Rotary Fiji Schools Project comes to Nambucca Heads

Fifteen years ago Fijian-born teacher Veena Tilly returned to her roots to visit family as well as lending a hand in a village project with Rotary.

"While I was there I visited the local school and was shocked to see how few resources they had," Veena said.

"There was nothing - they were lucky to have paper!"

And so the Rotary Fiji Schools Project was born and has been working to improve the resources of disadvantaged schools in the Western Division ever since. Twenty three schools now benefit from the project.

Last week Veena, now based locally and a member of Nambucca Heads Rotary, saw the realisation of a long-held dream - to bring a group of Fijian teachers to Australia for professional development.

"Over the years Rotary has helped to collect books and laptops to send over there but this is the first time we have brought teachers here to Australia."

The ten teachers from eight schools spent the morning at Nambucca Heads High School last Wednesday, touring classrooms and talking to teachers and students.

Principal of Votualevu College, Nadi, Rajesh Chand, said there were many things that impressed him, not least the efficient online attendance system that spots student truency immediately.

"There is internet in every classroom and this system means parents have an SMS within the hour - with our manual system, it might be a day," Mr Chand said.

"Your classrooms here are so much better resourced and there are specialist rooms for music and art ... our system focuses on Mathematics and English and the sciences, there is less time for electives."

He was however buoyed to see there are also many similarities: "We can see we are on the right track - and we all share many of the same problems with students, such as mobile phone use!"

Students like Domynique Byrt said it was a real pleasure to meet the teachers.

"We don't often have people from other countries here at the school," she said.

The lack of resources was something that made an impression on Keeley Waters: "The teachers talked about how they aspire to be like us but lack the resources - it made me sad and encouraged me to help."

Amanda Voutier was shocked to learn that class sizes were around 40-60 kids!

The teachers were billeted with teachers from the school but also visited Coffs Harbour and Bellingen High Schools, as well as Bishop Druitt College.

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