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Rachael Howe, 24 from Heswall Hills, Wirral, has been taking part in virtual volunteering with Think Pacific, a charity that works to improve the quality of life and opportunities for people in Fiji.

Rachael, who is studying for a PGCE with QTS (Qualified Teaching Status) in Spanish and German, discovered the charity after searching for an opportunity outside her course that would enhance her knowledge of her subject and the current issues in education – one of which is educational inequality for children.

Rachael’s role centred around the theme of global education, specifically undertaking research into improving access to education for children in Fiji with additional needs and looking at how to foster an inclusive educational environment. She was given 12 weeks and during this time she produced a 30-page report containing research-informed practical suggestions, along with accompanying resources and materials.

She said: “I wanted to use my skillset to help make a real difference to the lives of others. It has been such an enriching experience to be able to support teachers in Fiji in mainstream schools and to help equip them with the knowledge and understanding of creating an inclusive classroom environment.

“It has really highlighted to me just how fortunate we are to have the technology to connect with other countries. I have been communicating on a weekly basis through email, video calls, and other online platforms with many different teachers and professionals in Fiji. Even in a virtual environment, I feel that I have developed a number of skills through this experience, one of which is communication in terms of ensuring clarity of my written work when conveying information to non-native speakers of English. Another skill I have strengthened through this opportunity is time-management. I knew that I would need to spend about eight hours a week working on my project and so I broke this time down into weekly, achievable, small-scale targets in order to stay on track and meet the final deadline at the end of the 12-week programme.”

Her work with schools in Fiji is just one example of the volunteering that Rachael has taken part in alongside her studies which she says have enriched her time at University.

She said: “The University places great emphasis on encouraging students to get involved in extra-curricular opportunities to enhance their learning experience, which I feel is just as important as the academic side to a course. I have achieved the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Volunteering Awards for having dedicated over 150 hours of my spare time to volunteer work since commencing my PGCE at Chester. I have also received the Chester Difference Excellence Award too, an employability award that recognises the value of engaging in extra-curricular activities and serves as a way to encourage students to reflect on and be able to articulate the different skills they have developed. I have also recently been awarded the University’s prestigious Valedictory Award for Outstanding Contribution to Community in recognition of my continued dedication and contribution to the local and wider community. It’s about making the most of every opportunity you can, and the University is committed to supporting students with exactly that.”

Rachael also took the opportunity to learn French in her spare time. She said: “I have really enjoyed learning another language and it means I am now able to teach French in schools too!

“I am continuing to develop my experience as a teacher and share my passion and enthusiasm for my subjects. I am always looking for opportunities to enhance my subject knowledge and further my professional development. I don’t think you ever stop learning!”

Rachel Bryson, Rachael’s PGCE tutor and Senior Lecturer in Education, said: “We are very proud of the work that Rachael has done to help to improve the lives of children from across the other side of the world. She has an impressive track-record of volunteering to help others and it is commendable that she finds the time and energy, whilst also showing total commitment to her teacher training programme. We are very lucky to have such dedicated teacher trainees like Rachael at Chester, who are making such a positive difference to the lives of children, both in our own country and elsewhere.”

 

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