Graduate Minister’s dream can be yours too

The Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Seuula Ioane Tuaau shot an arrow across the bow in Samoa’s education sector on Friday, when he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Education from the National University of Samoa.

The veteran educationist – who perhaps didn’t envisage being a parliamentarian upon graduation when he first enrolled for the academic programme three years ago – is now on the cusp of making a major contribution to Samoa’s education sector through his ministerial appointment.

He was one of 186 students who graduated from the university with certificates, diplomas and degrees last Friday.

And having clocked over 30 years in the education sector, it was logical that the first-term M.P. got the education portfolio in the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Cabinet. 

There is no doubt Seuula is now a living reservoir of knowledge on the sector and his experience and skill-set would only add value to the Cabinet and Government's deliberations on the challenges facing the education sector.

He gets the ministerial portfolio at a critical time with the COVID-19 global pandemic forcing school and college administrators to consider remote learning, amid dropping literacy and numeracy rates across all grades, especially male students who are being academically outperformed by their female peers.

Samoa’s Second Voluntary National Review report compiled by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics released in May this year pointed to the dwindling attendance rates for male students and low achievement scores for Year 12 and Year 13 students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

And then there’s the previous Government’s education reforms introduced in July last year to compress secondary education years from the current five to four, resulting in the abolition of Year 13 and the standardisation of Year 9-12. 

A number of colleges welcomed the reforms which would see Year 9 students choose pathways leading to a future career. But its implementation at the height of a pandemic state of emergency (S.O.E.) raised concerns amongst students, parents and guardians as well as teachers.

With consistent updates not forthcoming from the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) on the reforms – amid pressure from local health authorities this year for student-focused vaccination programmes to be ramped up – it is anyone’s guess if schools and colleges are reform-ready.

But giving credit where credit is due, the initiative introduced by the former Government to get the N.U.S. to run a Teacher Upgrade Programme, is a step in the right direction if the country is to find a long-term solution to its deep-seated challenges resulting in poor education outcomes.

The N.U.S. programme enables primary and secondary school teachers to upgrade their skills and at the end of the three-year course graduate with a bachelor's degree in education. 

Seuula is one of the latest beneficiaries of this programme, consequently graduating last Friday at the university. However, N.U.S. academic staff indicated early last year that they are overwhelmed trying to meet the demands of the programme with teaching staff working 8am to 9pm teaching full-time, part-time and trainee-teachers. 

And for an academic programme that has been delivered full-on since 2016, often to the detriment of overworked academic staff, questions need to be asked on its long-term sustainability and whether separate funding should be allocated for the recruitment of more teaching staff.

And then there is the greater challenge of getting younger citizens interested in pursuing undergraduate studies at the N.U.S. or The University of South Pacific (U.S.P.) Samoa Campus or technical and vocational education training whse skills graduates can deploy in the workforce.

What are some incentives that the Government can introduce to get and entice the next generation of Samoans interested in pursuing studies that can promise employment and future prosperity?

These are snapshots of some of the challenges currently facing the education sector, which the Minister would be familiar with due to his background as a teacher and principal. So what are some of the first steps he can take to begin addressing some of these challenges?

He has started on the right foot following his graduation last Friday, declaring that his hunger for education and upskilling himself even while in his mid-60s, should compel citizens of all ages and backgrounds to aspire.

And the journey of fulfilling one’s dreams for success can only start with you when you take that first step for yourself and your aiga.

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