By John Bradley. Feature image (a bit fuzzy) : online revision physics lesson for Yrs11-13.
I had to return from my Palms placement at Don Bosco College and Vocational Technical Centre at Salelologa in Samoa in early August this year due to ongoing health problems. The decision to return was, of course, a very difficult and regretful one. The work was going well and having been at the school for more than six months, I had really become part of the school landscape. I certainly would have liked to stay, and my sister suggested that one way I could maintain my connection with my students and continue to work with the school would be via online means once I had returned.
Great minds think alike
It transpired that Palms had been developing an idea for program participants who are only able to spend six months out of Australia. So, after I had returned from Samoa, Palms facilitated my continued engagement with the school as the pilot for a possible dual-mode mentoring program. Essentially Palms is testing the integrity of the mentoring able to be provided after a Palms participant has spent six months in country being mentored in culture and language. Palms has also believed that six months is about the time it takes to network, build relationships and come to appreciate the strengths on which training might be provided for local counterparts.
One factor that helped assuage my worries about returning home was that three Salesian volunteers had arrived at Don Bosco to work for the second half of 2023. They were not teachers, and none were confident about teaching Physics or Maths, so they were keen to facilitate my online work. Additionally, the full support of the school principal, Fr Petelo, meant that there were several drivers of the idea at their end.
The initial plan was that I would teach two lessons a week, via Skype, to the Year 11/12 Physics class, and Billy, the volunteer who had taken over that class, would teach two lessons. The school has a data projector, which was set up in the Science lab for each lesson. A laptop, Bluetooth speaker, and hot-spotted mobile phone were all provided by the volunteers. With screen sharing, I can use an online whiteboard, show documents and share videos, all of which help greatly in the lessons, which began on September 4th.
It was wonderful to see and hear my students again, and to do my best to help them with their Physics. They seem to appreciate and enjoy the online learning. Billy was glad to have a back-up teacher, and we work very well together. There were some issues with extraneous noise, and after a few weeks the school organised a shift into the school library, where the projector could be set up more permanently, there is a proper screen, a quieter environment and even air conditioning, which is much more comfortable for the class. A second class, Year 10 Physics, has now joined the plan as well, and nearly 15 lessons have taken place in all.
The other important aspect of the plan is that the Salesian volunteers were available to handle the process on their end. It has required many email exchanges, document transfers, long phone calls, and messaging conversations. With school and trial exams having recently taken place, and government exams approaching, I have been able to assist with revision booklets, revision lessons, exam proofing and marking.
Although I miss the daily school life in Samoa, I have been very glad to be able to continue my involvement with Don Bosco and have found it rewarding. With the support of Fr Petelo, I hope my mentoring can continue next year, though the Salesian volunteers will have returned home. Optimising the process in Samoa or elsewhere would require personnel, preferably local teachers, to be mentored so that they can take more responsibility for the teaching in future years. Properly planned, I think dual-mode mentoring has great potential for Palms program participants.