When Rhema graduates with a UNE Associate Degree in Teaching, she will be the first Nauruan in UNE’s Pacific Education Program with an ICT and computer studies specialisation.
It’s no easy task in a country with an intermittent internet connection and little in the way of resources. But it’s just one of many ways students and their UNE lecturers in the UNE Pacific Education Program are proving their adaptability.
“It’s been a big ask for Rhema to attempt to do units in IT and computer programming with such a limited IT infrastructure around her,” says UNE’s Pacific Education Program lead, Professor Pep Baker. “UNE and Rhema have had to be really innovative in what online learning strategies we use so that Rhema can access the content and develop her understanding,” Pep says.
It will mean Rhema has vital skills to help secondary students with learning via their mobile devices, and she’ll be able to help them make the most of increased connectivity once a planned undersea internet cable is installed.
It’s been a big ask for Rhema to attempt to do units in IT and computer programming with such a limited IT infrastructure around her
“She’s really managing very well,” Pep says. “For a two-year fulltime qualification, even during COVID with lockdowns from our end and lockdowns in Nauru, she will only have two units to do next year.”
The students learn from a UNE study centre on the island, and while some studies are online, there’s always a lecturer available in person for assistance, teaching and student support.
The aim of the UNE Pacific Education Program is to train local teachers for local schools in Nauru – teachers who can be role models for local children and best champion and protect Nauruan culture. Currently, there are about 40 Nauruan teachers that are UNE-trained. But Pep says the success of the program is also in showing students like Rhema just what they are capable of.
“The students are getting a qualification that is recognised internationally, so they can use that as a springboard later on. A lot of the students have been surprised at their ability to undertake university studies and it has led onto other things down the track,” she says.
“At one stage we offered a Diploma of Community Welfare and Wellbeing – Pacific Focus. One of the six students went on to do a Bachelor of Law in Queensland, because her big interest was in youth justice, and another is doing medicine in Taiwan.
“Just having the opportunity to demonstrate to themselves and have something to put on paper on their CV has opened a lot of doors.”
Quality local school education is important for setting the groundwork for what’s possible in the future. Rhema says her mother’s experience as a teacher inspired her to join the profession.
“I like it how she’ll come home and talk about how she could help those students who are struggling and how at the end she’ll be proud of how they can achieve their goals in learning. So I see how it makes her feel proud and feel better that she can help other students, and I just want that feeling too,” she says.
The students are getting a qualification that is recognised internationally, so they can use that as a springboard later on. A lot of the students have been surprised at their ability to undertake university studies and it has led onto other things down the track.
Rhema is especially enjoying learning teaching strategies, and looking forward to the opportunity to put them into practice – including on prac in Armidale in October.
“The students get the opportunity to do one of their professional learning experiences in Australia, it’s a 20-day prac incorporated in the Teaching in a Bilingual Classroom unit because there will be a big focus on English instruction, but at the same time they’ll be thinking about strategies that will work in their own context and how they’ll need to adapt that,” Pep says.
The practical experience will also be invaluable for Rhema’s ICT studies.
“I’m looking forward to getting all those strategies and learning into practice, because right now it’s just in the books and assignments on it, but not much yet with the real practice,” she says.
“Since I’m doing ICT computer studies, I’m looking forward to the experience with the technologies to be used in learning, because here in Nauru we don’t have those kinds of resources.”
But the trip isn’t just about the learning experience.
“There’s a real cultural exchange too, we find the Nauruan students give so much to the Armidale community by sharing their culture and their life and their stories, but while they’re here, we also show as much of the Australian culture as we can. So apart from what they learn in schools, they have weekend excursions, so this time they’ll be going to Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie, going to the wildlife park, we’ll go to Sydney on the last weekend and we’re even going to go to the Capitol Theatre and see Moulin Rouge,” Pep says.
“We try and show as much of the diversity of Australia as we can and visit the national parks around the New England and just have events out in the community.”
That will include a formal dinner at UNE’s St Albert’s College, celebrating one of the most important days of the year for Nauruan people: Angam day on 26 October, which marks the day Nauru was classified as a nation once again.
The students also don’t miss out on the quintessential experience of a UNE graduation while in Nauru – robes, UNE banners and all.
While Nauru throws up plenty of unique challenges for students and UNE staff – from its lack of connectivity to its flooding monsoonal rains – Pep says student centred learning is the same everywhere.
“It’s just about learning to adapt and knowing what to do with the resources that you have.”
Image: UNE education student Rhema, and students in the study centre in Nauru.