It is quite rare to come across individuals (let alone students) who believe in undertaking proactive steps in their own time and using their own resources to enhance the quality of education in the developing world. Andrew Iddles is one of these individuals. I was privileged to have taught him in his third and fourth year of the Bachelor in Education (Primary) course at the Queensland University of Technology. In this blog, Andrew reflects on his experiences when he goes to Fiji for the second time….
After my experiences teaching in Taveuni, I was very keen to go back to Fiji on a similar project. Shortly after returning, I applied for the Mary and Carl Leonard International Relations Award, a scholarship made available for QUT students, through the generosity of Mary and Carl Leonard, who have devoted their lives to working in developing countries. In late 2014, I was fortunate enough to receive the scholarship. My project proposal that I submitted as part of my application was accepted. My plan was to return to Fiji for 6 weeks and volunteer in 3 schools – Naidovi Primary School, Balata High School and Toko Primary School. These three schools had all received support from the SEE Project to varying degrees. My project focussed on three broad objectives. I was very aware that the challenges and the strategies for achieving each objective would be quite different at each school. My project objectives were as follows:
- Work closely with teachers in their classrooms to gain an understanding of how ICT is implemented and supported to extend student learning.
- Share, engage and educate teachers about effective strategies for ICT integration by developing and implementing appropriate activities in classrooms.
- Conduct ICT-related professional development sessions for interested teachers outside of school hours.
Naidovi Primary School, Balata Secondary School and Toko Primary School January 25th – March 7th 2015
I spent my first three weeks teaching at Naidovi Primary School, which is located in Cuvu, a coastal district along the South Coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island.
I stayed at Gecko’s Resort for the three weeks, which was less than 2 km from the school. I must say a big thanks to all the staff and management who work their, who made me feel most welcome for the entire stay. The entertainment and food at this place was absolutely phenomenal. In fact, during my stay, guests from the nearby resorts would often come to eat and watch the Gecko’s performances.
It was at Gecko’s Resort where I met Sam, a man whose kindness has provided me with opportunities and experiences that I could of never even imagined. The fact that I was staying for three weeks at Gecko’s raised a few questions from the staff and management, as guests would normally stay for just two or three nights. I explained my project to those who asked and word started to get around. Sam heard through the grape vine that I was going to be teaching at Balata and Toko, so he came and found me and started the conversation… He explained that he and his family live in Tavua, a town that is situated between both schools, and he kindly offered for me to stay with his family for my final three weeks. I must admit at first I was a little hesitant – I had never experienced this sort of kindness in Australia, so I told Sam that I would think about it and let him know. Later that night I called Vinesh and explained the situation, and he told me how these sorts of generous gestures are just part of the Fijian culture, so he thought it was pretty likely that I would live to tell the tale… The next day I accepted Sam’s offer – YOLO.
Naidovi was the first school to receive support from The SEE Project in 2011 – the school received 12 laptop computers, 10 desktop computers, 10 LEGO robotics kits, 1 projector and 400 library books.
During my first two days at the school I observed a few classes, and spoke with many staff members about their successes and the challenges that they were facing when using ICT in their classrooms.
It was good to see that some of the teachers who were involved in classroom activities in 2011 were repeating similar activities with their classes three years later. One of the challenges that was brought to my attention in my first few days was that schools have little autonomy over staff employment. The result of this being that teachers who take up the role of encouraging and supporting the use of ICT in these schools, can be transferred at anytime. An instance of this in Naidovi was that the two teachers who had received professional development for teaching using LEGO robotics, had been transferred out of the school. Due to the unpredictable and untimely nature of these transfers, not enough information was shared with other staff members to be able to continue the LEGO robotics programs that were in place.
For the rest of my week 1, I worked with the two Year 7 and two Year 8 classes. I developed a sequence of lessons which used ICT, that were based on their current science units. In Year 7 the topic was deforestation, and in year 8 the topic was weather. The lessons I developed for each unit of work were similar, which was important because I wanted to show how one idea for using ICT can be used by other teachers in different year levels, and for other topics and subject areas. The lessons required students to create a computer presentation using Libre Impress, the Linux equivalent of Microsoft PowerPoint. These presentations could be used to educate their peers, friends, family and the community about what they have learned about deforestation and weather.
The students were able to access the internet to do further research about their topics, and also retrieve pictures that they could use to create more effective presentations. This provided the opportunity for students to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the topics, rather than being restricted to what was written in their science text book and the prior knowledge of their teacher. This also provided an opportunity for students to take more control of their learning, by focusing their additional research on areas that the student’s were of interest for them. The teachers for each class were encouraged to be active participants in the lessons, so that they could further develop pedagogy for teaching with ICT.
*Links to student presentations will be added soon*
The focus of my second week at Naidovi was LEGO robotics. I worked with classes from Year 3 – 8, and once again, teachers were encouraged to join me in the classroom to develop their own skills, knowledge and understanding. Robotics, like computers, when used effectively, provide students with learning experiences that are not only engaging, but also provider a deeper and broader understanding of concepts from a range of subject areas, such as science, maths, programming and engineering.
For my third week at Naidovi the main focus was on reorganising and recategorising the library, and to have all the students their first books for the year. Since receiving 400 books in 2011, the library had grown to contain approximately 1500 books; thanks to further donations from The SEE Project and volunteers from Japan.
During my time at the school, there was a visit from Fiji’s Minister of Education, Dr. Mahendra Reddy. This was a big event for the school and the local community, and it was a privilege to be able to meet him, as brief as it was.
This was a great opportunity for me to meet and socialise with the school staff from Cuvu College and other members of the community. To cater for the event, the Cuvu College staff made chicken pilau, dahl and a number of curries in the biggest stove pots I had ever seen…
It was sad to leave at the end of my three weeks at Naidovi. Fijian people have this amazing quality of making complete strangers feel right at home, just like part of the family, and the staff and students of Naidovi Primary School were no exception – Vinaka vakalevu.
I spent my next three weeks in Tavua, a small town located on the north coast of Fiji’s main island.
As I mentioned before, Sam invited me to stay with his family, who live in Tavua Village, one of Fiji’s larges Fijian villages. Living in the village was a unique cultural experience that I was so grateful for. In the village there is no warm water for showers, but the weather is hot, so it’s great! Cats, dogs, chickens and ducks wonder around outside, most of which are owned by people in the village. The roosters give a courteous wake up call, starting around 6 am, which always gave me just enough time to get ready for school – I just wish I could turn those alarms off on the weekend! In a Fijian village, everyone knows everyone, because everyone is family. . After staying there for three weeks, I not only felt like part of Sam’s family, but also part of the village.
I spent my next week at Balata High School, which is just 10 minutes drive east of Tavua.
Mr. Segran Pillay, the principal of Balata High School, heard ‘through the grape vine’ about the work that The SEE Project had been doing at Naidovi Primary School, and took the initiative to make a contact with The SEE Project, to see how he could get involved. In 2013 the school received 10 laptops, 1 projector and 1 video camera from The SEE Project. Thanks to Mr. Pillay’s passion, commitment and vision for the use of ICT in education, and the support from The SEE Project, the school now has:
- A computer lab with ~10 desktop computers, each with the Windows operating system. These computers are used for Computer Studies (a curriculum subject).
- A media room with ~40 desktop computers, each with the Edubuntu operating system. These computers are all on the school network, and have access to the internet. The media room also has a projector which is connected to a desktop computer.
- The school has a network, with a server and internet access.
- Each teacher has access to a personal laptop (supplied by the school if they do not have their own).
- Each classroom has a projector.
- The school has WiFi access for students and teachers to connect to using their devices (e.g. phones and laptops). This is for educational purposes only.
- Webcams, video cameras, digital cameras and projectors are available for teachers and students to borrow for use at school.
It was great to see that many staff were making the most of the opportunities that Segran was providing at the school. For example, in the picture below, the tech drawing teacher is using a webcam to project live footage of his worked example onto the whiteboard. The teacher is also using recording software on his laptop to make a video of his worked example, which he then was able to give to students on their USB’s, for them to take home and watch again. This is an excellent example of how when ICT is used effectively, it can enhance and extend the learning experiences for students.
Segran also shared some of the challenges that he was facing with ICT, which was a great insight into
I spent my final two weeks volunteering at Toko Primary School, which is located 10 minutes drive inland from Tavua town. The school received 25 desktop computers from The SEE Project in late 2014, and over the holidays two new computer rooms were set up with new furniture, air conditioning and WiFi.
I spent the first day setting up the computers in the newly build computer lab. I invited a few interested students to help, which provided a unique learning experience of how to set up a computer with the standard peripherals.
The majority of the students at the school had not used a computer ever before. So I spent my time running 30-60 minute computer lessons, teaching the students the basics, such as the names of different parts of a computer (e.g. mouse, keyboard, monitor), the different functions of the different mouse buttons, important keys on the keyboard, opening up computer programs, typing and mouse coordination. The students learned these basic skills through a range of free Edubuntu games (e.g. GCompris, TuxMath and TuxTyping), with intermittent explicit teaching moments.
After the students had developed a good understanding of the computer basics they created informative posters for the computer lab. To create their posters the students used the computer program Libre Writer.
On my last day at Toko Primary School, the school celebrated Holi, the Hindu festival of colours. It was a great cultural experience, filled with traditional food, music and plenty of colour!
During my time staying in the Tavua village, I was able to organise with Mrs Salote Natuna, the principal of Tavua District School, to spend my last school day teaching at this school. Tavua District School is located adjacent the village I was staying in, and is the school where most of the children living in the village attend, including my brother Bari and sister Kalera.
One of the main purposes of my visit was to connect with the staff and bridge a relationship with the school and The SEE Project, so that the school could receive a class set of desktop computers donated by The SEE Project.
My extended Fijian family were kind enough to host a farewell lunch on my last day in Fiji.
My 6 weeks in Fiji was an incredible experience. I personally made so many new friends, was accepted into a wonderful family and village, had so many different cultural experiences which I would otherwise never of had. I also gained significant insight into the success and challenges that schools supported by The SEE Project have had, and worked with teachers to develop effective ways that computers can be used as a tool to enhance the learning experiences for other subjects in the Fijian Curriculum.
I am so grateful to have had all these opportunities, and so thankful that all the teachers, students, staff and community always welcomed me with open arms, and made me feel right at home – Fiji truly is my home away from home…