We all have a role to play

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 20 January 2016, 12:00AM

The writer was invited by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to address its annual conference held at the T.A.T.T.E Building yesterday. He spoke on the topic: “Partnership in Improving Literacy and Numeracy in School – The Media’s role.” This is what he said:

Lau susuga le ta’ita’i o le sauniga,
Minister of Education, Sports 
and Culture, Magele Mauiliu Magele
C.E.O of M.E.S.C, Karoline 
Conference participants
Ladies and gentlemen,


Firstly, I want to thank you for the invitation to be here. It is a privilege and an honour to be standing before you today and I bring you greetings from our Editor-in-Chief, Savea Sano, our Publisher, Muliaga Jean Malifa and the team at the Samoa Observer Newspaper Group in Samoa and all over the world.

Allow me to congratulate the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture and all your partners – including your sponsors - for this wonderful conference. 

Let me also congratulate Professor Karoline Afamasaga-Fuata’i as the new Chief Executive Officer of your Ministry. 

The theme of your conference, “If Not Now… When?” is not only timely, it is extremely relevant to a number of challenges we face in the education sector today. 

Speaking of challenges, I believe you are in a better position to understand these challenges. As Principals, teachers and administrators, you are at the coalface of education in Samoa. 

You see, some of us can sit in our air-conditioned offices and opine about what we think are the issues but it is you who know better. It is you who understand better. It is you who confront the reality of trying to educate the uneducated throughout Samoa, every day, all year round. 

Ultimately, it is you who will play a key role in finding the solutions, ones that are relevant, workable and Samoa-specific. It is why gatherings such as this are so important, especially when it is held before schools start.

This morning, I’ve been asked to say a few words about the topic of “Partnership in Improving Literacy and Numeracy in School – The Media’s role.” When I was invited to speak, I wasn’t quite sure how long they wanted me to talk. Which is probably a good thing because I like keeping it brief and to the point. Besides, I could not ascertain which partnership they wanted me to talk about so I will confine my remarks to the “Media’s role in improving literacy and numeracy.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the role of the media is to inform and educate our audiences so they are able to make fully informed choices about issues that affect them. It goes without saying that the ability to read and interpret numbers is therefore absolutely vital. Fortunately, the literacy and numeracy levels in our country allow us to provide a service that informs, educate, entertain and most importantly to monitor the performance of public figures.

One of the most important roles of the media is to be a watchdog of our government – and that includes the Ministry of Education. 

The challenge for us in the media, I believe, is not to just merely give our audiences and readers reading material for the sake of reading but providing quality, constructive, objective content, the kind that makes a difference.

As ears and eyes of members of the public, we exist to ask the hard questions, the uncomfortable questions, questions the mighty and powerful want to avoid.

It is only when the answers to these difficult questions are found that we can have a country that is true to the often-abused phrase of “transparency, accountability and good governance.”

And that, I believe, is a vital part of the media’s contribution to this partnership to improve literacy and numeracy in schools. When things are going well, we are here to tell our audiences about it and give praise where praise is due. 

Similarly, when things are not going so well, we don’t shy away from the truth. We exist to ask those hard questions and we will continue to ask them as long as they are not answered. 

At the end of the day, the media has a responsibility to our readers. They trust us to ask those questions and get those answers.

It is not a secret that a lot of questions have been tossed back and forth about the Maths exam. Some of those questions have come from people within this room. We believe these questions must be answered and answered truthfully. It is only then that we can move forward.

One beautiful aspect about the media is that it encourages the free expression of opinions, which can be used to form solutions. We encourage you all to take an active role in that forum, feel free to express yourself, whether you agree or disagree with a topic. Let our people know what you are thinking.

Away from our role as a watchdog, we agree that everyone has some form of responsibility in improving literacy and numeracy among our people.

But the key reason why most parents send their children to school is for them to learn how to read and write. The media and others can only play a supporting role – one we are committed to - and provide tools and suggestions that can help children learn. 

Ultimately, however, it is the education system’s responsibility first and foremost to see that this happens. 

At the Samoa Observer, we are passionate about our children’s future. It’s the reason why we keep on featuring stories about child vendors who are out on the streets when they should be in school. 

It’s the same reason why we run stories about concerns regarding national examination papers and questions surrounding the pass rates among our students. 

It is the reason why we’ve run stories on the teacher’s plight and their fight for better salaries. I want to remind that at the end of the day, it is the teachers who teach students, not flash buildings and impressive programmes on paper just so that certain people can tick their boxes. 

Regardless of whatever programmes a school uses, those programme can only work if they are delivered by a knowledgeable teacher. Great programmes on the hands of a poor teacher will only lead to failure. Which means our focus, if we want to improve literacy and numeracy, should not be about programmes and structures. 

We should instead focus on ensuring that quality teachers are supported in the work they do. Teaching is intellectual work. It is hard work. And they need all the support they can get. 

We have always maintained that teachers in Samoa deserve better pay. I want to remind today that if the government continues to pay them peanuts, the results will reflect that. 

What we sow is ultimately what we reap. And lets not kid ourselves, if we sow peanuts in the development of teachers, we will reap monkeys. 

At this point, I want to say that at the Samoa Observer, we are willing and committed to work with the Education sector to improve literacy and numeracy in Samoa. 

Our Newspapers in Education is testament of our commitment to the cause. There, we have developed a strong readership among young people, many of whom we’ve seen flourish in their education and have gone on to become leaders in this country today.

And that’s just one area. 

We also have a Children’s Corner dedicated to providing learning materials for the children. A key part of knowing how to read and write is to be interested in these things in the first place. 

The Samoa Observer’s short story competition is another way we are generating interest in young people to write their own stories and to read others’ stories. The competitions over the years have been a tremendous success.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, let me congratulate you once again for this conference. Your theme of “If not now… when?” is indeed a great challenge. It is a call for action; it is a call for all of us to rise up as we all have a part to play.

At the Samoa Observer, we will continue to ask the tough questions, tell the successful stories and promote the importance of literacy and numeracy and numeracy among our readers in Samoa and all over the world.  

What about you? 

Let me tell that you are not where you are by accident. You are there for a purpose; God Almighty positioned you to be there for the betterment of society through your gifts and talents. He knew you could do it. 

So give yourselves a clap for being willing to be part the solutions and making the commitment to deliver them where it matters – in the classrooms. 

Ia manuia le fonotaga, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 20 January 2016, 12:00AM

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