The power of a UNE education reverberates daily around the world. Here, we share the stories of two men, in two countries, having a profound impact on the lives of countless others.

Dr Karma Jigyel followed in the footsteps of the many Bhutanese students who have travelled to UNE to further their education. He completed his Masters in Mathematics Education in 2005, with support from the Royal Government of Bhutan, and then his PhD, in 2019.

Dr John Pokana gained a UNE International Strategic Development Scholarship in 2012 to study at UNE. He completed his PhD – a policy study of inclusive education – before returning to make his mark in Papua New Guinea.

Postcard from Paro, Bhutan – Dr Karma Jigyel

“UNE has a long history of supporting the Bhutanese education system and has always been a very close friend of higher educational institutions in Bhutan, particularly the colleges of education. Many distinguished UNE professors and academics continue to contribute to our education system.

After completing my Masters at UNE I returned to Bhutan and joined Samtse College of Education (SCE), Royal University of Bhutan, as a lecturer. What I learnt at UNE supported me immensely in teaching undergraduate students’ modules in research, mathematics education and assessment.

In 2007 I moved to Paro College of Education (PCE). As time progressed, I started conducting small research projects, and publishing articles with national and local journals, thanks to the research knowledge I had acquired through my research project at UNE.

In 2015, after numerous applications to various Australian universities, UNE generously offered me a scholarship to do my PhD, for which I will always be indebted. My PhD (thesis by journal article format) focused on Inclusive and Special Education for children with special needs in Bhutanese schools. I had a fully committed and awesome supervisory team that supported me wholeheartedly. Armidale became like my second home.

Before I completed my PhD in 2018, I was able to publish two of my five chapters in reputed international journals. And now all five have been published. A great achievement indeed, that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my supervisors.

After completing my PhD in 2018 I returned to my parent organisation, PCE, and was assigned the role of Program Leader responsible for developing Bhutan’s first Master of Education in Inclusive Education program, which was already in progress. It was launched in Spring 2020, with a cohort of 20 in-service teachers from schools all over Bhutan. Our second cohort, which started in Spring 2021, includes 11 more in-service teachers.

The knowledge that I gained during my PhD with UNE has helped me immensely in developing this program. I have also initiated a three-year project with PCE in partnership with the University of Roehampton (UK), University College Leuven-Limburg (Belgium) and Evalag (Germany) to develop a diploma program for teacher assistants in schools that support special education. This will be offered at PCE in 2024, supported by the European Commission. I am also engaged in a three-year, multi-country study in partnership with Kathmandu University (Nepal) and the South Asian Institute of Social Transformation (Bangladesh) to investigate educational innovations for out-of-school children with disabilities and children at risk of dropping out of school. This project is funded by the International Development Research Centre and Global Partnership of Education and, like the first, will provide opportunities for me to submit articles to reputed international journals in the field of inclusive and special education.

I owe all these achievements to the knowledge I gained at UNE, and the unconditional support of both UNE and the Australian Government. As an academic today, my purpose is to serve Bhutan in addressing the issues of inclusive and special education for children with disabilities and their families, and to contribute to the area of inclusive education globally. Last, but not least, I sincerely thank Dr Judith Miller, former Associate Professor, UNE, for her amazing support as a mentor and friend, and for making my family’s stay in Armidale such a memorable and successful one.”

Postcard from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – Dr John Smith Pokana

“When I returned home to PNG after my UNE studies I joined the National Department of Education, first acting and then as the Director for Inclusive Education, where I worked for seven years. My first greatest achievement was completing a major review of the National Special Education Policy and Guidelines and developing a 10-year Strategic Implementation Plan (2020–2029). My second was completing post-doctoral study.

Since then I have been the Principal Appointment Advisor with the Teaching Service Commission of the Ministry of Education. Here, I initiated a pilot project for inclusion in PNG schools, beginning with those with a visual impairment and followed by other disabilities. The New Zealand Government, through the Maori Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provided development aid for the introduction of an inclusive model in three PNG provinces. Thanks to a New Zealand consortium (Christian Blind Mission – CBM) and grant of NZ$1.6 million, this model is now being rolled out in three provinces as a pilot project and will eventually be extended to PNG schools in all 22 provinces. This means the government, as well as development partners including DFAT (AusAID), will fund the projects.

After the project is completed I intend to achieve my goal of becoming an Associate Professor/Professor. I also want to invite UNE to help achieve my next project – to deliver online education to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. In this way, I can assist the children, young people and adults of Bougainville to build their capacities and prepare for self-determination. I thank my PhD supervisors (Adjunct Professor Dr Thomas Maxwell, Dr David Paterson, and Dr Charles Kivunja), UNE, and above all God Almighty for his manyfold wisdom and for helping me to achieve these milestones from humble beginnings.”