Goulburn woman, Jennifer Star has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day Honours list for her service to education.
An Australian qualified teacher, Mrs Star has been working in India since 2009.
As Founder of Tara.Ed, an education NGO that aims to promote sustainable, quality education through teacher training, she has helped educate more than 18,000 children in rural, remote and conflict areas of India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
She has also led 19 delegations of Australian teachers and pre-service teachers to India, providing a platform for cross-cultural collaboration.
She was also named Young Australian of the Year in 2012.
Mrs Star lives in Goulburn for some part of the year and spends the rest of her time in India. She grew up in the Southern Highlands and attended Bowral High School. Her father is well-known former principal of Mulwaree High, Martin Purcell.
“I grew up in the highlands, but my parents are living in Goulburn, which is why my husband and I decided to buy a house here,” she said.
She said being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia was both a huge honour and a surprise.
“When you think of the Order of Australia medal awardees, you think of people who have dedicated their whole lives to such endeavours, so being awarded an OAM at the age of 32 is a big surprise and a huge honour,” she said.
“It shows the work my team and I do overseas is valued by the wider Australia community.”
She said Tara.Ed works with teachers at underprivileged schools India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
“We train the teachers. The thinking behind it is - I can go to India every year and teach 30 children and change 30 lives, or I can train 30 teachers, who will each teach 30 children and change 900 lives,” she said.
“We want to provide the skills and knowledge to those who can provide education for children who otherwise would not be able to access it.
“I first went over there as a 21-year-old. I was training to be an archaeologist at university and I went to India as a second-year uni student with no interest in teaching whatsoever.
“I went there as a volunteer, teaching English in the slum city of Jaipur and that’s when I realised that the way we approach education is almost outdated.
“We go over there and build a lot of schools but the best way to improve the quality of education and provide access to education is to train teachers - they are at the forefront of education and they hold the future of students in their hands.”
She said the first time she went to India she was faced with teaching a class under a tree without any resources.
“I realised you don’t need a classroom,” she said.
“So when I came back to Australia I trained as a teacher and moved to India in 2010 and I have been living there and here ever since.
“I am now doing my PhD looking at the theory behind teaching and it shows that the teacher is the biggest school-based influence on student achievement. The research backs this idea up that the teacher is the most powerful person in student’s education. They have the power to change lives.
“My father said to me when I was about 13 ‘I bet you are going to be a teacher’ and I said I am never going to be a teacher, but I guess lost.”
She said the vision for Tara.Ed was to change the lives of 20,000 students by 2020 through quality education.
“At the end of 2018, we are on 18,200 so we are nearly there,” she said.
“When we hit that mark we will have to think about what’s next?”
She was also on the Australian Judo team for eight years, and competed overseas for Australia at world university games and various other international competitions.
“I retired from international competition in 2012, but in Delhi, I teach Judo to young women in the slums - it is more about teaching them self-defence training.
“I started Judo when I was eight and it is something that has followed me to wherever I go. I can’t compete but I am giving back to the sport - that is a big part of my life.”