Last December, seven teachers from St Patrick’s College Shorncliffe, Brisbane, travelled to India to meet and share practices with the staff (and students) of St Patrick’s School and St Vincent’s School in Asansol, a regional city near Kolkata.
The skills exchange was a direct result of the Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders Conference held in Kolkata the previous year. Shorncliffe Principal Chris Mayes visited both schools as a part of the EREBB conference program. From these visits he developed a good personal and professional rapport with Nigel D’Souza, Principal of St Patrick’s and Ravi Victor, the Principal of St Vincent’s.
A student immersion program to mark this new relationship was suggested, but as Shorncliffe had been operating a successful Indian student immersion program for a decade, other options were sought.
Chris, Ravi and Nigel decided that it would be better to promote professional development and sharing of practices with the teachers from the three schools. The plan was set in motion.
Six Shorncliffe staff members, Annette Campbell, Anne-Maree Bliss, Dianne McRoberts, Troy Schultz, Ben Niland-Rowe and Patrick Denkes, chose to accompany Chris on the initial visit.
St Patrick’s and St Vincent’s Schools both have strong history with Australian Christian Brothers and are situated side by side. The schools have a very good reputation in the region and West Bengal for their student results. Both schools provide education for boys only, commencing at Kindergarten level and are English language schools. Students are required to complete exams in Year 10 to be accepted into the senior years and both schools become co-educational at Year 11 level. The schools specialise in senior years with St Patrick’s offering Mathematics and Science subjects and St Vincent’s offering Mathematics and Business subjects.
St Patrick’s also has a school campus within its mainstream school for students from as young as six years old through to 17 years of age from impoverished backgrounds. They are taught literacy and numeracy skills, as well as practical IT skills and clothes making. Currently, there are 100 students enrolled. It is hoped that the students will gain levels strong enough to be able to get them into mainstream school or to the Technical College at St Vincent’s.
St Vincent’s has a Technical College for students outside of school (or for those who have finished school) and offers several certificate courses in areas such as electronics, wood work, metal work, mechanics (car and motor bikes), hair and beauty and clothes making. The Technical College offers English and Mathematics classes as well. St Vincent’s also has the Asha Niketan community within its campus. This is a community for people with quite severe physical and mental disabilities. Students from the mainstream schools’ also support and work with the members and staff from these campuses.
The Shorncliffe staff spent nine days in total in Asansol teaching and interacting with students and sharing pedagogical practice with staff at both Colleges. Likewise, the college principals shared conversations and practices around leadership, organisational structures, policies and practices and resource management.
They also had the opportunity to visit many of the local temples and landmarks whilst in Asansol. The interest and hospitality of the staff from the host schools were extraordinary. Apart from many friendships being formed amongst the teachers, professional sharing and networking were certainly established.
Whilst the visit was for a relatively short period of time, it was a wonderful experience for all the teachers and a great start to a “twinning” relationship between the schools. The visit allowed the college principals to also consider further learnings that might be gleaned from future collaborations between the schools. It is hoped that the “twinning” will continue, with staff from St Patrick’s and St Vincent’s Schools visiting Brisbane in the near future. In the meantime, the staff members will keep in touch with one another through email and Skype and further embed the EREBB vision of sharing ideas, resources and building global solidarity.