by Bridget Kennelly
I’m sitting here in my office overlooking the lagoon, where, in about a week’s time, I am looking forward to welcoming back more than 400 secondary boarding students to Immaculate Heart College, Taborio. I’ve learnt a lot during my time in placement over the past year at Taborio and part of this has been reflecting upon what is truly at the core of education.
Jesus is our first and foremost example of a teacher. He taught without an Interactive whiteboard, electricity, without the dilemmas of devices, social media, peer pressure etc. He taught by example and by respect, compassion, understanding and patience. These are the values that are universal. Non-universal materialistic things, I have learnt, are not actually the essence of teaching. They may enhance the learning environment, and give more access to students with special needs, but ultimately the core values remain as not only useful tools as a good teacher, but vital.
I have learnt the importance of respecting the cultural values of the community you enter as a volunteer. In Australia and much of the western world, success is measured more outwardly… a successful formal education can lead to a well-paid job, which can lead to having material possessions, which can lead to sometimes a ‘false’ sense of social status. Here in Kiribati and many Pacific Island countries, success is measured in terms of contributing to family and church. A cultural education is valued, possibly more than a formal education. There are not as many opportunities in formal education, especially beyond High School. First and foremost, children are taught by their families and communities, including life skills which will help them contribute to their family and community in traditional roles. Skills such as weaving, cooking, traditional building, fishing, dancing, singing are highly valued to pass on through generations.
I am well aware of the need not to place my western cultural values on top of those of the culture I have entered. Yes, I chose the vocation of a teacher, therefore helping to empower teachers to provide access to a comprehensive formal education to me is important. I have learnt however, that a formal education must work alongside a cultural education which is just as important.
Teachers in Kiribati are able to teach without a formal qualification in education. They can be extremely young, only a year ahead in age from their students. They teach, often copying the styles they themselves have been taught with, as they know no different ways and lack confidence to try new methods. In weekly 2 hour workshops over the past year, the staff at IHC Taborio undertook professional learning such as establishing Student-Teacher boundaries, behaviour management, lesson planning, understanding different learning styles, blooms taxonomy (higher order thinking), hands-on learning and various other topics. Mentors were identified within the group who led smaller discussions around common issues (absenteeism, behaviour etc). We came up with a common theme for behaviour across the school, which has its basis in ‘Respect’ (Respect for learning, others, themselves, property).
Education here may be seen as ‘challenging’. A severe lack of resources, including desks, chairs, adequate classroom space make the learning environment very basic. Formal exams set by the Ministry of Education are given in the students’ second language, English, which makes assessment of knowledge in other subjects dependent on a competent grasp of English. However the students have skills that set them up to be good citizens… skills of resilience, perseverance, working together, determination, a positive attitude. Despite the challenges faced here, the universal values of teaching remain… Respect, compassion, understanding and patience.
To support An English Teacher and Mentor in Taborio – Kiribati donate today and help us fund 12 further months of professional development training for the staff of Immaculate Heart College.