Opening minds, transforming futures - UOW Outlook Magazine

Opening minds, transforming futures

By Professor Glenn Salkeld

Education has the power to transform children and their communities. Prof Glenn Salkeld explains how UOW opens the minds of teachers so they can be the catalyst for individual and social change.

It’s a story often told. The child who blossomed at school, whose learning and ambitions were fuelled by that special teacher. Then decades later, having reached a pinnacle in their career, in business or public life, they reflect upon the importance of teachers in getting them there. So often that reflection evokes feelings of gratitude, of admiration; a sense that teachers occupy a special place in our society. If only we could better demonstrate our gratitude. The story told less often is how we prepare and inspire our teachers. How the very essence of education is to empower all individuals to achieve what matters to them in life. 

It begins with teachers first mastering the foundations of their discipline. Then comes practice, application and further learning. That’s the teacher’s professional path. The teacher education path comes as a flow of experiences, interactions and relationships. It comes from being open to new thinking and ideas. 

That’s what we aim to do in giving our students the chance to learn overseas. For decades UOW students have had an opportunity to spend a few weeks overseas in places such as Thailand, China, Vietnam or Fiji, teaching in school classrooms. For some students it’s their first venture overseas. For others – travel hardened backpackers – its standard fare. But all have opened themselves to something new – a different place, a different culture, different language and food. 

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Yet there is the same desire among children, whether in Bangkok or Wollongong, to learn. There is the same desire among parents and families to see their child to get ahead in life, to achieve security and selffulfilment. All through education. Not everyone has the same opportunity for a good education. Where we live and how we live affect access to education and a child’s opportunities to learn. We know that children who live in poverty will most likely become adults living in poverty unless education can help to break that cycle. 

  • Find out what UOW alumni are doing to transform our world via education

It’s the goal of the Australian Not For Profit, So They Can to do just that: “Working together with communities and their governments in Kenya and Tanzania to educate and empower, so they can break the poverty cycle, realise their own potential and meet their own needs”.

The Faculty of Social Sciences has entered into a partnership with So They Can, our donor Vibe Teacher Recruitment, the Mamire Teachers’ Training College and the community of rural Babati in Tanzania to host a group of UOW primary education students on a reciprocal learning program in four primary schools in Babati. 

Everything that goes into education – the training of quality teachers, the physical infrastructure, the learning environment, the health and wellbeing of the students and their families is at once there for our students to see and experience. It’s no Contiki tour. Our students are expected to help tend to the garden farms that grow the maize that gives each child their daily hot lunch of ugali. They will work closely with Tanzanian volunteer teacher graduates, fully qualified teachers who themselves are waiting for entry into the Tanzanian civil service to become a paid teacher. 

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This experience is very much a case of respectful reciprocal learning and immersion in the customs, curriculum and language of learning for our UOW pre-service teachers. Like our students in Bangkok, one of the benefits of this immersive learning is the confidence it gives our future teachers to understand the individual child, to embrace difference and learn to adapt. Most importantly it helps empower communities in rural Tanzania to help themselves. 

On another continent, in Nepal, the Faculty of Social Sciences has developed a partnership with the International Child Resource Institute (ICRI), a global non-profit organisation that works to improve the lives of children and families around the world. Their vision is to “empower the village to raise the child”. ICRI emphasises early childhood care and education, children’s rights, the empowerment of women and girls, maternal and child health, and grassroots community development.

In February, 10 students from all schools in the Faculty travelled to Nepal to undertake a two-week study tour focused on positive social change. The study tour was the first of a multi-year project funded by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Scheme. That program immerses students in the very real and at times confronting world of children who, through no fault of their own, face hardship and unnecessary suffering because they have a parent who is in jail.

ICRI was involved in setting up the Network for Children, Prisoners and Dependants (NCPD) (established in 2002) with the explicit mission to improve the quality of life of children of prisoners and their dependants. Our students taught classes at the Prisoners Assistance Home, Sankhu. Education is key to giving children the chance to build worthwhile and dignified lives and give inmates the chance to reform and re-enter society. 

Our students also work with ICRI Nepal in responding to educational issues/problems or needs of a diverse community people through a project entitled “National Center for Learning Resources (NCLR)”. This initiative includes 21 government/public, community and private education institutes located in the periphery of Kathmandu Valley. 

The kind of activities sponsored by NCLR include, among many things, to assist community education centres in making classrooms more conducive to joyful and meaningful learning platform and making a “child-friendly” environment. 

Our students contribute directly to this work through collaborating with staff and students of Adarsha Kanya Niketan Community Secondary School in Patan, Kathmandu to transform an early childhood classroom from a concrete shell into a vibrant student-centred learning environment. Indeed, it is also our students who have been transformed by this experience having been required to flexibly adapt to undertake activities outside of their discipline of choice. 

In 2019, 15 students will undertake a similar program to build on these important relationships. In all of our international work with communities our aim is to support and enable; to allow communities to feel empowered, to be confident to make the decisions they need to for the betterment of all in their community. The immediate effects may not be obvious but the smiles say it all. Opening minds, opening opportunities no matter what the circumstances that children and their families find themselves in. 

  • Professor Glenn Salkeld is the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Prof Wilma Vialle and Katrina Gamble contributed to writing this article. 

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