Securing sustainable skills abroad

JCU Education students and lecturers at Angkor Wat.

Supplied by Carly Boulter.

Personnel Image

Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

28 March 2023

Service learning for sustainable futures

In late 2022, a group of JCU pre-service teachers and their lecturer Tanya Doyle travelled to Cambodia as part of JCU’s Service Learning for Sustainable Futures subject. While there, the group was able to spend three weeks in a local community school to assist student learning and broaden their own skillset as future teachers.

Across November and December in 2022, the group of students embarked on a service learning placement for three weeks to Cambodia. Tanya Doyle, a JCU Education lecturer, accompanied them to support the students’ placement. “Undertaking service learning in Cambodia is an opportunity for JCU Education students to develop a greater understanding of reciprocal learning,” Tanya says.

“So, we went to a community school in Siem Reap in Cambodia called Treak Community Centre. We engaged in reciprocal learning experiences with teachers and school leaders at the school,” she says. “Our JCU pre-service teachers had access to a range of experiences, from engaging in early literacy learning through to science curriculum in the school.

“The highlight for me was watching our pre-service teachers grow and extend their professional knowledge set. They were able to recognise the transferability of those experiences, particularly on returning home and working with students in diverse classrooms,” Tanya says.

The Cambodia trip fit within the subject Service Learning for Sustainable Futures, where JCU students are encouraged to critically reflect on their professional practice to develop and evaluate learning goals. The subject is designed to support successful transition into the teaching profession and develop service-learning projects to strengthen the social and environmental sustainability of communities. “Service learning is a capstone, or finishing up subject in the Education degree and for many of the teachers they’re just about to go into teaching full time,” Tanya says.

“So, understanding the different systems and processes within schools is something that was particularly interesting and eye-opening for our pre-service teachers. It helped them to build a greater appreciation, understanding and perspective of the systems we have in place in Australia.”

Carly Boulter at the Kulen Elephant Forest Sanctuary in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Supplied by Carly Boulter.

Building bonds beyond borders

Carly Boulter, a final-year Education student with a passion for teaching English, Business and Visual Arts was one of the students who participated in the service learning trip. She says that her time in Cambodia was an exciting and eye-opening opportunity.

“I mostly worked in the library at the school, where different classes rotated through each day,” she says. “This meant I was involved in assisting many different teachers and students throughout the school.”

The service learning placement in Cambodia was focused on reciprocal learning, rather than simply volunteering. This meant that JCU pre-service teachers could provide their skills and knowledge to assist within the school environment, but they also gained strategies and experience for their own teaching repertoire.

“I can already see how my experience in Cambodia is beneficial to my future career in teaching,” Carly says. “I learned a number of strategies from the teachers in the school that I will be able to incorporate into my own teaching. In particular, it was a great experience to guide teaching and learning with English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) students, and I will be able to use this to benefit similar students within my own classroom in Australia.

“I also gained a deeper understanding of how historical events from the past can impact on student learning within the classroom. We learned a lot about the history of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and how this still impacts students today. Learning about this also influenced my understanding of Australian history and its impact on students in our classrooms,” Carly says.

Carly’s time in Cambodia was also an enjoyable way to expand her networks, both within JCU and abroad. “Outside of school hours I spent my free time with the JCU group. We shared meals together, explored Siem Reap, participated in pottery classes and went to the markets. We had time to watch the incredibly talented artists at Phare Circus and went on a tour of Tonlé Sap Lake and the floating villages.”

“My time in Cambodia was a really good opportunity to build relationships with other pre-service teachers. Spending time with the other students and our lecturer, Tanya Doyle, was an amazing experience. We created such a strong support network that still exists now that we are home. I will always value the connections I formed with this incredible group of people.”

JCU Bachelor of Education student, Carly Boulter

JCU Education student Connor Wolf smiling and sitting on a boat as he tours a lake in Cambodia.
Three JCU students smiling and standing in front of temples in Cambodia.
Left: Connor Wolf on a tour of Tonlé Sap Lake and the floating villages in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Supplied by Connor Wolf. Right: Carly Boulter (left) and other JCU Education students who went on the Cambodia service learning trip. Supplied by Carly Boulter.

A repertoire of real-world skills

Connor Wolf was another JCU pre-service Education student who went on the Cambodia trip. Now in his final year of studying, Connor says his Cambodia placement helped him to gain a range of teaching experience.

“As a pre-service teacher majoring in Secondary Education, the Cambodia trip gave me a lot of experience working with much younger age groups, including students as young as four years old,” he says.

“Our time in Cambodia gave me a greater appreciation of how valuable teaching and education is and the difference it can make in the lives of people in Australia and internationally,” Connor says. “After working with students from EAL/D backgrounds, I have a greater understanding of how to support these students, especially from a younger age.

“It was also a really great experience to learn a lot more about Cambodian and South East Asian cultures. Teaching in a multicultural country like Australia, I’ll be a more knowledgeable teacher with a better understanding of these cultural contexts.”

Like Carly, the trip gave Connor the opportunity to connect with other JCU pre-service teachers. “I had only met one other person before the trip, but by our final day, the in-country partner said we had been the most cohesive and productive group he has seen in many years.”

Connor says the chance to see different parts of Cambodia was also unforgettable. “We visited Angkor Wat for a 5am sunrise tour. That was wonderful,” he says. “We also went on a day trip to an elephant sanctuary that is established as a non-government organisation. They have a partnership with the neighbouring village and provide employment to local farmers while also caring for the retired elephants.”

JCU Education students and lecturers with students from the Treak Community Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Supplied by Dara Moeun.

Supporting lifelong learning

While Service Learning for Sustainable Futures is a capstone subject for all JCU Education students, the placement in Cambodia is just one of many enjoyable placement options.

Tanya Doyle says that service learning provides more insight into the purposes of education and the significance that education plays in local and global contexts. “It provides a valuable new lens through which beginning teachers can see their role in communities,” she says.

“The main benefit of service learning through placements such as the Treak Community Centre in Cambodia is that it enables pre-service teachers to realise they are resilient, creative and can adapt to classroom situations as they arise. These types of dispositions are really important in contemporary classroom practice, no matter where you teach,” Tanya says.

But Tanya says there are many other practical benefits through the service learning placements. “It develops pre-service teachers’ repertoire of strategies for working in classrooms, particularly for EAL/D students,” she says. “Service learning also has the benefit of creating opportunities for professional networking. As a result of the program, pre-service teachers have developed networks with each other and with international contacts.

“The time in Cambodia enabled JCU students to develop a greater understanding of the pillars of sustainability, including the social, ecological and political,” Tanya says. “Our teaching at JCU enables Education graduates to have a practical understanding of how these pillars manifest together to create safe and secure opportunities for young people.”

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