Exchange program fosters professional growth
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 06:00 am
Amanda Burgess said there’s a lot New Zealand can learn from Canada’s education system – and vice versa.
Burgess was part of a group of professionals who visited Alberta and the Northwest Territories through the local Rotary district’s Group Study Exchange (GSE). The team consisted of one Rotarian and four professionals with a background in education and a focus on aboriginal schooling – two teachers, one youth care worker and Burgess, a senior policy analyst in the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
On Sunday night, the team returned to St. Albert to bid farewell to local Rotary members and Canada.
Burgess said the two countries face similar issues with students who leave school without qualifications.
She was therefore pleasantly surprised to visit a number of towns in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories that provided educational facilities and programs despite having a small population size.
“I was struck by the facilities you got in Alberta, the funding for education here is much higher and there’s a lot more private funding,” she said.
“You would have to do distance learning in New Zealand or go away and we know that indigenous students find it more difficult to move away. A town of 300 would not have access to education like that.”
By the year 2050, New Zealand’s population is expected to consist of 50 per cent Maori, the local indigenous people.
With Canada’s own indigenous population constantly growing, Burgess found Canada needed to improve its school immersion programs. She said the group visited one school in the NWT that offered native language courses, yet the program faced a lot of controversy over not teaching English as a first language.
“Research done in New Zealand and other countries shows that students with an indigenous background that learn their own language and culture in school do better,” she said.
“When those languages die people lose the connection with their culture and that’s when people really become disjointed from their culture and lost.”
GSE coordinator Paul Moulton said the exchange program is designed for businesspeople and professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their career.
For four to six weeks, team members experience the host country’s culture and institutions, observe how their vocation is practiced and develop new relationships. The program pays for the flight to and from Canada, while Rotarians in the area provide for meals, lodging, and group travel within their district.
“It’s called essentially a combination of vocational and cultural exchange. One Rotarian and four non-Rotarians make up a team and they visit another part of the world and then they reciprocate,” Moulton said.
“Essentially it’s about fostering understanding between the different countries. It promotes peace, goodwill and understanding around the planet.”
Rotary International breaks up the world into various districts. St. Albert belongs to District 5370, which covers an area from Red Deer to Yellowknife, as well as parts of Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
The program is designed for ambitious people, and often moves people ahead in their career goals. Once she returns home, Burgess said she hopes to work with government agencies to develop better cost sharing programs and facilities to improve the availability of education in smaller communities.
Next spring, District 5370 will send a group of professionals to New Zealand in return. So far, group study exchanges often consisted of professionals from mixed vocations but Moulton said Rotary is changing the nature of the program. After next year’s team, districts will only send vocational training teams with a focus on one specific study area.