In 2016 Palms Australia began a partnership with Don Bosco College & Vocational Technical Centre, an Educational facility in Salelologa, a village district at the east end of Savai’i island in Samoa. Residents of Savai’i have limited access to quality education and therefore job opportunities. Don Bosco is committed to long-term solutions through improving the quality of education.  The staff of the College have worked alongside Palms mentors in response to specific areas of growth and have achieved lasting impacts for residents of Savai’i.    

Island of Savai’i, Samoa

Samoa is a Polynesian Pacific country northeast of Fiji. The capital Apia is located on Upolu, the most populous and developed of the islands. Upolu and Savai’i, the largest island, account for 99 per cent of Samoa’s 192,000 population.  The Pacific island nation is home to stunning natural surrounds and a proud culture. In 1962, Samoa became the first Pacific island country to achieve independence.

The political situation in Samoa is stable.  There are limited employment opportunities beyond the village.  Educational challenges are marked by an education system that relies on English as the language of instruction, high dropout rates, repeater rates, high teacher turnover and low literacy and numeracy skills. The Samoan government has prioritized education and teacher training in its national strategic direction with the aim to improve access and quality of education.

Don Bosco College & Vocational Technical Centre

Don Bosco College and Vocational Technical Centre, Salelologa was opened by the Samoan Archbishop Alapati Mataeliga in 2011 to provide students of Savai’i with a vocational and technical education. According to the Archbishop, “…The idea of setting up Don Bosco here at Salelologa is to keep students in their homes while attending school.”

The school aims to provide Junior Secondary students with a high standard academic curriculum, while giving them the opportunity to explore and experience trade skills. At the end of Year 11, students can choose to continue with their academic studies or pursue their talents with a trade.

Strengthening English Literacy 2017-2018

During the Samoan Annual Teachers Conference in January 2017, one of the Principals highlighted that “…one of the biggest struggles we have is the lack of teachers”. This includes a lack of qualified and experienced teachers to mentor and motivate the next generation of educators. 

Don Bosco approached Palms, requesting the assistance of an English Teacher and Library Assistant to enhance the knowledge of local teachers, equipping them with skills and helping them to value the importance of being educators. In 2017, Helena Charlesworth who had previously participated in Palms program in Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Kiribati accepted the position with Don Bosco.

Helena’s extensive cross-cultural experience in teaching English underpins her belief that for literacy levels to improve students must be motivated to learn.  Animating and motivating students is reliant on the school, teachers, peers and family collaboratively encouraging and creating opportunities for student learning.

To help motivate and extend the vision of her students, Helena encouraged them to immerse themselves in books of different genres and topics, “ to ‘travel the world’ through books, to see that books contained lots of interesting articles, that books could provide a worthwhile pastime, to realise they could teach themselves through books and certainly many students did achieve this.” 

One of the highlights for Helena was the collective improvement and success achieved by her senior English class who achieved a “…74% pass rate in the Samoan School Leaving Certificate, apparently the highest since the College introduced the academic classes in recent years”.

Helena held an additional role as Library Assistant in which she mentored Samoan teacher Easter.  Easter eventually returned to the classroom but upon completion of working alongside Helena,  Easter was able to utilise her Librarianship skills to:

  • Catalogue 2770 library books using the Dewey Decimal System
  • Conduct weekly library instructional lessons for students to support their research and studies, preparing them with the necessary skills for tertiary education.
Helena and Easter

Father Nuku [Principal] highlighted Helena’s contribution by acknowledging that she had introduced much “improvement and change since she started working with us.” Fr Tevita Nukuluve Lefai

Strengthening Science Education 2017-2018

Don Bosco also identified a need for local science teachers to be mentored in their understanding and knowledge of science and be equipped with the methods and know-how in presenting their lessons. In 2017, Palms recruited Sue Ryan who had previously participated in Palms program in Kiribati, to undertake the role of Chemistry & Biology Teacher and Mentor.

Despite Sue’s extensive experience in teaching science to Pacific Island communities she was challenged by Science Education in Samoa; identifying three challenges to overcome:

  • the low level of English literacy
  • the learning style of the students and
  • the teaching styles of the teachers.

“If teachers do not address the first of these problems in their teaching, very little of the science…will be understood and hence the students will score poorly in their school tests and public exams. Be prepared therefore to be a language teacher when you teach science.”

Susan Ryan, Chemistry & Biology Teacher/Mentor 2017-2018

With the students, Sue role modelled and taught them how to ask their own questions, suggest their own ideas, try out their own ideas and explore possibilities.

Sue spent the initial months of her placement identifying different cultural teaching and student learning styles.  Understanding the local context, she was able to adapt her skills to provide mentoring that built on the existing teaching and learning skills. Adapting her skills also required an understanding of how the program could cater for individual differences in learning by improving and diversifying assessment methods, incorporating simplified materials, placing emphasis on visual and hands-on activities to enhance learning.

Throughout her two year assignment, Sue also assisted Samoan teachers to reorganise the Science Lab to meet both senior and junior curriculum requirements.  This involved setting up a suite of computers to be used by senior students to further enhance their research skill and independent learning.

Sue and staff

Don Bosco Technical Programs, 2018-2020

Building on past partnerships, Don Bosco College requested a Technical Program Accreditation Officer to guide their five technical programs (Plumbing & Sheet Metal; Carpentry & Joinery; Welding & Fitting; Motor Mechanics and Tourism & Hospitality) through accreditation and compliance with the Quality Management System standards and the Samoan Qualification Authority.

Palms recruited Helen Colla in January 2018, who had 12 years of specific experience in auditing and compliance management across various training and technical centres. Helen’s work included:

  • Providing technical educational opportunities for young women and men;
  • Enabling students from rural areas to remain with their families while undertaking their secondary education;
  • Providing approved and accredited technical qualifications for students that enable opportunities for future employment.
Helen at the Samoan Qualification Authority (SQA) Conference 2018

Two Technical Programs Receive Accreditation

In January 2020, Don Bosco officially received accreditation for two courses: Samoa Certificate I in Hospitality and Samoa Certificate I Trades Foundation Skills.  This was a culmination of over two year’s hard work by Helen and the dedicated staff at Don Bosco. Initially, they had 26 students enrolled into the Trades program and 9 enrolled into the Hospitality program. Each program scheduled to run for 12 months.

“Don Bosco Savai’i, is one of the first providers in Samoa to run accredited training. It is a new venture for everyone; staff, students and industry in Samoa. I feel very privileged and happy to be a part of such an exciting time here in Samoa and at Don Bosco.”

Helen Colla, Technical Program Accreditation Officer 2018-2020

Tourism is one of the biggest income earners for Samoa and the beautiful island of Savai’i. Gaining the required skills and knowledge to work in the hospitality industry has been dramatically improved by students being able to remain on the island to study, rather than having to relocate to the main island of Upolo for their studies.

This achievement is a tremendous contribution to the development of our school.  We are appreciative and proud to have a member of Palms Volunteers in our School.” 

Fr Tevita Nukuluve Lefai [Principal]

Despite the COVID-19 interruption to the running of these programs, Don Bosco still hopes to complete the first delivery of these 2 accredited programs by the end of 2020. This will enable the 35 students to graduate with a fully nationally recognised qualification by early 2021. 

“Vocational training, and therefore increased employment opportunities, is gaining momentum in Samoa and it is wonderful for me to be a part of this journey.”

Helen Colla, Technical Program Accreditation Officer 2018-2020

The principal of Don Bosco College and Vocational Technical Centre, Fr Nuku, has expressed his appreciation and acknowledgement of the continuing partnership with Palms:

“Helena, Susan and Helen [have contributed] very much to the school since they began serving here. They have made progress and better standard for the reputation and the development of our school.”

Fr Tevita Nukuluve Lefai, [Principal]

The Future

At Don Bosco’s request, Palms is currently looking to recruit a Maths & Science Teacher and Mentor to continue building on the strengths of Samoan teachers to provide quality maths & science education in Samoa. The ongoing needs continue in mathematics, science, agricultural science, arts and vocational subjects, to assist in achieving the approved teacher/student ratios of 1:30 (primary level) and 1:20 (secondary level).

Father Nuku is confident in the outcomes:

“From experience, working with Helena and Susan (previous Palms volunteers 2017/2018) in two years, I can see the effective progress and a lot of improvement on the teachers and the students.”

Fr Tevita Nukuluve Lefai, Principal Don Bosco College