Has your candidate talked about our education woes?

It is a sobering headline concerning dropping education standards in schools around the country.

But the crisis facing our education system has been well documented in recent years, and is understood to be the rationale behind the decision by the Government last year to introduce reforms.

The story (One quarter schools failing national standards) in the 21 March 2021 edition of the Sunday Samoan, based on a preliminary study in the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture 2019–2020 annual report, revealed one-in-five schools across Samoa fell short of the Government’s national minimum standards for education quality.

That is only eight primary schools and one secondary school met the Ministry’s medium service standards. The nine schools underwent the audit in order to meet all 244 indicators on which school standards are judged.

According to the M.E.S.C. annual report, only 20 per cent or 29 primary schools and 22 per cent or five secondary schools “partially” met the standards set by the Ministry. And five primary schools and one secondary school achieved less than half of the 244 standard checks.

The preliminary results of the annual school minimum standards checks set by the Ministry show just 5 per cent of Government schools have fully met Government expectations in the last financial year.

And until further research is done, the impact of the 2019 measles epidemic and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic on Samoa’s education sector remains unknown, especially those primary and secondary schools that were the subject of the M.E.S.C. audit whose findings were highlighted in the annual report.

The challenges facing Samoa’s education sector could have long-term ramifications for the country – in terms of upskilling and preparing the next generation of the workforce to adapt to a rapidly changing world – if not immediately addressed.

On the eve of the 2021 General Election next month, candidates and political parties should be telling us what their plans are in terms of their education platform, and how they intend to address this crisis.

Eligible voters should also be demanding answers from candidates aspiring to become legislators in the XVIII Legislative Assembly on how they plan to address the dropping standards in our education system?

What is the position of the candidates and political parties on the education reforms that the Human Rights Protection Party-led Government announced in July last year which is being implemented this year?

And is the current environment, amidst a COVID-19 pandemic and a global economic downturn brought on by the pandemic conducive that has led to the crippling of Samoa’s economy, conducive for major reforms to the education sector which at times can be at the mercy of a state of emergency lockdown?

The ruling H.R.P.P. last Thursday launched its party’s manifesto with caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, when drawing attention to his Government’s achievements in the education sector, pointed to 44 schools that underwent renovation and equipped with desks, computers and educational material as well as some 340 student scholarships abroad funded by the Samoa government and donor partners. 

For a Government that just concluded its five-year term, that investment is fair enough. 

But what about their plans on how to address dropping standards found amongst schools which could point to structural issues either in the curriculum or teaching methodologies or both?

In 2016 a report called the Pacific Benchmarking for Education Results raised questions about the language competencies of local teachers, and revealed how teachers preferred using the Samoan version of teaching material as they found the language and terminology used in the English curriculum too difficult.

In January 2020 a study unveiled a worrying development amongst teachers, who were sponsored by the Government to upgrade their qualifications at the National University of Samoa, who had refused to take foundation level mathematics at the N.U.S. as they said it was too complex and didn’t align with the primary school curriculum.

Having published candidate profiles in recent months, we are aware of the major political parties H.R.P.P. as well as opposition-aligned Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and Tautua Samoa each having at least a former school principal or teacher as one of their candidates.

We would like to think that the insights of the former school principals or teachers would help steer the direction that their political parties take in terms of their education policy.

And as an employee with a 40-plus year history in Samoa, we must state for the record that most applicants for reporter vacancies within our newsroom in recent years lack basic literacy skills. 

Even most journalism graduates coming out of the N.U.S. are found wanting in terms of their basic news writing, critical thinking and research skills, which are considered vital for a successful career in journalism.

And what about the atrocious grammar used by our younger generation which we often see displayed prominently on our social media pages especially Facebook, which tragically are often replicated in a classroom setting. 

Do these shortcomings symptomatic of deep-seated structural issues within our education sector that successive governments have failed to address?

This is a challenge that an incoming government and a Member of Parliament must take ownership of and tackle if Samoa is to progress as a modern nation state with a workforce ready to take on the world.

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