20.05.2020 - Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Helen Marieskind continues to support her partner organisation, Kiribati’s Ministry of Education (MoE), by working remotely from Aotearoa.

“I am actually working on four projects remotely at the moment,” says Helen, who is an English Language Trainer of trainers and teachers for the MoE’s Curriculum Development and Resource Center (CDRC). This Department focusses on developing the curriculum that is used nationwide in Kiribati’s school system and on creating materials such as teachers’ guides that will further teachers’ instructional capabilities. One of Helen’s projects is editing these teachers’ guides that the team in CDRC has written and developed.

“The team in CDRC does an amazing job of developing material despite writing in a foreign language (English) and having no real template for the teaching guides,” says Helen.

Another aspect of Helen’s e-volunteering is teaching conversational English to student teachers at the Kiribati Teachers College (KTC).

“The editing work I am also doing really helps with this,” says Helen. “It gives me a great insight into what I can work on with student teachers in training at KTC. It shows me where the gaps are between spoken and written English capabilities. I find that it is usually easier to speak a language than write it, so editing written work helps me see where the challenges might be for people and what expressions and gestures get used to fill gaps in conversational fluency that cannot be used in written English.”

Helen speaking With Katioa Baraniko, Lecturer in English, TESOL and ESL at Kiribati Teachers’ College (KTC). 

Helen is also liaising with universities in New Zealand to get a better understanding of what challenges students from Kiribati face when studying here as MFAT Scholarship recipients. Helen will develop a report for the MoE in Kiribati to help students make the most of their scholarship experiences in the future.

“I have found that many of the challenges facing Kiribati students are surmountable. For example, they are often shy about asking questions so they may miss out on important information from their lecturers and tutors. Because they don’t ask questions, they miss the opportunity to have important points explained and clarified. I am hoping that as a result of this report, Kiribati students can be encouraged to put their hands up and ask questions.”

Another report Helen is working on is looking at ways that Kiribati children would be able to continue learning if schools have to close because of any national emergency. “There is inconsistent internet access in Kiribati and many families do not have PCs,” explains Helen. “However, many do have cell phones, so using a combination of radio and cell phones seems to be a possibility for remote learning.” This report is for the Curriculum Development and Resource Center.

Helen has found that the e-volunteering work she is doing closely complements the work she was doing while located in Kiribati. “Even though I am working remotely, people are really responsive and eager to learn, while people I am working with in New Zealand are eager to share information.”

“I have been using Zoom and WhatsApp and have been having some technology issues. I think that there is work being done on creating a more reliable Internet connection for Kiribati and this will certainly help the country develop.”

What are Helen’s thoughts about e-volunteering? “E-volunteering is absolutely an option – especially if the volunteer has already been to the country so that they have some insight into the challenges people face. It’s also really helpful to have had some direct contact with people. Being able to spend time together face to face helps build trust.”

Helen hopes to be able to return to Kiribati in the future.

“Education is a key priority for the development of Kiribati. I want to support this by helping the teachers to be comfortable and confident in using English so that they can focus on teaching and not on worrying whether their English is correct or not!”