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How Western Australia is helping teachers from the remotest corners of Bhopal

“I would aspire to see that we reach out to every child. And if we want to reach out to every child, we’ll have to train every teacher.”


Australia and India - A dynamic mix logo design with text 'Sparking the Joy of STEM learning online'

If you want to encourage lifelong learning in students, there’s only one place to start, according to Associate Professor Rekha Koul, Dean, International at Curtin University in WA. “I’ve recently been asked by teachers in India, ‘How do we change students?’ And I said, ‘We don’t have to change students, we have to change ourselves and model it for them’.”

That top-down approach is at the heart of the digital training resource she has designed alongside Curtin University colleague and fellow Associate Professor Rachel Sheffield. Securing an $88,000 grant from the Australia-India Council (AIC) in 2018, they worked with Perth-based leadership development organisation MODAL to create a digital STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professional learning platform for Indian teachers.

Like Australia, India is a big country. But whereas Australia accommodates some 25 million people, the sub-continent is home to a mind-blowing 1.35 billion people. So reaching all teachers presents a few challenges. But Koul is optimistic about the opportunities presented by their digital resource. “Our aim was taking these new pedagogies to the teachers and walking the walk, not just talking it.”

Part of the Indian diaspora, Koul grew up in Kashmir. She studied a Masters of Science at the University of Kashmir, followed by a Doctor of Science Education, Science and Mathematics at the Education Centre at Curtin University after moving to Western Australia some 20 years ago.

A previous UNESCO grant took her back to India to work with 50 pre-service teachers. Koul says the visit was very successful, “But at the same time, it was not good enough. India, being a heavily populated country, it needed more. How can we reach masses?”

The AIC grant was key. Funding a new trip to India to demonstrate the resource, they trained teachers in capital city New Delhi, as well as the regional heartland of Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the green heart of India. In Bhopal, they worked with educators from a tribal community who had had very little exposure to computers. “Our experience was mind-blowing,” Koul says. “Some were sort of lost. And a little bit of training took them a long way. And I’m sure during these COVID times they would have used this resource.”

With plans to expand the English-language resource to include Hindi options, the potential reach is vast. “So we are getting the Australian name out there.”

She’s passionate about the universal right to education for all children, which was only mandated in India in the last decade. “I would aspire to see that we reach out to every child. And if we want to reach out to every child, we’ll have to train every teacher.”

It’s estimated that STEM will be essential for 70 to 80 per cent of jobs in the near future. This project plays a vital part in meeting that need. And it’s not just about exporting Australian education leadership. With Facebook groups popping up as a by-product, connecting teachers in both countries, Koul can see the project expanding to embrace classroom observation. “I’m even thinking of maybe starting co-teaching between classes in India and here in Perth.”

Instilling confidence in teachers through more rigorous, practical training delivered online helps them to help teachers excite young minds about the possibilities of STEM. “School should be a place of joy,” Koul says. “It is not what we teach a child, it’s how we make a child feel. And if we make the child feel happy and valued, they will automatically look for the knowledge.”

Her measure of success is simple. “Have I turned on that button in the teachers?”.

Learn more about the economic potential of the Australia-India partnership in “An India Economic Strategy to 2035 – Navigating from potential to delivery”.

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