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Lockdowns rob student teachers of classroom training

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Montana Garnett hopes that when she graduates as a kindergarten teacher she has spent enough time learning in the classroom to feel confident.

The 22-year-old Victoria University student is one of many student teachers and early childhood educators who have been robbed of crucial in-person placements for the second year in a row due to Victoria’s rolling lockdowns.

Student teacher Montana Garnett has been missing out on face-to-face experience.Credit:Chris Hopkins

“A lot of students now, including myself, have got used to doing it online, but it isn’t ideal because we want to practice that face-to-face teaching and have social interaction,” Ms Garnett said.

“A classroom full of kids brings a lot of creativity and imagination, so it’s disappointing, but you understand the circumstances.”

The disruption has led to fears across the education sector of delayed graduations and a lack of qualified graduate teachers, but many organisations are working to help students through.

Universities have been running online placements and last year the Victorian Institute of Teaching lowered requirements to reflect the COVID-19 limitations. A bachelor’s degree in teaching now requires 60 days of placement instead of 80 and online experience counts towards that. Early education and care degree requirements have been cut from 80 days to 30.

La Trobe University dean of education Joanna Barbousas said a taskforce of universities, schools, education bodies and the state government were working together to support pre-service teachers, including creating a mentor program for graduate teachers affected by the pandemic.

“We’re developing some new ways of assisting them as they move into the profession because of the restrictions on their learning, so there’s some good things coming up,” she said.

“They need to be supported. All of this has really had an impact on their wellbeing.”

Victoria University director of learning and teaching Ligia Pelosi said universities were working hard to get students the experience they needed, as teacher supply was an important issue.

“There are thousands of teachers needed every year. You get attrition, teachers leaving the profession, new schools opening up; we have a pressing need for graduates,” she said.

“It’s important to remember it looks a little different but their learning is still happening. Is it a valid placement for a pre-service teacher to be teaching remotely? The answer is yes.”

The university’s graduate diploma of early childhood education is running online kindergarten sessions in which an educator works one on one with a child and their family.

Course chair Sarah Jobson said the digital experience was building different and equally valuable skills in student teachers.

“They’ve become much more confident engaging with families because they have to interact so closely when it’s one on one,” she said.

For Ms Garnett, teaching online has been an unexpected but ultimately enjoyable part of her studies. “The remote placement is going well at the moment. It has definitely been great with the child I’m working with,” she said.

Victoria University is looking for more families to participate in its online kindergarten program and help student teachers gain experience.

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