleeping Giant Mountain range, approximately 15 minutes drive from Nadi Airport. Not far from the Sabeto village is a series of thermal mud pools that are used by the villagers for a variety of traditional purposes.
The two participating schools in the project were the Sabeto District and Sabeto Central Schools. Here the students spent the first week integrating classroom activities that utilised ICT. In the second week the students spent their time in the Sabeto village where the key activities undertaken were the filming of village stories and developing sewing/fashion skills of the villagers.