By Charlotte Blundell, Senior Education Specialist, AusAID
I have my 20 year high school reunion coming up.
Despite my love of eighties rock, I am not sure I can bring myself to spend an evening quantifying my life into milestones. But if I do go, it will be to thank my high school literature teacher.
She opened a door to Puck’s forest, Gatsby’s elaborate parties, Plath’s bell jar and McAuley’s Huon Valley. She did this with imperceptible skill. A small class, our choice of text, vibrant group discussion and no high-stakes tests. She was like Professor Keating from Dead Poets Society, facilitating a kind of Svadhyaya (self-study).
20 years later, my own vocation is education and overseas aid. Working for AusAID with a community of experts and government officials, I am supporting improved education outcomes in the Pacific islands.
The Pacific has made great gains in expanding access to schooling over the past decade. Commitment to improving the quality of education is strong. Most governments in the region spend proportionately more of their GDP on education than Australia and are in the midst of major sector reforms. But huge challenges exist.
For instance, the diversity of languages spoken in the Pacific—over 800 in Papua New Guinea alone—adds incredible complexity to the process of teaching. What should the language, or languages, of instruction be? How do you teach the 3 Rs of a basic education—reading, writing and arithmetic—in multilingual, multigrade classrooms with minimal resources?
A lot is expected of teachers in the Pacific. This year a number of schools were temporarily closed due to floods in the west of Fiji, election-related conflict in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and a fire on Malaita in Solomon Islands. In the face of these challenges, teachers, and the communities they serve, adapted. Tents were put up provisionally in place of classrooms in Solomon Islands, examinations were rescheduled in Papua New Guinea and classrooms, furniture and schooling restored in Fiji.
It is a great privilege to be able to work with teachers in the Pacific and to know that Australia has supported, through the aid program, the pre-service and in-service training of thousands of these dedicated teachers.
On 5th October, it is World Teachers’ Day. On this day, let us celebrate the role teachers play in enabling children and adults of all ages to learn and to contribute to their local communities and our global community. And to my Professor Keating, in the words of Shakespeare, I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks, and ever thanks (Twelfth Night).
About the author: Charlotte Blundell
Charlotte Blundell is one of AusAID’s senior education specialists. She has spent 14 years with the agency, supporting the delivery of aid in South Asia and the Pacific. She was a primary author of the recent publication ‘Helping the World’s Poor through Effective Aid: Australia’s Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework to 2015-16’ and the 2007 publication ‘Better Education: A Policy for Australian Development Assistance in Education’.