Pacific Education: Numerous Challenges and Possible Remedies
Fiji’ National budget 2018-2019 has allocated $1-Billion this year for Fijian education which is nearly 22 percent of government expenditure. Consultations in Post Budget Road shows are underway in educational institutions. So, Fiji has realized the relevance of stimulating and enrichment of educational sector.
Likewise, other Pacific Nations’ educational systems are influenced by the historical, social, political, economic and cultural context. But the neo-colonialism has an impact on the Pacific islands as the educational legacies are inherited from their colonial past. Priscilla Puamau’ work “Principal and processes of educational planning in the Pacific’ (2005) that Fiji has educational Fiji, for instance, has educational structures modelled on the British system; the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) continue to maintain strong links with the United States of America; the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau have close ties with New Zealand; while Vanuatu, because of its unique colonial history, faces the challenge of dual anglophone and francophone systems. The curricula, teaching and learning methods, languages of instruction, assessment and evaluation methods, administration and management models, and organizational cultures of schooling in the Pacific continue in hegemonic forms, usually closely resembling those of their former colonial ‘masters’”.
Another major constrain in the Pacific is that its countries’ educational planning is influenced and has impact of donor assistance. Therefore, this article attempts to review the methodology adopted by Pacific Islands in educational planning and their challenges.
Pacific Educational discourse and its challenges
Education development has become the priority for development of human resources in sustainable development and Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting in 1999 agreed to give high priority to education in national development planning and budgeting and overall emphasis on giving basic education. It was followed by Forum Education Ministers’ Meeting [FEdMM] in 2001, that adopted Forum Basic Education Action Plan [FBEAP] that set out the vision, goals and strategies for future of basic education in the Pacific Islands. After that Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat [PIFS] initiated the Pacific Regional Initiative for the Development of Basic Education [PRIDE] with support from European Union and New Zealand (UNESCO, Pacific Education for All 2015 Review). As per UNESCO report there has been improvement some goals of Education for All but overall number of constraint have impacted the quality i.e. “economic, geographical and political constraints; coordination constraints; capacity and accountability constraints on teachers and education managers; data constraints; social constraints, including issues of gender inequality; and constraints relating to language of instruction” (UNESCO, Pacific Education for All 2015 Review). This report gave ten recommendations in relation to future development of education in the Pacific, i.e. “Increase investment and improve quality standards in ECCE; Accelerate universal participation in and completion of primary education; Ensure predictable and sustainable financing of the education sector; Improve the quality of education by investing in teachers, good quality learning materials, and safe, healthy and inclusive learning environments, and in curriculum-linked information and communication technology; Strengthen opportunities for further education and improve the relevance of education and training; Strengthen inclusive education; Enhance accountability in governance and management; Improve monitoring and data management capacity; Increase the knowledge base through research and studies; Strengthen partnerships”.
Pacific Islanders educationists attempted to make the education more effective and efficient in respect to needs and goals of its students and society. United Nations Sustainable Development submit 2015 adopted Sustainable development Goals relating to education that ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote learning opportunities for all (UNESCO, Pacific Education for All 2015 Review).
PRIDE Project [Pacific Regional Initiative for the Development of Basic Education]
The Pride Project objective was to assist each of the 15 participant Pacific countries, through providing technical support, funding and capacity building, to develop comprehensive strategic plans for the education and training sector. This project was to blend the global approaches with local values and ways of thinking. They encourage consultative and participatory approach for educational planning with each country, based on holistic and lifelong learning vision. They tried to establish syncretism between tradition and modernity, with boosting “own local cultural identity, built on a strong foundation of their own cultures, languages and spiritualties, and with a deep pride in their own values, traditions and wisdoms” (Teadale, 2005). This project has “wide mandate, covering pre-school, elementary/ primary, secondary, Technical & Vocational education & Training (TVET), and the delivery of education through both formal and non-formal means” (Teasdale, Paumau et al., 2006).
Puamau (2005) described that PRIDE strategic planning was based on localized and contextualized to reflect the needs, values and cultures of each country. ‘Our Way’ [Pacific prospective] should not be overshadowed by global prospective. Further the author highlighted common principles for education planning the Pacific, i.e. strong, objective and visionary leadership; participatory and consultative approaches; localized ownership; realistic, achievable and affordable plans; valid and reliable data; national, regional and international alignment of plan; training and capacity building; flexibility; monitoring and evaluation; cultural consideration; balance in curriculum and levels; access and equity. Moreover, the author highlighted ten benchmarks that were decided to be used by PRIDE Project to review national strategic plans are “pride in cultural and national identity; skills for life and work in a global world; alignment with national development plans and regional and international conventions; access and equity for students with special needs; partnerships with communities and stakeholders; a holistic approach to basic education; realistic financial costing; use of data in educational planning; effective capacity building for all education personnel; [and]· a framework for monitoring and evaluation” (Puamau, 2005). In regard to Pacific, Pride project work to have holistic, integrated and lifelong approach towards teaching and learning. Still many problems persisted, as G. Lingam et al. in ‘Effectiveness of School Strategic Plannings: The Case of Fijian Schools’ (2014) gave analysis of quantitative and qualitative data [sample size of schools was small] indicating that school leaders’ lack of knowledge and skills in school strategic planning; and school leaders need more training to ensure they are better prepared to carry out strategic planning effectively.
I shall conclude with reviewing Victor Levine’s work Education in Pacific Island States: Reflection on the Failure of ‘Grand Remedies’ that reviews the state of education, hypotheses about the underlying causes of declining standards in Pacific Island education. Author stated that in individual countries, if sufficient political will and leadership exist, meaningful reform may be possible but complex technical documents, regional conferences and complex national plans actually obscure the basic problem and thereby constitute impediments to change. In sum, the dichotomy between ‘global centric’ and ‘Pacific centric’ education planning approach, can only be resolved by syncretisation of best from both.
Disclaimer: Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at the College of Humanities and Education of the Fiji National University. Ph.D History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, M.Phil History, MA History, PG Diploma in Journalism, PG Diploma in Book Publication and PG Diploma in Education (Dec 2018). The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. firstname.lastname@example.org