First Published at Thoughts on Media, Development and Children by Kelly Royds
In July this year, I began a research project with a group of year six students in rural Timor-Leste to explore their perspectives of an intercultural, media exchange program, called ChildFund Connect. The program, from ChildFund Australia, uses multimedia to connect children in Australia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Vietnam, with the aim of exchanging cultures and learning about each other’s lives.
The students, from a central school in Bobonaro District, have spent the last six months sharing photos and videos with classrooms in Australia and Sri Lanka. They have learnt how to make videos, take photos and share stories with the help of their classroom teacher and ChildFund Timor-Leste project officer, Felisbertino Ximenes. The first research activity was for the children to create a timeline of their experiences in the ChildFund Connect program. After this, they flipped their page over and did a drawing of what they thought Australia and Sri Lanka looked like based on the videos and photos they had seen. This added a fun and creative element to the otherwise concrete and simple task of describing what activities they could recall. Once everyone had completed their timelines and drawings, the children volunteered to share their work with the group. We asked the children to explain both what they had drawn and why they had drawn it. For example, Maria said that she had drawn flowers and a horse because, ‘hau gosta aifunan’ (I like flowers). This activity was critical in providing a sense of children’s openness to the new activities and hinted at potential challenges in expressing critical opinions.
We had initially planned for the children to interview one another, using the Kodak cameras, about what they had liked and disliked about the project. However, after the first activity I felt that another concrete task might risk stifling children’s creative and critical thinking and reduce their opinions to simple likes and dislikes. So we decided to give the children an imaginary scenario:
“You have spent 6 months in Australia/Sri-Lanka, and have just returned home to your community. A journalist from Dili has travelled to your village to interview you about your experiences. They want to know what you did, what you saw, what you ate and who you met on your trip. In pairs, take turns of playing the journalist and the person who went overseas. Use a Kodak camera to record your interview and you can use a pencil or paper as your pretend microphone.”
The role-playing element of this task generated a lot of enthusiasm and engagement from the children. Holding the pen microphone, practising their speaking voices, setting up the camera, adjusting their location and appearance on camera, were all critical components in how they engaged with the task. Some children battled with shyness in speaking, whilst others relished in the opportunity to perform in front of the camera. The activity followed an iterative process with children completing an interview, watching it back, receiving feedback and re-adjusting questions and filming it again. The shy children were able to adjust the activity and control various elements, such as the location and being in front or behind the camera, so that they could feel more comfortable.
These imaginary interviews seemed to prompt children to engage on a more empathetic and emotional level with their learning about children overseas. For example Jose explained how he felt when he met the children in Sri Lanka: “I feel that they treat me like a brother, they took me to their house to eat nice rice”. A strong sense of friendship and positive reflections about Australia and Sri-Lanka came out of the imaginary interviews. The role-playing seemed to liberate children from feeling like there was a right and wrong answer and enabled them to express their learning through imaginary scenarios.
Here is a short video from the children’s imaginary interviews: