Focus on teacher quality key: education Ministry
The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) has emphasised the need for better-qualified teachers in response to recent debates about problems with educators in Samoan classrooms.
In 2015 the Government implemented a Teacher Upgrade Programme facilitating teachers to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in education after a survey found fewer than 10 per cent of teachers held university degrees.
“[The] teacher upgrade programmes [were] designed and implemented in late 2015 which included the Science Teachers Accelerated Programme (S.T.A.P.) to address the shortage of maths and science teachers through University of the South Pacific and Bachelor of Education, in other subject areas, at the National University of Samoa,” a statement from the Ministry issued this week said.
“In 2020, the upgrade programme expanded to include E.C.E. (Early Childhood Education) teachers.”
The statement follows concerns raised in Parliament over the quality of teachers in the country.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi called for the return of retired teachers to address a shortage of science and mathematics instructors.
Tuilaepa said a lack of qualifications in the classroom was an ongoing problem and if bringing back retired teachers was a solution then it should be done.
The Prime Minister noted the far-reaching effects of not having enough qualified teachers in Samoa’s education system.
But the Prime Minister told the House that he is adamant there are enough qualified teachers to teach at schools in Samoa.
According to M.E.S.C., in 2015 the number of Government school teachers who held degrees was 14 per cent, but by 2020 this figure had reached 51 per cent.
“Currently there are 11 per cent of teachers involved in the upgrade programme, 24 per cent yet to be upgraded and 14 per cent are more than 55 years old,” the Ministry said.
“The latter group is engaged in certificated professional development programme.”
The Ministry further said a new system for appraising teachers’ performance was now in place.
“The [system ensures] three main domains of professional knowledge, professional practice and professional attributes are met to proficiency levels by both primary and secondary teachers,” the Ministry said.
“Trends from the last 5 years indicate growth in the number of teachers meeting minimum professional standards.
“Since 2015 -2020 (54%) of primary teachers have met proficiency levels and (79%) of secondary teachers met the standards in this period.
“This increasing teacher proficiency is a contributing factor to the demonstrated improvement in student results, over the same period. The establishment of the Samoa Teachers Council also emphasise the regulation of teachers’ registration now enforced for all teachers in Samoa inclusive of mission, private and government schools and ECE Centres.”
According to M.E.S.C. in 2020, a total of 1,024 teachers are now eligible for full teacher registration status.
“The M.E.S.C. vision is to provide a quality holistic education that realises the spiritual, cultural and physical potential of all participants to make fulfilling life choices,” the statement said.
As a Ministry, we continue to strive amidst all challenges to achieve our vision and mission.”
In Parliament the Prime Minister recalled the lack of science and mathematics teachers not only in Samoa but across the Pacific.
“I was surprised when [some time ago] the Minister [at the time] lamented on how we failed in this area, in terms of planning, and this depicted the lack of foresight by previous Ministers and C.E.O.s [for the Ministry of Education] to ensure there are enough qualified teachers allocated to Colleges and Primary [Schools],” the Prime Minister said.
Tuilaepa said all the students who passed their examinations at the time had their grades “re-marked” due to a lack of qualified teachers.
“The teachers remarked and scaled up the students' grades to reflect good marks," he said.
He said the scheme was premised on the idea of scaling upgrades “artificially” so students could pass.
But when students with passing scores of 70 were re-marked and upgraded to grades of 90 they were accepted for overseas scholarships and failed, Tuilaepa said.
“I wrote to the University and Ministry of Education at the time seeking a solution because this is after all their responsibility to make sure there are enough [qualified] teachers,” the Prime Minister said.
He said the solution given at the time was to select 60 science teachers to take refresher courses at the University of the South Pacific at considerable expense.
Tuilaepa added that at the time this was the same issue faced by the broader Pacific region and when the University of the South Pacific was asked for assistance regional leaders were told to follow Samoa’s example.
“Select Science teachers and have them undergo Science courses at the expense of the Government,” said the Prime Minister.
“We took the initiative on this and other Pacific islands followed suit.
“This is the same issue we’re facing today, parents and the public are asking for qualified teachers.”
Tuilaepa then called on the Minister of Education Sports and Culture and the Public Service Commission to amend their policies on the retirement age for teachers as well as encouraging retired teachers to return to the classroom.
The Prime Minister said the Ministry of Education should continue its programme for increasing the skills of the nation’s teachers.
But the Teacher Upgrade Programme has not been without controversy.
The education Ministry originally set a target for all teachers to have completed the programme by last year.
A review of the programme undertaken last year by the National University of Samoa found that many teachers were struggling with elementary mathematics and science courses.
Technology, English language proficiency, and most of all finding time and space to undertake further study were the biggest barriers to completing the programme, which also placed a considerable extra load on the National University of Samoa.
Teachers whose studies were funded by the Government to upgrade their qualifications to the tune of up to $1 million a year were also found to have been refusing to take Foundation level Mathematics courses.
The teachers’ claimed the courses were too advanced and irrelevant for their primary and secondary student’s needs.