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Education that transcends borders: Australian educators collaborate with Timorese teachers to enhance English language capabilities

Updated: Jul 2




Last year, as the cool winds of winter swept across Australia, six Australian educators embarked on a transformative journey — one that not only made a significant impact but also resonated deeply with the spirit of St Marcellin.


In a heartwarming display of international education exchange, six Australian teachers from Adelaide, Perth, and Sydney travelled to Timor-Leste to assist the staff at the Instituto Católico para Formação de Professores (ICFP), a Marist teacher training institute in Baucau, improve their English language capabilities.


This grassroots initiative, facilitated by Marist Schools Australia (MSA) in partnership with the ICFP, has blossomed into a resounding success story, prompting two more teams to visit the Southeast Asian country this year.


The Star Post caught up with one of the Australian volunteers, Paul Brooks, to delve deeper into the initiative, its impact, and their plans for the year 2024.


This grassroots initiative, facilitated by Marist Schools Australia (MSA) in partnership with the ICFP, has blossomed into a resounding success story, prompting two more teams to visit the Southeast Asian country this year.

Started with a conversation


"The genesis of the program can be traced back a few years to a series of engaging conversations between Frank Malloy, the National Director of MSA, and Br Paul Gilchrist, the Director of the ICFP Teacher Training College," said Paul. The discussions illuminated an urgent need - to strengthen the English proficiency of the ICFP's teaching staff, lecturers, and administrative personnel.


Sydney Catholic Schools had also been involved in conversations about becoming engaged with some of the Marist works in Timor-Leste.


After careful consideration, six volunteers were chosen from the applications received.

Recognising the opportunity to make a tangible difference, Frank and his team reached out to various Marist and Catholic schools across Australia, including staff from Sydney Catholic Schools, seeking interested teachers to travel to Timor-Leste. After careful consideration, six volunteers were chosen from the applications received. Much planning and discussions later, in June last year, these volunteers embarked on their rewarding journey to Timor-Leste.   


Thoughtful approach


One of the reasons for the initiative's success was the thoughtful approach the Australian teachers took while developing the curriculum. “We are all educators, so we knew what learning materials and tools to use. But we were mindful of not simply imposing a pre-conceived curriculum on the participants,” Paul said. 



Instead, the team sought to thoroughly understand the specific needs of the ICFP staff. "We wanted to tailor our lessons to meet their requirements. After all, only a collaborative, responsive approach can create a meaningful and lasting impact,” he added.


This nuanced stance manifested in targeted lessons for different groups. "For the office personnel, we focused on functional English skills - like composing formal emails and honing conversational abilities," Paul elaborated. "Meanwhile, the teaching staff received guidance on refining their instructional methodologies, lesson planning, and interactive teaching strategies."


"We wanted to tailor our lessons to meet their requirements. After all, only a collaborative, responsive approach can create a meaningful and lasting impact.”

Br Paul devised a timetable that allowed the ICFP staff to be available either in the morning or afternoon for each day of the program. Lessons were conducted over 10 days, with the Australian teachers paired with one or two participants, the small class sizes facilitating greater attention from both the parties. 


"Each lesson was approximately three hours long, and to support the learning, a range of paper and digital resources were used, which were left at the ICFP library at the end of the program," said Paul.




On the final day, Certificates of Participation were presented to all ICFP staff who took part in the program.


To ensure the program’s sustainability and maintain its efficacy, further online sessions were conducted for six months once the volunteers returned to Australia. These included online reading and comprehension activities, providing the participants access to worksheets, and language learning platforms where they could practice their English proficiency at their own pace.


A tangible impact


One of the immediate impacts, said Paul, was the noticeable improvement in the way the staff conversed in English. "The improvement demonstrated by each member of the ICFP staff over the course of the program was most gratifying. You could really sense there was a growing level of confidence in them communicating in English.”


The transformative effects were not lost on the ICFP's leadership either. Br Paul and Br Peter Corr, the President of ICFP, noted that when they would default to the local language, the staff would request them to continue speaking in English. This, they said, underscored the program's success, as it demonstrated the staff's desire to keep improving their English language skills.





Scale greater heights


The unique initiative also provided a wonderful opportunity for the Australian volunteers to immerse themselves in the local context, warmly embraced by their Timorese Marist family who radiated the St Marcellin spirit of openness, humility, and gratitude.


The ICFP staff also took the volunteers to local markets, the beach, and the site of the new Marist Brothers school.


As the 2024 academic year approaches, the program is poised to scale even greater heights. Two separate groups of Australian volunteers will travel to Timor this year, doubling the program's reach and impact. Furthermore, with the anticipated opening of a new Marist school in the Lautem district, the potential for expansion grows, allowing Australian educators and volunteers to collaborate with a wider network of Timorese teachers.


Initiatives like these forge bonds that enhance shared knowledge, mutual respect, and cross-cultural understanding, ensuring that the true essence of education - the power to uplift, inspire, and unite - shines brightest.


This program highlights the global Marist community's commitment to empowering individuals through quality teaching and learning opportunities.


Transcending borders, initiatives like these forge bonds that enhance shared knowledge, mutual respect, and cross-cultural understanding, ensuring that the true essence of education—the power to uplift, inspire, and unite—shines brightest.


-Pic credit - Paul Brooks

-Written by Gayatri Nair


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