Literacy a challenge in the region

When it comes to literacy among students in tertiary education around the Pacific region, there is a lack of competency, says outgoing University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor, Professor Rajesh Chandra. 

Prof. Chandra has spent the past 39 years in educating tertiary students from around the region, managing and reviewing the academic progress of the region’s biggest institution.

“I think all universities are feeling that they are getting students whose levels of literacy should be much better,” he said to the Samoa Observer. 

“In the region, that’s partly because the people coming through primary and secondary don’t have the required skills and competencies.”

Prof. Chandra said the problem now is quality, so even if people complete secondary schools, the issue is whether the competency they have developed are relevant and comparable to global standards.       

“Because that’s where the aspiration is, everyone wants to have the same kind of high quality help and services, that can’t come until people’s competency is very high,” he said. 

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He explained the university is spending a lot of time and resource in remediating those things. 

“In the region, through the Ministers of Education, tests are being run, looking at the Pacific’s competency in literacy relative to global standards. There hasn’t been similar a test again for global testing on numeracy, but we know that from the quality of numeracy that students bring to the university that it is also a problem.” 

“I think the challenge is in the region we have successfully managed the issue around accessibility, so the participation rate in the Pacific is very high, except in the Melanesian countries, they are still struggling a little bit because of the very large population and increasing very rapidly.” 

“Just imagine your population increasing by 2-3 percent every year, you have to deal with the backlog and you have to deal with the new people coming up, and the investment is simply not there to do that.”

Prof. Chandra said the region is working very hard to tackle the issue surrounding competency, but admitted that it is going to take a lot of effort. 

“What can we do, first thing we can do is to improve teacher training, that’s a big component and we are including it at U.S.P. and we are working to improve teacher training in all institutions, and we put some of our money in that all around the region.”

“We started a very big cohort based programme for untrained teachers because you have to reduce the stock of untrained teachers, you have to improve the training you provide and you have to provide professional development for people who are trained.”

“The world is changing very quickly and the Pacific has to come to terms with the new technologies, so a lot of work that lies ahead,” he said.

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