2012: Day 10 @ Lautoka

After two successful days of teacher professional development in Lautoka, we headed out to the schools. Our first stop was at the Drasa Avenue Primary School. Here we donated the 10 laptops that we used for teacher professional development. Afterwards we engaged with students from Satya Narayan’s class (Year 7). We divided the class up into three groups. The first did an activity using Scratch, the second group did a robotics activity and the third group did an activity using Photo Story 3. Enthusiasm was very high amongst the students. More importantly they were able to demonstrate their capabilities of using these technologies very efficiently.

Sabeto Central School

Sabeto Central School

We then visited the Sabeto District and Sabeto Central Schools. This was an important first step for our project in 2013. Through QUT’s Engagement and Innovation Grant, eight of our under graduate students in education, engineering, film and TV, and fashion would work in teams and teach in these schools for a week next July. The idea would be for our students to showcase how ICT can be integrated in classrooms to deliver learning outcomes as identified in their curriculum. This project is a collective effort of four of us at QUT – Graeme Baguley (Manager, Head of International Student Services), Geoff Portmann (Associate Professor and Head of Discipline, Creative Industries Faculty), Martin Betts (Professor and Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering) and myself.

We were warmly welcomed at both schools. The Head Teacher (Setareki Rika), teachers and the School Manager (Illiesa) welcomed us to the school with kava. This meeting was also attended by Albert Wise (MOE) and Donu Rokotakala (QUT Alumni). Both welcomed our participation at their schools in 2013.

Kava ceremony at the school

Kava ceremony at the school

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2012:Days 8 & 9 @ Lautoka

The workshop conducted in Sigatoka was repeated in Lautoka. With the support of Mr Albert Wise – the Principal Education Officer Lautoka/Yasawa and the Ministry of Education we were able to work with teachers from Drasa Avenue Primary, Jasper Williams Primary, Andra Sangam Primary, Sabeto District School, Sabeto Central School, Shri A.D. Patel Memorial School, Nadi Sangam School, Namaka Public School and Zhong Hua School and Namaka Airport School.

IMG_6459

We were very fortunate that Dr David Nutchey – Lecturer in Education at QUT was able to join us. Our initial attempt to network the laptops that the teachers were using did not materialize. The program over days was similar except David ran a workshop on Geogbra. Enthusiasm amongst the teachers was high – similar to what we experienced in Sigatoka.

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2012: Day7@Sigatoka

Wai District School

We arrived at Wai District School not fully understanding how the day would evolve. This was a special day in our lives – we were invited to open the school’s new Computer Lab. The lab was no more than 6m by 3m but nonetheless it was big step for this rural school. This school has a very good principal – Ms Zarina Khan is working very hard to give this school a new direction. Very few head-teachers would have the courage to take on this challenge.

Students at Wai District School

This school was built in 1952. It has stunning views of the Pacific Ocean in the distant. This is a boarding school – like Nandoumai and it caters for about 110 children from the villages of Lomawai, Navutu and Kubuna. Until recently, the school had very limited financial and physical resources that could move the school forward. A lot constructive work had occurred since Ms Khan had taken over as the Head Teacher.When Ms Khan was appointed to the school, she had three pieces of chalk and less than $20 in the bank. She is well supported by a team of 4 dedicated staff.

School dormitory

It was a big day for this school. By about mid morning – parents, grandparents and friends started to arrive. They took their places in the school balcony where the formal ceremony was to occur. It was a very humbling experience for us – the traditional Fijian ceremony of sevusevu meant so much to us. We set on two  chairs on special mats and tapa. In such ceremonies  kava is initially offered to the chief guests and it has a very special significance. The salusalu or garlands for the guest is made with a lot of skill and love. As part of the tradition we were given a lot of hand made gifts like – mats, tapa, oil and brooms made out of coconut leaves. We donated five Mac laptops to this school – thanks to the support of the QUT’s Faculty of Science and Engineering.

The school community seated for the ceremony

The kava ceremony is about to start

We are given a special welcome. Ms Khan – the Head Teacher is seated on the right

With Asinate – a pre-schooler dressed in traditional costume

Doing the official opening

Parents especially grandparents were most eager to hear more about the new technology. They were most appreciative of what we were doing for their school and their children. This school had a good feel- with so much parental support, the children here can go a long way with the right guidance and supports from their teachers.

Explaining about LEGO robots to community leaders

One of the teachers chatting with a grandparent

It was most interesting to note that during the day as parents came in to have a look, someone figured out how to use Photobooth. As a consequence there were more than 30 close-up photos on one of the computers. The built in camera in Mac offers som much potential to the users.

Chatting with mums

Teachers and students in their new computer lab

Lunch was very special – possibly the best we have eaten in a long time.  Seafood was as fresh as it could be. It was almost as though it was been caught in the ocean only hours earlier.

The children at the school performed mekes – a traditional dance which is performed to mark special events. It was great to see how these children were preserving their culture by reciting dances and songs which had passed through the generations.

The dancers

The singers

Another dance item

Perhaps the other highlight of the day was that we worked with the Year 7 and 8 students. With the exception of one student – none of the others had used a computer before. We started them with some basic familiarisation of  the keyboard.

Getting used to the keyboard

We also asked a couple of students to capture some images of the school. These images were downloaded to a file. Photos from this file were used by the students to create a movie (using imovie) of their school. We went through the process of selecting photos, embedding text and sound. By the time we finished in the afternoon – they were well on their way to creating an movie. From no experience with computers to this stage was a remarkable achievement – I think on the part of the students.

On their way to making movies

A talented group of students with their work on the computers in the foreground

We enjoyed the constant supply of coconuts throughout the day. So all in all – it was a great experience. It appeared that we has made a very small dint to address the issue of the digital divide. As they say – in life we do not always remember dates – we remember moments. For us this was one of them.

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2012: Day6@Sigatoka

We started the day with a visit to the Nandroumai District School. A feeder road from the main highway took us past farms and homes in Uluisila and Yandua. My ancestors moved here after their indenture was over in the late 1920’s.

Our ancestral home in the distance – surrounded by farms

The Nauta river

We meet Mr Bhagauti Prasad on the way

Nandroumai District School has 108 students. The Head Teacher Mr Joeli Duri is retiring this year. This is a boarding school which is supported by Shangri-la Resort‘s Embrace Program.  Parents drop their children off on Mondays and they return home on Fridays. Some of these children accompany their parents on horseback to get to school. The library at this school needs some new resources – some of the books in the small collection needs to be weeded out.

Library books

Nandoumai District School

Kitchen – Hot meals are cooked here for the boarders

A healthy eating message in the dining hall

Students’ creative work

Our next stop was Naidovi – we worked at this school last year. The school was just coming back to normal after the devastating floods which hit the area in March. A number of classrooms were out of action earlier because renovation work was being carried out through the Australian Quality Education Program. The kindergarten was temporary accommodation for the workman who were carrying out repair work in the school. After the floods the school had received a lot of donations of resources from various agencies including our network of relatives and friends. They were still sitting in boxes – now the school had another challenge in terms of how to manage these resources. However, on this day there was a lot activity at the school. The staff and students were all too busy preparing for the inter-school Sanatan Dharamsports. This is an event that is exclusively for students of this religion. This quote is quite relavant here –

SPORT IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE THAT CAN BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR ORIGIN, BACKGROUND, RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR ECONOMIC STATUS. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General

Something interesting for children at the kindergarten

One positive outcome of our initiative was that in some of the classrooms we visited, all children had a library book that they had borrowed. They were very eager to read their books. Some of the teachers had developed a strategy to keep track of the books that the children had borrowed. As the record’s show, the floods were a major disruption to the teaching program at this school.

Children eager to read

A teacher’s library record for a student

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2012: Day5@Sigatoka

This was the first time(since we migrated) that we were in Fiji to celebrate the independence day. There was great spirit all around. We attended the celebrations in Sigatoka. Children from a number of schools participated to showcase their undertaking of how their town and district could be kept clean. The clean schools program (The Green Guardians) is supported by organisations such as the Sigatoka Town Council, Shangri-La’s Marine Education Centre and The National Trust Of Fiji.

Green Guardians from Naidovi Primary School

Mereoni with her hard working Green Guardians team

However, the bili bili (traditional bamboo rafts) races were the highlight of the day. Races were held in a number of categories. While traditional bilimbili’s were paddled by wooden poles sourced from the local environment – modern day paddles paddled the bilimbili’s at these races. The day was hot and sticky (high humidity) but it was interesting to see how this one event had captured the imagination of the locals. This is a great initiative supported by the resorts and other organisations in the local area. The Shangri-la Fijian Resort were once again the champions of the 2012 competition. Three cheers to Mr Michael Monks and his great team.

Tali (we met him at Naidovi last year) with his dad at the races

One of the winning teams

This bridge once joined the two sides of the town

Not any more…

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2012: Day4@Sigatoka

This morning we headed straight to the school. Our first presentation was on setting up a primary school library. Spreadsheet in Libre Office is a good way to develop a library record that can be easily accessed.

Library at the Sigatoka District School

A donated High School/University chemistry textbook for a primary school library

Morning tea which followed was again a nice spread of local specialities. After morning tea we looked at Google Sketchup –  teaches developed a knowledge of this very quickly. There were some very good models that teachers were able to create in a short time.

Pisi and his team from the local Teclecom company did a sales presentation of what was available in terms of the hardware to enable the schools to connect to the Internet. While it did provide teachers with some good information – there was probably information overload. The idea of developing a school intranet with one computer acting as the server and dedicated to the internet was not bought up. This idea can work –given that computer viruses are very common. Fiji is not alone when it comes to this issue but finding a way to detect and either eradicate or quarantine through a dedicated computer is probably an easier option when compared to dealing with a dozen or so computers. But then children can also spread viruses through their USB sticks if they are used on school computers. Perhaps the Ubuntu operating system may be one way to address the virus issue.

Teachers working hard

We did not stop for a lunch break because the school canteen was closed – but we did have a very good morning tea – so we kept going. Teachers worked in groups of classes 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. The task was to brainstorm ideas on a classroom activity that utilised ICT. A range of ideas were shared afterwards – photostory was very common but the manner in which the application was going to be used varied. There was one idea of using concept mapping (Freemind) in a Year 5 class where the achievement indicators focussed on classification of leaves in a science lesson.

It a very packed workshop session and the two days came to an end very quickly. The feedback from the teachers was very good. Apart from the experience that teachers had with the software and how they can embed it in the curriculum, there were two other very significant outcomes. First – under the direction of Mr John Vincent, an ICT group in the district would meet once a month. This would comprise of the participating teachers (in this PD) and any one else who may be interested. Secondly, all teachers now had the basic knowledge of how to maintain their websites. The laptops that were used in the training were donated to schools in the district – thanks to the support of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology.

Participants at the Sigatoka Workshop

After the workshops, we visited the Sigatoka Special School with Ms. Mereoni Mataika – Service Manager of the Marine Sanctuary at the Shangri-La Fijian Resort. This resort has been very proactive in supporting schools and community groups in the district. Sigatoka Special School has been one of them. It has 40 plus students. The school has some good resources and there was evidence of some good programs that were being offered by Mr Pollo (the Head-Teacher) and his staff. A good inclusion at this school may be some ipads or android systems to support the children with their learning.

Students and teachers from the school

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2012: Day3@Sigatoka

We stopped briefly at the Sigatoka Education District office. It was a sight – Principal Education Officer – Mr Seruppelu Udre and his staff were improvising well. They were working from this building which was once a staff quarters. It is not easy to deliver quality services – but this team were working well under the circumstances.

Recycling – a priority at Sigatoka District School

We arrived at the Sigatoka District School at about 9.00am. This school is just outside the town of Sigatoka and on a hill overlooking an area known as Rakirakilevu. The head-teacher Mr Mosese Nasau, a former student of Cuvu College (he was a year or so senior to us) and his staff were there to greet us. This is a very neat and tidy school. We were headed to the schools computer room. We delivered the workshop from this room from the next two days. The inclusion of a wireless modem was a big bonus – it made our work very efficient. Mr John Vincent – Senior Education Officer in the district. His attendance made a difference – it showed that the Ministry of Education was very supportive of the work we were doing in Sigatoka.

Teachers at the PD workshops

The attendance was very good – teachers from all 10 of the invited school attended. The participants and their schools were: Koronisau District School, Cuvu District School, Malomalo Primary School, Nokonoko District School, Wai District School, Tuva Primary School, Sigatoka District School, St Joan of Arc Primary School, and Rahmatullah Khan Memorial School.

Over the day we spent most our time on Photo Story 3 for Windows, WordPress, and Scratch. Setting up of school websites was seen as a valuable activity by the teachers. Schools appeared to have to been looking at ways to develop one for some time. However, the cost was a prohibitive factor. Schools received various quotes for building one of these. It was very good to see that all teachers succeeded with the applications – especially the website.

Teachers working on a website

We were treated to a nice morning and lunch by the school – prepared by the school canteen. The day flowed on very nicely. In the afternoon – Mr Mosese Nasau offered us a sevusevu – a kava ceremony of welcome and appreciation that is conducted by the Fijian community.

All files that were used in the training – including all the free downloaded software and a copy of the ict4fiji.wordpress.com website were saved in the folder for teachers to copy and use later one. The website page froze a few times – apparently the resolution of the data projector and the laptop were somewhat very different. So once I switched off the mirror option in displays – the problem was solved.

A kava ceremony hosted by the Head Teacher – Mr Mosese Nasau

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2012: Day 2@Sigatoka

We were very grateful to Mr Michael Monks – General Manager of the Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Ms. Mereoni Mataika, Service Manager of the Marine Sanctuary for their support of our work in the district. Both Mr Monks and Ms Mataika are engaged in some excellent projects which support health and education initiatives the district. We are also very thankful to Mr Seruppeli Udre – Principal Education Officer and Mr John Vincent – Senior Education Officer. Both have worked with us to give shape to this project.

Most of the day was spent getting the materials ready for the workshop on Monday.  These laptops did not have Windows Movie Maker on then – so this had to be installed. We also had to install a folder which had all the software and a copy of the ict4fiji website.

     

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2012: Day1@Sigatoka

Our work in Fiji in this round will last for 14 days. We departed Brisbane on 6 October and return on October 20. One of my colleagues – Dr David Nutchey is joining us in the second week in Lautoka. We are very grateful for his time and commitment towards this project. We do the first week in Sigatoka. The basic model is a 2 day PD session with 10 schools at each venue followed by visits to schools.

Well, we arrived with our boxes to the Brisbane Airport.  Fifteen laptops in all – all packaged and weighed. David was going to bring another 10. I calculated each laptop including the bag to be 3.5kg. Well I was wrong. The scales at the airport saw them differently. They were a good 2-3 kilograms over – including my suitcase. New rules are – if they are over 23 kilograms – it is charged as an extra bag (unless you are someone special – All men are equal but some men are more equal than the others – George Orwell was right). Even though I had paid for two extra pieces of luggage – I was told that I was overweight (bags not me this time). So I took out my violin and played it well – told her what I was trying to achieve in Fiji and so she charged me for one extra bag. Thank god – the world still has some people who have a heart. Arriving in Fiji was fine – no issues with any customs duties.

On the way to Sigatoka, we found some green-gold (green mangoes). The best way to enjoy them is with chillies and salt.

Fiji “aam” or Fiji mangoes (this is how they look because they have not been treated with any chemicals)

Ready to eat with salt and real birds eye chillies

You need a good knife to peel and slice them

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2012: Starting all over again

The twelve months have passed so quickly – it seems that we were in Fiji only a few months ago. Well – time flies and our work in Fiji is upon us. A lot of time and effort has gone into this round of the project and we have certainly built on some of our experience from last year. We had a few objectives for this year. Firstly, we had access to more laptops – so we had to find schools where they could be donated. Secondly, from our experience last year, we felt that teachers needed some professional development in the areas of ICT and library management. So our approach was to develop a PD model.

There were issues that needed to be dealt with before the laptops reached the classrooms in Fiji. The first of set of issues were technological in nature:

We were able to get some laptops from the Faculty of Science and Technology – thanks to the support of Professor Martin Betts and his staff – Kelvin, Veronica, and Peter. We had mix of Toshiba’s, Mac’s and Dell’s. All had at least 2GB of RAM and 80GB of HDD. Through the support of Issac Pursehouse – Engineers Without Borders(EWB) we got Windows 7 licenses. To keep the costs to a minimum, we sourced and loaded software (free downloads) in the following categories – learning, media players, multimedia, office, screen capture, social networking, thinking tools, utilities, video games, virus protection and web browsers. We were very fortunate to have had the support of Andy Ng and Bernard Li of the International Student Services for their assistance with the uploads – thanks to Graeme Baguley. This process takes a significant amount of time and Andy and Bernard’s put in a lot of time to load the operating system machines and the software.

Once the laptops were “tuned”, we had to deal with second set of issues, which were logistical, and two layered. The first layer dealt with issues associated with getting the laptops into Fiji.

The second layer dealt with issues that were connected with the PD and the distribution of laptops.

The content of the PD sessions presented the next set of challenges. It is always difficult to work out the level that the teachers are at in terms of their ICT knowledge (TPACK) and library services. We did administer a survey – but the response was not crash hot. So for the workshops, we planned on a series of activities and were ready to deliver it on the basis of what we believed that the majority of the participants would benefit the most. We developed 11 activities – that were available online to the participants. This was uploaded to the ict4fiji.wordpress.com website. Through the approach the use of paper was minimized. The other advantage of this approach was that the website could be copied to the laptops and used by the teachers during the sessions. Most importantly this site was meant to serve as a thread between the teachers, head teachers, MOE and us. The users had the option of commenting on the activities via the blog. They could also use this site to upload their ideas.

So finally we are ready to roll!

All nearly packed

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2012: Our collective support so far…

A little more than four months ago, the floods hit Naidovi Primary School and many parts of the western division in Fiji. Given the gravity of the situation, we decided to assist the school. It is amazing what we were able to achieve through the collective efforts of our family and friends. Working with the Head teacher, Mr Sashi Kumar we were able prioritize how the students at the school could be assisted.

When the school re-opened after the floods we were able to support the schools efforts to provide the children with hot lunches. This went for 18 days and more than 5,500 meals were served over this time. Cooking was done on the school grounds – near the head teachers’ quarters. This initiative also generated community spirit. Some people in the village provided their support in whatever way they could.   Small donations – in cash and kind were made to the school.  In kind support included firewood and clean water . Cooking was done with firewood – there was no access to gas or electric stoves – fire wood was the only choice. The school did not have tap water for more than a month after the flood.

Cooking underway

Sometime later

Nearly done

Getting the fire right – for the next dish

Lunch ready to be served

Staff serving lunch

We were also able to support children from families who had lost everything in the floods. As pointed out in my earlier blog, this area has never experienced a flood. We provided these children with some basic school necessities. This included stationery. Supporting the children in their time of need meant a lot to the community. According to the Head teacher, parents sent a few hundred letters of appreciation such as these:

Letters of appreciation from a parent

Letters of appreciation from a parent

Letters of appreciation from a parent

Letters of appreciation from a parent

Children in the lower grades (1 & 2) sketched their “visions” and “memories” of the flood. For some of these children, this was new experience.

The flood – through the eyes of a child

The flood – through the eyes of a child

The flood – through the eyes of a child

The flood - through the eyes of a child

The flood – through the eyes of a child

Our other big effort was to re-stock the library with some more books. With the help of some friends and family, we were able to buy some good books at the Bookfest which was held in June in Brisbane.  Thanks to Cathy Briskey, Keith and Sabrina Menezes for helping us find some very good quality books. We also supported Lifeline in the process. Bookfest is an event which is run by Lifeline – all money raised from the sale of the second-hand books goes to this charity. We purchased story books for all age groups from pre-school to Year 6.  We also picked a number of titles that may be handy as reference books for maths, science, art and craft and social science. In total almost 400 books were boxed for the school library.

Books for the library

Books for the library

Books for the library

We also supported the school’s kindergarten. This was damaged the most. The items that needed replacement were toys and games. More than 60 games and toys (all new) were sent to the school. Buying at the right time helped – stock take sales and a discount on purchases from ToysRus extended the dollar further. We also made a toys catalogue – something the teachers in the kindergarten may find useful. Thanks to Jackie Cross for putting this catalogue together. And to Philip Cross for helping with the packing.

Toys for the kindergarten

Toys for the kindergarten

Toys for the kindergarten

To view the full catalogue, click this link Naidovi Primary School – Kindergarten Toy Catalogue

This was a great collaborative effort of our family and friends. Thanks for all your help. We look forward to your continued support. In times like this, Margaret Mead’s makes a lot of sense:

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

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2012: Floods – Extending a helping hand

While it is disappointing to hear that most of our donated laptops, robotic kits, and possibly half of the library books went under water and therefore will have to be dumped, hearing the stories of what some of the others went through in the village makes this loss almost insignificant. If you live in an area which has never flooded, how do you prepare for such an event? As the flood waters rose, many seem to have just escaped with only the clothes on their backs. I used Facebook to interact with my friends in the Fiji Project Group. This is the first time I used social media this way.  While I learnt about the floods from contributors in other Facebook communities, I was also able to convey the message about the flood to friends on my page and the Fiji Project group.  It also showed me the power of social media. Some of the photos in this blog were uploaded by people who live in the village. Pictures speak a thousand words – without these my understanding of the floods would have been confined to how I interpreted the spoken text! Of great interest to me is how my conversation on the Fiji Project page evolved over the first few days.

Through this Facebook conversation and a few phone calls we now have a small support group which has donated money towards helping the flood affected children (180+) at this school. Through these funds and the support of the local community, we have been able to provide the children with home cooked hot lunches. We also intend to support them with their other basic school needs. If enough money comes in we may be able to replace some of the damaged library books.

Here are some excerpts of the conversation on Facebook. Many of the photos were taken after the flood waters had started to recede.

Naidovi Primary School

This was my entry on March 30 at 8.28pm

Floods hit Fiji again but this time it is in the area where our school project is. The school is in the village of Cuvu – about 45 minutes from Nadi Airport. For the many years I lived in Cuvu – there has never been a flood in my area and the school. But early this morning there was a flash flood. I spoke to the teachers earlier – many classrooms and residences have flood waters in them. The books, laptops and robotic kits which we donated have been damaged by the flood waters which rose very quickly. Today the Education Minister was suppose to have visited the school to see our work and how the robots worked. This news is disappointing but hey this is life.

http://www.fijivillage.com/?mod=story&id=3003127109938dd45c32008c5a53d3

Naidovi Primary School

This was my entry on April 3 at 11.49am

I just spoke to the Head Master at the school. The situation in the school and surrounding areas is quite grave and challenging. His description of the floods and how it hit the area was almost like a scene from a movie. In the early hours of Friday morning, people were running towards the school with flood waters following them. They ran to the high school because this was the only place in the area with buildings that had a second floor. For some the clothes on their backs were the only possessions left. People in the village have been supporting each other with food, clothes and shelter. But they are now reaching a desperate situation – they need help from outside. There is no water supply or electricity. It is still raining, so they cannot rely on wood burning open stoves. While schools will remain closed for the rest of the week – the Head Master was saying that he would like to provide meals for those children whose families are in a difficult situation. I have told the Head Master that I will either provide him with money or setup an account at a shop from where he can get the supplies to cook for the children. In this way we are supporting him and the students at the school. At least they will get something to eat and have water to drink. More importantly, I will be putting money in a place where I know it will reach the affected people quickly. 

Force of the rising waters

This was my entry on April 6 at 4.37pm

We have made an arrangement with one of the stores in the area to supply cooking ingredients to the school. The school headmaster will take charge of the cooking. When I spoke to him earlier today – he believes that almost half the students at the school (about 200) have been seriously affected. Till this morning – there was no assistance (rations etc) from anywhere. When the children return to school on Tuesday, at least the parents will have one less worry about giving them lunch. Families of two of our relatives and us have setup this up with an initial pledge of $FJD 1,000 and we will see how far this will go. So our primary objective is to focus on children at this school. From here on we will keep working with the headmaster. Thanks to Alison, Scott for your offer of help. Others have also indicated that they would like to help – thanks for the offer. If you would like to assist (every small bit counts), please let me know and I will give you the bank account details.

The school yard

This was my entry on April 8 at 12.04pm

This album on Facebook was uploaded by one of the locals who lives near the school. Most of the photos were taken once the flood waters started to recede. It is interesting that despite the adversity, some people were still able to smile for the camera.
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.146279972161030.26672.100003370832676&type=3

The backyard of a house in the neighbourhood

This was my entry on April 9 at 10.50am

I had an email from Sashi  – the Headteacher at Naidovi Primary School. He has made contact with the shop in town to draw the groceries. Children will be provided with lunch hopefully from tomorrow when they return to school. I have kept him updated of the support that our small group (some are not on Facebook) is giving to give him and his students. In his email he wrote “You have grown in Cuvu and you know the geographic location of Cuvu (the village where the school is) , it has been flooded…no one ever thought Cuvu will be flooded including Sadhu (he has lived in the village for about 75 years). Every one in Cuvu was caught off guard. The street in Cuvu became the river as flood waters gave no time to anyone to pack anything. Cuvu is a disaster zone but your thoughts and prayers are with us…your timely help to assist the students with lunch is highly appreciated”. I started creating a website for the school last year – it is a work in progress. Other things came in the way – like teaching but here is a link which shows the location of the school…http://naidoviprimaryschool.org/?page_id=51

Another view of the school grounds

This was my entry on April 10 at 1.15pm

I have spoken to Sashi at Naidovi. The students have returned to school today. They have identified 180 children who need help as a result of the floods. Cooking for these children will get underway tomorrow. Another priority for the children is books that they have lost. The head teacher estimates that it will cost about $FJD9.00 per child to have the books replaced. These books are exercise books and some basic texts. But he is also trying to get support from other agencies.

The road in front of the school

Sashi – the Head Teacher Naidovi joined us on Facebook.On April 10 at 6.17pm he wrote:

Thanks for the support you have rendered. At times such as this when there is darkness around. Your words of encouragements gives us renewed hope to continue living here at Naidovi to provide the best for the children who are affected and those who become part of Naidovi. All necessary shopping has been done at shop to save in Sigatoka and other preparations are underway to provide lunch to the affected students tomorrow.

Naidovi community has woken up to the realities and magnitude of the disaster. Many students have come to school without school uniforms or bags as they have been washed away. Dear doc and friends, your support is like divine blessings for the students of the Naidovi Indian School. Kindergarten is closed for yet another week as we are trying to stabilize the primary school. The damage in the Kindergarten is mammoth therefore it may take a few more days.

The ministry of education officials are also carrying out their survey to see if any assistance can be provided. Many western schools are in the same situation. Once again many thanks on behalf of everyone here at Naidovi.

A view of the school

Sashi’s participation in the group kept all those in the group who were interested about the development information. His next update was on April 11at 5.34pm.

Today being the second day of school after the floods. With your help we were able to organise free lunch for the flood affected students. Number of students coming back to school is increasing. Today we had 70 percent attendance and expect others to come soon. Some students do not want to come to school because they have lost their uniform but we are asking them to come in any clothing to attend classes.

Today we had high level govt officials coming in for assessment including the Principal Education Officer – Nadroga /Navosa. I have informed them of the mammoth assistance by our friends overseas initiated by Doctor Chandra where our children have been provided free lunch.

Please find a link attached with the photos which show lunch for students under your assistance for day one. This… will continue until funds are available. Many thanks.

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.306445406090492.70274.100001751065823&type=3

My former residence

Sashi’s feedback on April 13 was as follows:

Today was the third day for flood affected children to enjoy free lunch provided by you all. The number coming back to school after the floods is increasing today we had 77% returning to school. Today we provided vegetarian food to everyone. Friends, the whole community is thanking you all for this mighty gesture as other organizations are coming in to help the community the people are slowly getting back on their feet. Food rations are slowly coming in as the outside communities and organizations come to know about the suffering of the people here in Cuvu.

A total of 94 students are without school uniforms this includes both girls and boys. Satya Sai organizations local branch is now preparing to help some students,this will known to me on Monday. Students are asked to come to school in any type of clothing as long as they are in school to continue their education. The damage is so severe that this will take some time to heal. The contribution by our Facebook friends and specially initiated by you together with the wonderful families is now being talked about at all levels.

The spread of diseases (water borne,air borne) is likely to increase as authorities are trying to control it. Today we had two deaths here in Cuvu…both are predicted to be related o leptospirosis and funerals are being arranged. Cuvu is a densely populated area therefore every effort is made to protect the people specially the children.

Once again accept our appreciation for your kind gesture. The weather is now changing and expect better days ahead. God bless each and everyone of you.
Thanks.

100% for creativity!

I added the following on April 17:

I had a chat with the Head Master at Naidovi and one of the members of the community earlier today. The situation in the village is quite bad – there is a suspected outbreak of leptospirosis . Two people have already died. Quite a number are in hospital including teachers and education officers.
A big thank you to my friends and relatives (Facebookers and non-Facebookers) who have donated to support this community. Through our collective efforts 200 children are getting lunch everyday. The cost to feed these children on a daily basis is about $FJD 200 (about $A120). Thanks to Nirmala, Gyan, Rose, Shainiel, Alison, Scott, Sally, Sat, Maryam, Graeme, Nilima, Krishna, Pat and my mum for your donations and to others who have made a pledge. Every bit counts. We all seem to live in the same world – yet the where we live and what we have seems to be so different. Together we can make a difference.

Mr and Mrs Taylor – teachers at the Naidovi Primary added the following on April 19:

The daily distribution of hot meals to the students continue because of the kind gesture by Mr Chandra and friends.Being a teacher at the school and seeing the smile on their faces while serving their hot meals makes me feel how fortunate we are to have people like you who have gone out of your way to donate and help these children.I know the children look forward to their lunch each day and Im sure the teachers look forward to serving them as well.Attendance is improving which is a good sign and classes continue as normal.All care and safety measures are taken to see that the children are free of any likely sickness esp.after the flood.There has been a suspected outbreak of leptospirosis and we only hope and pray that none of the students are infected.Our holidays have been shortened by a week as a result of the recent flood so that we can catch up with the teaching hours we have lost and with two more weeks remaining this term,we hope all the children will attend school to catch up with lessons.I’m positive things will normalise soon and all it takes is time!!We need to be patient and pray that things will work out for the best!

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2012: The floods

30/3/12

The Minister for Education in Fiji, Mr Filipe Bole was going to visit Naidovi today. He was interested to see the work we had done with laptops, robotics and library books. School staff and students were eagerly waiting to showcase some of their work – especially with robots. But in the early hours of this morning – almost 6 months after we started our work – the school and surrounding areas were flooded.In some classrooms, there flood waters had caused considerable damage – including the library – the place where all the resources were.

There has never been a flood either at or in the immediate vicinity of the school. Growing up in Cuvu (the village) people often talked about the “big illness” or the “big cyclone” but there had never been a conversation about the “big flood”. To my knowledge there have not been any significant changes that could be attributed to the activities of man i.e. no major buildings, or roads, or changes in farming practices or new industries that could justify this unseen and unexpected event. If one looks at the geography of the area (I am no expert in this) – if is hard to explain how something like this could occur – all of a sudden. Is this what climate change is all about?

 

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2012: The progress

Dr Brij Lal – The Permanent Secretary for Education in Fiji (like the Director-General of a department in Australia) visited Naidovi in January. He was impressed by the work we started there last year. It is good to see that there is interest within the Education hierarchy on exploring innovative ways of teaching and learning.

We have presented a number of professional development ideas to the Ministry of Education in Fiji – this conversation is still in progress. We have also tried to keep the conversation going with the teachers via Skype. The Internet connection has been playing havoc. What we take for granted here can be such a problem in some places. I have received some very positive emails about how the library is being used. I am still trying to work out how the computers and robotic kits are being used in classrooms. This is a big step and I do not expect to see miracles overnight. Some education systems have had access to these digital technologies for more than 25 years. Yet as the literature reports, there is evidence of a range of challenges and barriers that teachers face with technology integration.

Our promised 300 books have already been sent – thanks to the support of our friends – Phil and Jackie. We were able to buy these books secondhand at Bookfest in Brisbane earlier this year. I also sent some teachers resource books on using computers and robots.

We have started discussions with people who are engaged in similar projects in Fiji. Two of my colleagues from the university – Graeme and Geoff have been working with schools in the Western Division of Fiji for the past three years. They have done some exceptionally good work with the QUT alumni and schools. We are hoping to work together in another village in Fiji- probably next year.

A closed group has also been set on Facebook. It is good to see that of the 40 of so friends, a handful are very keen on supporting this project.

We have started collecting books and laptops – a big thank you to my colleagues in the Faulty of Science and Technology. Our lounge room has been transformed into a storage/workshop are for these resources.

Our lounge – storage area

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2011: Day 19 @ Naidovi – Time to go home

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!

Library with print and digital resources

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2011: Day 18@Naidovi

Earlier in the week we travelled to Suva (the capital of Fiji) and met some officials from the Ministry of Education. The meeting gave me some ideas on where their ICT agenda was heading.  Today, we got a chance to visit some schools in the area – thanks to the efforts of Mr Wise. We visited schools that had libraries and computers. In libraries – we saw books that were published the 1960’s. There was a definite need for some cataloguing – the challenge for users would be finding something that they would like to read. While two of the schools we visited had recently acquired secondhand computers – I could not quite out how they would be integrated in the school curriculum. They were not turned on so I could not work out if operating systems and software were installed on them. At another school, there was a computer lab which was setup through the support of a business. However, some of these computers were operating on Windows 3.1 – and once again I could not work out how they were integrated in the curriculum. Sooner or later these machines would need to be disposed, the school did not seem to have a strategy for how this could be done. What I saw in these schools echoed some of the feedback that I received from the Head Teachers and Principals last week. It also justified why they felt that professional development of teachers in these areas was one of their high priorities.

There is another significant benefit of working in these schools. Coconuts are plentiful. As some of us know – “naiyar ke paani” or water from the coconut is like a health tonic from the heavens. While we had lots of these during our stay here – it was not enough. The ones that we get in Brisbane are imported from South East Asia – by the time they get to the supermarkets shelves (a few months later)  – it ain’t “nariyar ke panni” any more.

Airfare $x, accommodation $y, other $z...water from a coconut...PRICELESS

This is one way to get coconuts - we call it the laggi

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2011: Day 17 @ Naidovi

The library is almost setup. Given that there are only about 400 books on the shelves for borrowing, one week on – one week off strategy can work. So children can borrow books every second week. For our “one book per child” vision to come true – the library needs at least another 300 books. We hope to reach this target early in the new year.

Our ICT initiatives are working. The year 1’s and 2’s have done some fantastic drawing of their presentations of a local festival. This was in response to their achievement indicator for Social Studies. We took digital images of these sketches – the big idea was to do a class presentation using Photo Point (using Libre Office – open source software) and view it through a data projector. Through such presentations, every students’ work – irrespective how big or small the paper for their drawings were gets recognised. They also get to explain their drawings and possibly get some feedback from their peers. It was interesting to see how they all saw different things of interest at the festivals. Thus every sketch seemed to focus on different aspects – 100 points for creativity!

A year 1 students' sketch

Another very creative sketch

The year 3 and 4’s work in Social Studies was also continuing well. Their achievement indicator was about the life in a rural settlement. Most students were able to select the photos they wanted to tell their stories. They were able to go to the respective folders and import up to 10 photos for their Photo Stories.

The year 5 and 6’s were able to think of an appropriate theme for their Health Science Achievement Indicator which focussed on sharing responsibilities.  It was amazing that their teachers were able to get them to brainstorm their idea, write, and act out a script for the camera in a relatively short time. There was hardly any need for retakes – they all seem to exactly know their roles and what they had to say. More importantly there was a very clear evidence that they enjoyed the experience. Our idea of using a web cam did not work – we need at least one video camera for such activities.

These experiences here suggest that when learning activities are interesting, children will enjoy it provided they are scaffolded appropriately. A moderate degree of challenge is also needed – if the activity is too easy they get bored, if its is too hard they give up. Sometimes pitching an activity at the right level is a challenge – but this what teachers do all the time.

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2011: Day 12@ Naidovi

Another very busy day. The presentation for the principals and head teachers went very well. The feedback received from them made it obvious that our initiatives were valuable and important to enhancing the quality of education in Fiji. For me the highlight was seeing the students explain to these school leaders what they were doing on the computers and with the robots and how it connected with their schoolwork. Two of the teachers Mr Taylor and Mr Singh great did a great job explaining more about how ICT is integrated into their classroom activities. It was very evident that collectively we have made very good progress in two weeks. The students had certainly come a long way!

Explaining the robotics challenge on a sulu

PEO Mr Udre looking at students work

Teacher participants at the conference

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2011: Day 11 @ Naidovi

We have been very busy. Getting the activities underway and preparing for tomorrow’s principals and head teachers “conference”. There were two highlights of the day. Firstly, the staff organised a special lunch for us. They called it the “thanksgiving lunch”. Teachers brought a plate from home and my year five classroom was converted into a dinning room. It was quite unique and we got to have lunch at the teacher’s table. From memory I think this was the first time I got to see “the classroom” from where the teacher used to sit. This room was quite special for me. In my time the school system was very much focused on how you performed in exams at the end of each term. There were (and still are) three terms in a year. The marks that you achieve in the subjects are aggregated. From these aggregated results a rank order is determined. The student who is at the top of the rank order comes first. Other positions are determined on this rank. Well when I was a student in this classroom in 1970, I came first. As a consequence, I “jumped” a class. So I did not go to year six but went to year seven. In year seven, I kept up with my good form and I came first again and so the story goes on. Those that came 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were also accelerated and promoted to year 4. All four of us maintained our relative positions in year seven. So at this lunch it was a great moment to reflect on my early days.

Special buffet lunch

But then the day got even better. There was a school assembly and we were the guests of honor. We were in the main building of the school – it was built in 1924 (I think).  The school committee (my great grandfather and grandfather were key figures in this committee) that were behind the construction of this building had a great vision. Each time the school needs to get together for a special function, the walls between the three classrooms can be removed and the building becomes a school hall. It is not a fancy hall that we all need to have in a school in the West, but this setup does do the job. So we sat and addressed the students from where my year four classroom once used to be. This is where they I came first in terms exams – for the first time in my primary schooling career. I had a great teacher who somehow must have tuned something in me that I can do it. The school students and teachers gave us a gift. But what made the day even more significant was the special Bollywood number that the students presented for us. I liked the song as well – Yamla Pagla Deewana. They even had appropriate costume on. I admired the talent of the students. Many probably do not have a special dance instructor – their best tutor are the Bollywood videos and movies they see every now and then. We were not expecting anything like this but their generosity and thought did mean a lot to us. We got to sit with the students and capture the memories…

A memorable moment

But wait – there was more…I legally got the chance to ring the school bell. A dream comes true at last! After how many years was that?

Warming up to ring the bell

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2011: Day 10 @ Naidovi

Wednesday morning about 7 AM. I am reflecting on my thoughts in the bure house at the resort. Yesterday was a good day. We took the children around to Voua village and took lots of photos.  The children were very well behaved. Lepani took us around and I also got a chance to meet a number of villagers – some I hadn’t seen for a long time. For almost 25 years to be exact. It is amazing how time changes and how people age. The memories that you have some of them and seeing them 25 years later is sometimes difficult to comprehend. I bumped into Siti, Semesa –the last time I saw them they were much younger– time does fly. It was also very interesting to see how the village has evolved over time.

My friend Siti

One thing that struck me was the design and construction the houses. Bure houses seem to have long gone. These houses have been replaced by houses made of brick, timber, and corrugated iron. It makes sense to make houses this way given that cyclones are very frequent in this part of the world. While on the one hand it was pleasing to see the changes that have occurred, on the other hand it would have also been good to capture some of the images and videos of the village as it changed over time. But this could not have been done because cameras were very much a technology that were in the hands of the rich and the professionals. But now increasing affordability and capability of these technologies means that everyone can participate in telling a story of the changing times. This visit has prompted me to think about how digital stories can capture the evolution of the world and its people over time. Most of us can participate in this journey.  Engaging students in the craft of digital storytelling at the school level is probably the starting point. Such an opportunity can also extend and enhance the school curriculum in unseen and remarkable ways.

The church in Voua village

One of the senior education officers from the Education Office in Sigatoka – Mr Albert Wise visited us. He was interested in our work. He told us that at the beginning of each term the head teachers and school principals in his district meet. The idea of this meeting is to inform these leaders about the key issues that need to be dealt with each term. This meeting was scheduled to be held at another location. However, after seeing the work that we had started at Naidovi, he decided to shift the meeting to the school. He invited us to address us  the principals and head teachers. He also wanted us to showcase some of our work that we had started in the areas of library management, ICT integration, and robotics. We were very pleased to see his level of interest and the fact that he rescheduled this meeting meant that the work that we were doing was of some value to education in Fiji.

Lunchtime yesterday was special. Students in the robotics club who had spent time building the robots got the opportunity the programme and run them. To my knowledge, LEGO robots were probably run for the first time in a primary school in Fiji. If I have made this assertion incorrectly, then the claim that I would like to make is that it happened for the first time in a primary school in Fiji. The excitement in the children’s eyes was evident. One thing that I learnt from this was that no matter where the children are – if you design interesting learning activities they will engage. Digital divide for once did not seem to exist in the learning environment that these children were working in. Thanks to my good friend Eugene and Semia in China for the donation of these robotics kits. Without their support these children probably would have never had the opportunity to put their hands on one of these robots. The world probably needs more individuals like Eugene who dig deep to make these things possible.

Teachers – Mrs Talyor and Mrs Naceva working with one of the students

After lunch visited we the Indian community behind the school. We took lots of photos the students thoroughly enjoyed the outing. Even though they probably didn’t go any more than 500 m from the school, the fact that they went as a class seems to have made the experience enjoyable. Some of them probably walk on the same path and road to get to school, walking with classmates and pointing out areas of interest for the photos made all the difference. Teachers also said that such opportunities we rare -they also saw the value in this experience. Here too, I bumped into people who had changed so much since I saw them the last time.

An outdoor stove

The day was very busy. As soon as I got back, I headed with the year three students to  Hanahana village. This village is directly across the school. The last time when I lived here, this village did not exist. It used to be Sakiusa’s sugarcane farm. Most of the people who live here have come from other parts of the country. The people who live here are mostly hotel workers. Lepani was once again our guide here. He got back to the school with us with his guitar and sang some songs. I admire his talent. Almost all people who live in the village and have musical talents have gained this through their own efforts. They have developed these skills by either observing an elder (cognitive apprenticeship) or by trying and trying and trying…until they mastered the skill. I also wrote a press release because the ministry wanted one – however I later learnt that is did not get anywhere.

An outdoor stove

After school was over I did the usual short professional development session with the teachers. In the evening I went back to the school because some teachers were quite interested in knowing a bit more about what technologies were out there. To my surprise some of the members of the community also came. I felt a bit sorry for some of them because I had a conversation in English and probably talked about something that didn’t quite matter. Maybe next time when I go I will do a special session on how we found our ancestors in India. But this time I will ensure that I speak Hindi. We had a nice dinner with Mr Sashi and Mrs Lalita Kumar – the head teacher and his wife.

Kamal and I used to be at school together

In the last few days that I have been here I am quite amazed at how the school has evolved in terms of how the community is welcome here all the time. During the day there is a constant stream of parents and villagers. In the afternoon the school grounds are used for soccer training. Back in my time it was quite different. There was a very distinct boundary between the school and the community. The school headmaster makes a very big difference in terms of how the parents and community engage with the school. The Head Teacher, Mr Kumar seems to welcome everybody with open arms. Perhaps one of his greatest assets is that he is very fluent in the native Fijian language apart from Hindi and English. He also seems to have a very charming personality and that seems to ripple throughout the school. Maybe one day all schools will function this way!

Jone – a parent and a friend

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2011: Day 9 @ Naidovi

Tuesday morning…Got back to our routine after our short trip to Nadi. Yesterday was quite eventful. The building the robots has continued. In the afternoon we talked to the teachers about how libraries need to be set up and managed. Apparently it’s the first time the teachers have had the opportunity to see how basic cataloguing is setup and implemented in a library.  With the numbers of books that we have, the only feasible way to make borrowing happen is through a one week on – one week off strategy. We also suggested setting up a committee to manage the affairs of the library.

I also went into the year six classes to see how the rehearsals for the role playing was progressing. It is pleasing to see the progress the students have made – they all seem to have such a wide variety of talent and everyone has a role to play. The credit here goes to the teachers (Mrs Taylor and Mrs Reddy) for adapting the activity so aptly with her students. The webcam will be the most viable option for the activity, given that this is all they will be working with after we go back home.  What is needed here is at least one or two video cameras to make such activities work effectively. A scanner is also needed as part of the hardware toolkit.

This morning we head off to the Fijian villages and Indian settlement with the four-year classes to take some photos. Students will select 10 images to make their photo stories.  One of the village elders, Lepani has shown a lot of interest in our work. He has been at school almost everyday. This morning he will take us around to Voua village. Lepani used to be our neighbour – his family lived next to us. Like some of the villagers who were very close to my family, Lepani also was always there to lend us a hand in need. Playing the guitar was one of his passions and he always enjoyed Indian music.

Lepani plays a tune for us in his home

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2011: Day 6 @ Naidovi

Today is Saturday and we have come to unwind at a resort in Nadi. We will be here for the next 2 nights. It is 10.30 in the morning. There are people going past me on this footpath – some tourists look surprised – they must be thinking who is this idiot on a “holiday” talking to himself.  The library is taking shape. However, it needs more books. One part of our strategy is to ensure that every child has a book to borrow and read each week. Hence our “one book per child” idea can only succeed if we can provide this library with more books. At present we have given them 400 books. They need another 300 or so. This should be our challenge in the early New Year.

A model of a dream house

The laptops are ready to roll out next week. In a project like this there are lessons to be learnt. Lesson 1 upload all the software before you come. For the library to be more user-friendly, they need to install power points on the ceilings. Yesterday I went into the year six classrooms. These students were given a project for the two-week school holidays. Yes they had to do homework over the holidays. For art and craft (some aspects overlap with design technology here) – the boys had to build a model house with paddle pop sticks while the girls had to design and make an apron. Both groups also had to make a greeting card. The parents had to provide them with the materials that they needed to complete the projects. There was no shortage of evidence of creativity. However, what intrigued me the most was that they were not forthcoming with what they had learnt from this activity. A rich task like this can open doors for so many learning opportunities. One of the things that crossed my mind – which I will share with the teachers is using a reflection framework using the de Bono’s six hats. I think for primary school students this strategy can be quite effective.

A greeting card made from local materials

The robotics club also seems to be taking shape. Students are very interested and for the half an hour that they could spare at lunchtime, they seem to have achieved a lot. The reason for this is they are so focused and more importantly it’s also something which is very new to them. In terms of the hardware I hope the web cams will work next week when we start recording their role plays.  So all in all a good first week.

Talking robotics!

Today is a nice day. I can see the blue skies. The blue waters are almost under my nose with lots of coconut trees around me. In the distance I see small islands. It is almost an idyllic setting.

What more can I say?

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2011: Day 5 @ Naidovi

It is about 7 AM at the resort. It is Friday and I must admit the last 4 days have been very productive. It is almost like a new dawn for the school to see the new library take shape. I spent some time in the classrooms yesterday. I spoke to the year fives and sixes and we talked about moviemaking and role-playing. The behaviour of the children is faultless. They are also welcoming and it seems to have a very positive impact on one’s psyche. Is is almost like an environment where students want to learn and teachers want to teach. I also went into year 3 (Mr Singh and Mrs Naceva) and 4 (Mr Reddy and Mr Inoke) classrooms. I showed them Microsoft Photo Story. I asked the question how many of you would like to make a Photo Story. 95% said yes but there are 3 girls who said no. Their reason was that it was too hard. So I got them to the front of the classroom and showed them one or two basic steps and in no time they were explaining to others in the class how photo stories can be made.  I also asked students about how many of them had computers at home. Just by the show of hands, it was obvious that only 10% of the students’ had computers at home. Other than video games, there was little use for these at home. The use of computers at home by the students was not much different to what has been observed in some of the countries in the west.

A data projector in a classroom - a first the students!

At lunchtime the year sixes got into groups and sorted the LEGO bricks. A robotics club is probably the most feasible way of introducing robotics at this school.  I spent some time with two of the teachers and did some basic programming in robotics. There has been some success with picking up the Internet signal in the library. Connecting to the Internet is almost a hit or miss situation.

Teachers - Mr Seremaia and Mr Reddy putting a robot together

After school, I went to my “home” – the place where I grew up. There is another family which has bought the property and is making good progress. We are were welcomed with open arms by the new owners. We had a cup of tea and then headed back to the motel.

I once live here

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2011: Day 3 @ Naidovi

It is 7.30 in the evening and I’m reflecting on my thoughts in a Fijian Bure. At this motel the bure is built in the centre of the complex. A bure is a traditional Fijian house. It is very nice but unfortunately they are just too many mosquitoes. So as I dodge and squash the mosquitoes I will keep talking to my voice recorder. So far the going has been good. Mr Adam Taylor one of the teachers at the school, built the first robot. He teamed up with the Head Teacher (Mr Sashi Kumar) to build.

Mr Taylor and Mr Kumar engaged in building

I also ran a Windows Movie Maker session for teachers. The attendance was quite good. Ideally it would have been good if I had spent blocks of time with the teachers. In this way we could have got stuck into some serious work. However, the most feasible option is for me to interact with the teachers after-school. So what we do is focus on one technology for about 45 min after the school finishes. Teachers give up their time to participate and the enthusiasm of some of the teachers creates a very positive working environment.

There are some issues which are starting to emerge. The library seems to be running out of working space. This library block is 8 m x 8 m. With our focus on books and computers space becomes a limiting factor. But as US President Eisenhower said “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – I guess we are doing just that. As for the computers loading software does take a fair bit of time. I think in future I will try and organise this before I come across. Some of the batteries in the laptops are not holding charge – this is expected with second hand laptops. The design of the room is also an issue. There are 2 power points on opposite walls. With only one power outlet in each, the challenge of connecting 12 laptops is understandable. Perhaps a power board with six outlets in each could be a solution. So we have extension cables that seem to be all over the room. There is a workplace health and safety concern here. There is also a problem with the Internet. The library is more than 50 m from the school office. The router which is hardwired to the modem, is in the office. So making a wireless connection to the library is an issue. In terms of the activities that we talked about earlier in the week with the teachers – they all seem to be motivated to engage with them. Looking at the size of the school makes me think that two computer coordinators would be needed for this program to run after we have gone.

Somewhere to store the books momentarily

The other part of our engagement here that we were not expecting is the interest that has been shown by the community. People have been coming in is a different times of the day with all their praises and best wishes and blessings. The Fijian and Indian people seem to be so welcome at this school. When I was a student here, it was predominantly an Indian school. There were hardly any Fijian students who attended Naidovi even though the Voua village is almost across the road from the school. Today however 40% of the children at the school are Fijians. In my many years of schooling in Fiji, very few of my teachers were Fijians. But at Naidovi, there are Indian and Fijian teachers. It is a very pleasing and a positive change. For a multicultural society this is very important. The decision-makers ought to be commended for encouraging and promoting a move in this direction.

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2011: Day 2 @ Naidovi

We arrived at the school at 9 AM and got stuck into the work. Our main focus was to identify usable books from the existing stock that they had at school. We had some year six students come and help us. Understandably they were quite excited – it was obvious in their eyes. They very friendly and well behaved. They really wanted to get stuck into the computers. The Head Teacher made special lunch arrangements for us. We had lunch at his home. Teachers popped in and out during the day. For most of them there was an opportunity to do something different and we are looking forward to working with them.

Mr Sashi Kumar (Head Master), Mr Ashok Sewak (School Manager) and excited students

At the end of the school day we came back to the motel. In the evening we headed back to the school. After a long time I joined a bunch of people in Cuvu for a kava session. These sessions create greater opportunities to share the knowledge and information at the grassroots level. Some of the challenges that the villagers were facing was very obvious. From memory I think there are also a few mosquitoes around the place. But who cares about the mosquitoes it was a great opportunity anyway to mix with some of the people. The school also had organised a watchman for the evening. Security at the library wasn’t the best so having a watchman was quite important – at until the security grills went up.

Work in progress

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2011: Day 1 @ Naidovi

5/9/11

We arrived in Fiji last night on an Air Pacific flight from Brisbane. After a 45 min taxi driver from Nadi International airport, we got to our hotel it was almost 9 PM. This morning we had to the school. It was the first day of term 3. There was a staff meeting in progress when we got there. Shashi- the headteacher and his staff warmly welcomed us. This meeting was in the new library block which was built through the support of the people of Japan. To my knowledge this was probably the first time the school had received aid of this sort from a foreign government.

We explained to the teachers why we were there–our main objective was to see if we could help them design and implement their classroom activities using computers. We also indicated that we would like to set up their school library with a simple cataloguing system so that children could borrow and read books on a weekly basis. I was given the opportunity to talk to the teachers in small groups. So I had groups meetings with teachers in year 1&2, 3&4, and 5&6. The approach that I adopted was to look at the work that they were going to do that week or the week after. The program in Fiji across all the year levels is quite well-defined. Achievement indicators are clearly listed for each of the activities. Classroom based assessments (CBA) are a very important part of the school curriculum – it is a shift from term exams – an assessment practice which had long dominated the school landscape. So we settled on one activity for each of the three groups.  Purposely I chose not to create any extra work for the teachers. Everywhere in the world – there is too much for teachers to do – if new ideas can be blended with existing frameworks then it more likely to succeed in classrooms.  The teachers seemed to be very motivated and eager to engage.

Our understanding prior to our arrival was that the school did not have any library resources. But to our surprise most of the shelves in the library appeared reasonably  filled. However, the problem was many of these books were old textbooks and class sets. I was amazed to see class set of three books – Fiji the land and its people, Stories of Famous People and World History. I used these books when I was a student at Naidovi in Year 5 and 7. When I was in Year 7 the World History became obsolete because in 1971 we became one of the trial schools for Social Studies – so history was no longer taught. While these books may still have had some aspects of the content which was still relevant, these books were showing signs of aging. Many had gone past their use by date.

On the whole today was a relief – after months of agonising on how we would be received by the teachers – the signs were around were very positive. After almost 25 years – we had re-entered a school in Fiji – we were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.

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2011: The journey

A classroom block

The posts from here on tells the story of our engagement at Naidovi Primary School. Since my last visit in 2009, a new library block has been built. This was made possible through the support provided by the Japanese Embassy and the people of Japan. This is probably the first time foreign aid has been given to this school for capital works. We will spend the next two weeks and a bit in this block. The Handing over speech tells a bit more about this project.

The school library

As we commence this journey, we are grateful to the support that we have received from the following individuals: Kar-Tin Lee, Andy Yeh , Sabrina Menezes (QUT – School of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education), Martin Betts, Kelvin Modderman, Carmel Sang (QUT – Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering), Eugene Zhang (SEMIA), Issac Pursehouse (Engineers without Borders), friends, and relatives.

There is a sense of uncertainty about this project. How will this project pan out? But I tend to agree with the following quote:

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”
― Richard P. Feynman

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2011: Getting ready for Fiji – the LEGO robotic kits

We were most grateful to our good friend Eugene in Hong Kong who was very generous with his donation of a class set of robotic kits for our project.  He was able to do this  through his company which distributes LEGO Education products  in China. Without this generosity we would have never been able to afford these kits. When activities are suitably designed, these kits can promote high order thinking skills such as problem solving in learners. If these activities are linked to real-world contexts that can mean a lot more to the learners. These kits  can also enhance collaborative learning and teamwork.  Many of these  characteristics are highly valued aspects of teaching and learning in classrooms. In this project, these kits  can create new opportunities for children in a part of the world where such technologies are hard to come by. These kits  were sent directly to Fiji from China.  To our knowledge this would be the first time  that any school in the country would have the privilege to use these kits in their classrooms.

A LEGO robot

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2011: Getting ready for Fiji – the laptops

The laptops were our next priority. We opted for laptops because they do not need a permanent room in a school. They are also lighter – therefore transportation costs are lower. Our strategy here was to secure a class set of 12 secondhand laptops. For a while, we did not know where these laptops were going to come from. The support of the my colleagues at the university was crucial in making this happen. Eventually, I ended up with 12 laptops.  But most of these laptops did not have an operating systems in them –  so that was my next challenge.  To buy a brand-new  Windows XP system would have set me back a few hundred dollars for each laptop. Engineers without Borders (EWB) at our University which is run by a group of engineering students came to my rescue.  Through their efforts  we were able to install  the operating systems at a relatively low-cost. Once the operating systems were in place,  the next challenge followed.  Finding the drivers for the computers wasn’t the easiest task.  Almost all the laptops with different –  therefore we had to hunt for the drivers.

Some of the digital equipment

Once the systems and drivers were installed we had to find suitable software.  The logic here was  to ensure that the computers were usable even if the school did not have access to the Internet. We found a range of applications. Libre  Open office was a great application for a range of activities including word processing.  Other applications  which we installed included –  Photo Story 3 which is a free download from Microsoft,  Audacity, Google SketchUp, Jing,  Freemind,  TuxPaint, TuxMath, Scratch and  SAM.  Getting some of these to download  and work after installation was also challenging. To download these applications we had to be connected to the Internet – luckily once the drivers were installed, we were able to wireless connect to the Internet.   We also explored ways to ensure that Internet could be wirelessly picked up by the laptops in Fiji. This was based on the assumption that the school had an Internet connection. A wireless router was the best option to do this. We also manage to get a second-hand data projector, digital camera and some brand new external hard drives. Packaging these was the next challenge.  But like the books it all worked out and we were able to get it to the freight forwarding company  with all the necessary documentation a week before our departure.

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2011: Getting ready for Fiji – the library books

In order to get this project underway, we needed library books. The strategy was to gather secondhand library books that was suitable for primary school students. One of the TAFE libraries was weeding out its collection – we were able to source some of the books from here. Friends and relatives donated some from their own collections. We also bought some to make the numbers up to 400.

The next phase involved preparing the books for the library shelves. This involved putting labels and stickers to identify their appropriateness for lower, middle and upper primary school students. We also setup a spreadsheet so that the library had a digital record of its collection.

Packing the books into cartons, transporting it to the freight forwarders, completing the documentation for customers were the next big challenges. It is amazing how heavy these books can be. It was all a great learning process.

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What was the motivation behind this project?

Seated in this photo from left to right are: Mr Ram Jiwan Sharma (Secretary), Mr Bechan (President), Mr Raghunandan Singh (Vice-President), Mr Sarju Prasad (Manager). Standing from left to right are the Head-Teacher – Mr Ram Charitra Sharma, Mr Shri Ram (Treasurer) and Mr Ram Prasad (Executive). Absent from this photo are the following members of the school committee – Mr Budh Ram, Mr Shri Krishan, Mr Dhani, Mr Jhinnu, Mr Karan Singh, and Mr Dur Swami.

A visit to my old primary school in Fiji some years ago was the motivation behind this project.  I had gone to take some photos of places within the school that had become etched in my memory – like the classroom where my year two teacher slapped me so hard the first time that I wrote in an exercise book with one of those thick black pencils. To this day I still do not know what I had done wrong. It was some writing activity which must have horribly gone wrong.

Naidovi Primary School opened its doors in 1924 – in a village called Cuvu. Today the school has about 400 students on its roll from Years 1 to 6. On one of the walls in head teachers office is the photo (shown above) of the founders of this school.Two of the people in this photo were my great-grandfather (Mr Bechan) and my grand father (Mr Shri Ram). While the people in the photo were either illiterate or had limited education, they believed that educating their children and the future generations was important. Education was seen as the passport to a brighter future. Through donations from the local community, Naidovi Primary School was setup.

When I toured the school with the Head Teacher, what hit me the most was the “library”. When I was student there, the library empty – when I went back this time…almost 40 years later – it was still empty. I feel that the lack of exposure to appropriate books early in my childhood may have impacted on my interest in reading. Even today – I do not read much fiction (I may be making an excuse…but it sounds logical). The thought of the school making a transition to the digital age did cross my mind – but sounded very foolish at the time.

This visit made the need for print and digital resources at this school very obvious.  Of greater importance was the development of an effective model that could provide a framework for the effective integration of these resources in the classrooms. Consequently, our key objectives for this project emerged from this experience. After about 18 months brainstorming ideas we decided that we will make available to these students – digital (laptops, robotic kits, cameras and anything else we could get our hands on) and print resources (library books).

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What is the Fiji Project?

What we achieved in 2011.

Every child should have the opportunity to dream and aim high irrespective of where they are born.

Sadly, some children are deprived of educational opportunities. Access to resources such as books and technology that many of us consider to be vital to quality education is hard to come by in some classrooms.

As a consequence, some children may never realise their true potential in the digital age. 

The Fiji project is about helping children achieve their goals and fulfil their dreams. It is about creating new opportunities. It is about developing a low-cost sustainable model for the acquisition and integration of print and digital resources in schools so that children get a chance to develop to their full potential. It is about skilling teachers to use the resources effectively and confidently in their classrooms. All in all – it is about knowledge sharing.

This project commenced in 2011 at Naidovi Primary School in Cuvu (about  an hour drive from Nadi Airport). I was once a student here. It is hoped that it will be extended to other schools over time. This website will be updated with blogs of this journey. The following quote by Peter Senge sums up thessence of this project:

“Sharing knowledge is not about giving people something, or getting something from them. That is only valid for information sharing. Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.”
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