Written by Glenda Cain, The University of Notre Dame Australia
The Principal of the Tjuntjuntjara Remote Community School, Daniel Havelberg, has great praise for the ten The University of Notre Dame Australia pre-service teachers and staff who recently spent a week in the school and contributed significantly to the lives of the children.
Tjuntjuntjara is located in the Great Victorian Desert, 1400 kms from Perth. A unique partnership between the School of Education and the Tjuntjuntjara community has grown over the past three years and has provided an invaluable service-learning immersion. As stated by the Principal:
“The opportunity for pre-service teachers to experience and have exposure to the rewards and challenges of teaching in a remote context is extremely valuable. The pre-service teachers are able to spend time in the classrooms with students, talk to teachers, explore and learn about the community, while being supported by the teaching staff and Principal here at Tjuntjuntjara School and the staff from Notre Dame.”
The process of the visit from Notre Dame is well explained by the phrase here in Pitjantjatjara, Ngapartji Npapartji, meaning “I give you something, you give me something.” This process allows the school and community to gain by receiving the service of the pre-service students.
This year, in just four days, the students installed a new playground including soft fall sand, they painted classroom doors, cleaned out the sports and garden sheds, assisted with I.T. issues, repacked the cooking store room, sorted books in the library, fixed leaking taps, and more. This service to the school is invaluable; approximately six months of weekend jobs all done in just a few days. The visiting students gain a valuable insight into understanding and being aware of the cultural, physical, professional and personal rewards and challenges that come with remote teaching. The students spent time in classrooms, played with children, went on bush trips, ate Maku (witchetty grubs), slept under the stars in swags, spent time in the women’s centre and the community as a whole.
The Notre Dame pre-service teachers financed their own participation in this service-learning immersion that included a train trip to Kalgoorlie and then a 4WD adventure of 600kms to reach the very remote Tjuntjuntjara community. However, this expense was worthwhile, and the impact of the service-learning experience is captured in the words of some of the UNDA pre-service teachers:
“The trip to Tjuntjunjara far exceeded any expectations I had. It gave me an insight into how Indigenous Australians live, and what it is like to teach in a remote community. It opened my eyes to the difficulties that remote communities face, and gave me a greater appreciation of Aboriginal culture. The trip was unforgettable, and something I would love to experience again.”
“I volunteered to go to Tjuntjuntjara as I was hoping to find something new, to be challenged. Oh boy, did that happen! This trip challenged me mentally and physically, and it challenged almost all my preconceived ideas about the Aboriginal people and how to teach them in a Western classroom. I was completely ignorant of the differences between our cultures and this trip feels like an important first step in allowing me to become a more informed person and hopefully, a better teacher.”
It is experiences like these that will be shared at the School of Education Service-learning Conference to be held at the university, November 27th and 28th, 2015. More information about this inaugural event can be found on the Notre Dame website.