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ELearning Programme Changing How STEM Is Taught In The Pacific

An eLearning project focussed on enhancing science teaching to Year 10 students in the Pacific Islands is being piloted this year through a programme created by partners Catalpa International, Nanogirl Labs and Wintec, and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
The programme will develop co-designed science teaching programmes for Sāmoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands.

Dee McDowall, International Project Coordinator in the Commercial Initiatives team at Wintec says the “whole focus is to improve science learning for Year 10 students in these four countries.”

“They’re mostly being taught by non-specialists and have very limited access to teaching resources.”

The programme aims to support the professional development of teachers in those countries with new culturally responsive teaching material and eLearning resources.

Co-designed by teachers from the countries involved, with a focus on creating content that’s more relevant to their students, there is a clear mandate that all involved in this project are collaborators.

Malcolm Roberts, a Principal Academic Staff Member from the Centre for Education and Foundation Pathways whose role is to develop teaching technology for the eLearning programme, reaffirms that “we are partners in learning. We’re not instructors. This is humanistic design and co-creation.”

A major change to the way science is taught will be updating teaching materials to be made more relevant to students. This will be through using exemplars and experiments that consider the natural environment of the islands, and experiments that use everyday materials rather than relying on specialised laboratory equipment.

Catalpa, a global development organisation specialising in person-centred design and technology, are spearheading the project. Wintec will be responsible for developing pedagogical and professional development to support teachers in delivering STEM teaching material, and Nanogirl Labs will provide STEM teaching material content.

The two phases of the project, the inception phase and the implementation phase are being rolled out until the end of 2022. The inception phase took place last year, whereas 2021 and 2022 will see the project developed and implemented.

Adie Haultain, Team Manager at Wintec Centre for Education and Foundation Pathways, says that this programme is largely about “building confidence”.

“Some of the teachers are not fully trained, so it’s giving them the confidence to be able to deliver these science lessons.”

“It’s not just about science eLearning, it’s supporting the teaching pedagogy. Our aim is that when the support from us is withdrawn, that those science teachers are independent and using a more effective pedagogy.”

Wintec will be creating job embedded professional development ‘bites’ and micro-courses that are aligned with the STEM content Nanogirl Labs is creating.

Roberts, who is a specialist in online learning delivery, says that they are currently investigating the opportunities for IT to enhance learning and delivery.

To ensure quality control and cultural appropriateness, each country has a number of designated ‘teacher fellow’ positions, who act as consultants, assessing the material for cultural competency and relevance to the students.

Nanogirl Labs and Wintec work together initially to provide the lesson activities and job embedded professional development bites respectively. These are then sent to teacher fellows for review and feedback, and depending on what the teacher fellows recommend, it either gets sent back to Nanogirl Labs or Wintec for further development or gets passed to the Ministries of Education in each country for approval.

Haultain says “it’s a massive undertaking that’s extremely well managed by Catalpa. We’re connecting with people from across the Pacific, including New Zealand and Catalpa staff who are based in Australia and Fiji.”

“Late last year we had a great day online where we held a day-long workshop with each of the four different islands. There were seven locations in total beaming in. We came together, talked about the project and had a chance to go through the curriculum of each country and find out where the areas of concern are.”

Haultain and Roberts are hopeful about the potential this programme has to change the way science is taught in the Pacific.

“I’m excited at the prospect of actually seeing it be used and to get feedback from teachers using it,” says Haultain.

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