Irfan Patel is a born teacher. He’s one of those teachers who realise that imparting knowledge is not just a one-way street. “Every day I myself am learning new things,” he says. “I learn them from the children I teach.”
What makes that statement even more remarkable is that the children Irfan teaches are very young. Some are pre-schoolers aged four to five, others from six to eight are at primary school. Irfan is a teacher at the Lautoka Muslim Primary School in Fiji. However it is not only his students that he learns from, as he is also a student at the Australia-Pacific Technical College’s Namaka campus, where he is studying for Certificate III in Early Childhood Education.
The Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) is an Australian Government funded initiative with campuses in Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
As long as he can remember Irfan has enjoyed teaching young children. In his own family he has five young cousins aged between three and nine. “I like being with them, and I like to do my best to help them,” he says. After his own schooling he had experience of teaching in both a kindergarten and at the primary school. “About 15 months ago I decided that I had such a deep liking for what I was doing that I should get a professional qualification,” he says. “I heard about the APTC course and was able to enrol in it, while continuing part-time as a teacher.” Irfan considers that the course “has been a great help to me in expanding my knowledge and giving me skills to do my teaching work to the best of my ability.”
When Irfan enrolled at the APTC he found something else unusual. He was the only male student in his course. It’s a fact all over the world that teachers in kindergartens and early childhood centres are generally female. But as Irfan is already showing, it’s a job male teachers can do equally well and to which they bring their own perspective. And as old notions of gender division in various vocations decline, more male applicants for early childhood teaching are coming forward. For the APTC, which encourages gender balance in its courses, this is a positive outcome.
Irfan’s trainer in the Certificate III course, Diana Hurford, says that Irfan is “so much more than the token male” in the class. “He has a genuine interest in being a positive male role model for young children. Early-learning studies show that when young children have an inspiring male role model they are more likely to become resilient to challenges they face and are generally more confident in life. Irfan already has a gift for teaching and is being inspired by the new things he’s learning in our classes at APTC. This can only mean better outcomes for the children he educates.”
It is a well-known fact that gifted teachers have no difficulties with class discipline. Irfan is in this category. “The children I teach are very well mannered,” he says. “Each one is an individual with his or her own personality – I find there are as many personalities as there are children.
“Teaching is endlessly interesting,” he says. “I am never bored.”
Dedicated professionals such as Irfan are typical of the talented students the APTC was established to assist by providing the opportunity for them to extend their formal qualifications. Funded by the Australian Government and with campuses and training centres throughout the Pacific region, the APTC offers vocational qualifications at Australian level, which gives wider career opportunities for its graduates.