Travelling with him were wife Jodi Vaughan, a teacher at Merimbula Public School, and three daughters Gemma (11), Annie (9) and Lucy (7).
“It wasn’t as cold where we were, temperatures were typically minus 10 in winter,” Paul said, adding that the great lakes around his base London, Ontario in the country’s south retained a bit of heat that kept general temperatures up.
In higher altitudes, like the ski-fields of Mont Tremblant, temperatures dropped to minus 22 degrees Celsius and the family had to cover every centimetre of skin to protect themselves.
The exchange program is designed to facilitate teachers’ professional growth, develop new skills, give different cultural experiences and create a space for greater professional understanding.
While an oversupply of teachers kept Jodi out of the classroom, she embraced domestic life and became the family travel planner and sports star.
During the two month Summer break the Gilbert’s travelled north on a 60 night, 14,000 kilometre camping trip into French-speaking Quebec, east to New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia then headed south along the coast and across the border into the United States and Maine, Connecticut and New York.
“New York was a true metropolis,” he said.
“The kids thought it was exciting and became experts in getting on and off the metro, after being intimidated by the sheer size of it for the first 24 hours and the fact they didn’t look like everyone else.”
One of the greatest fears of a parent is their children not fitting in with their peers.
“I think it’s important for people to know they fitted straight in and made new friends, and that’s a real credit to Pambula School where they did their schooling in Australia, there’s a real sense of community there.
“They were a hit in their classrooms because of their Aussie accent.” Canada and Australia are both commonwealth countries with British traditions, but his experiences as a teacher were very different.
“Eden is a country high school in a remote area with a variety of industries like fishing, forestry and tourism," he said.
“The school I was in was a downtown school of about 900, right in the middle of the city and it took kids from the top socio-economic bracket.
“There were lots of university professors kids, doctor’s kids and it ranked number one in Ontario for numeracy and literacy.
The school day started at 8.15am, when most students will have already taken part in music rehearsals starting at 6.45am.
Lunch is held at 10.55am and students are free to come and go from the school grounds.
Students don’t automatically progress to the next grade as they do here, instead they are required to get a grade of 50 per cent before they are allowed to move on, a requirement that Paul believes would help change attitudes towards learning in Australia.
“Parents became very interested if their child was falling behind because it meant they may have to go to summer school for four more weeks,” he said.
Another option was the student repeated the subject they had failed in.
“When the kids were presented with help and assistance they were inclined to take it, they had guidance counsellors who would give them the time to catch up on assignments, track attendance, and build a team around the kid to get them up to 50 per cent before it was too late.”
“Here we chase kids around all the time, but because they don’t have to score anything to move on so many don’t bother.”
He said although teachers were better supported in Canada, the curriculum, syllabuses and teaching skills were better in Australia.
“In Canada I felt the system treated you like a professional, you don’t always feel that way here, it ’s our own politicians and bureaucrats who are constantly on the case of teachers.”
“But teachers, in the end, are limited by what they can do if the student and their family don’t take part in the education as well.”
"We need to change the culture that tends to think it all gets done at school, our system is largely ineffective without family support.”