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Learning lessons in Nepal


If you’re a teacher in training tasked with refining your practice in a classroom with a completely different set of rules, you know your pupils won’t be the only ones learning a lesson. For a recent group of ACU students, volunteering in a Nepalese school challenged their resilience, knowledge and skills – and their own education.

Recently, ACU early childhood and primary education students travelled to Nepal on a study abroad trip to work at a local school in the Patan province, close to Kathmandu. Persevering through the challenges, including overcoming language barriers, illness and navigating vastly different education philosophies and practices, tested their resilience daily.

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Teaching respect

The tour was co-led by Dr Andi Salamon, a lecturer in early childhood education, who believes the experience in Nepal taught her students valuable lessons in adaptability and empathy, both critical skills for teachers.

“Learning to check your privilege is so important for all of our teaching students,” said Dr Salamon. “When you’re working in an early childhood setting, we’re often the first point of contact for children outside of their homes, and you have to work with diverse families respectfully and collaboratively.

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“Having empathy is vital, and it’s important teachers don’t judge the children in their care whose backgrounds may be very different to their own. This means reflecting on and working to let go of preconceived ideas.”

Child’s play

While Dr Salamon reinforces this message to her students here in Australia, once they were with her in Nepal, it was an opportunity for them to connect theory to experience and put empathy into action.

“In Australia, we really focus on play as learning in early years education, but in Nepal they take a completely different approach,” Dr Salamon said. “In their classrooms, the teachers have pupils as young as two or three years old sitting down mostly and it’s a lot of rote learning.

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“Getting to see how the Nepalese teachers ran their classes really helped our students because when they enter the field here at home, they’re still going to have to face different philosophies at different centres and schools.”

Experience is the best teacher

Aside from gaining hands-on teaching experience, Dr Salamon’s students reported building resilience as their main takeaway from the trip.

“You have to live resilience to learn it,” Dr Salamon said. “In Nepal, our students had all kinds of obstacles to overcome – language was a huge barrier and trying to find a shared understanding with the Nepalese teachers was an added difficulty. Resilience comes from continuing to move forward through these challenges.”

 

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Third-year student Nicholas Stephens joined Dr Salamon on the trip and described the experience as invaluable.

“We were placed under extreme adversity,” Nicholas said. “This included being unwell, managing communication issues, and dealing with their lack of classroom resources.

“But when you establish and maintain relationships with people from a country so different to your own, you begin to understand that we have more in common than you’d think, and learning the differences can bring you closer together.

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“The experience gave me the confidence to deal with the hurdles that I’ll come across when I enter the profession, which will often be smaller than the ones I faced in Nepal.”

Question time

Encouraging our teaching students to think deeply about the profession they’re about to enter is important to Dr Salamon, and one of her best moments on the trip was seeing her students question their own education.

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“I was sitting outside one of the classrooms in Nepal and I overheard a conversation between two ACU students,” she said. “They impressed me so much that I knew I had to get in on it!

“They were reflecting on these big, deep ideas and were talking about how they’ve been taught that play-based learning is best. However, they were wondering what was so wrong with some of the ways the Nepalese teachers approached early childhood education.

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“They went on to discuss some of the historical education traditions that we’d let go, but decided there could still be some merit there. They were being critical of our education system in a really constructive way that put children and their culture first. I just loved hearing them talk about not taking big ideas in education for granted.”

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G