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Quest for quality

Dr Sakul Kundra And Bhawna Kundra
Thursday, March 01, 2018

UNICEF'S Education Program is to increase the percentage of children benefiting from the equitable provision and completion of quality basic education.

The Pacific Education Development Framework (PEDF) is grounded in two sets of imperatives.

First the commitments made by Pacific countries to global education calls for action and second, the national and regional response to the specific needs and challenges in respect of education in the Pacific region.

The CROP/UN Working Group on Sustainable Development (2013) stated: "The size, isolation, and vast area covered by the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) raise specific issues for education regarding access and equity, quality, and efficiency… raised concerns for concerns accessibility of quality education in all islands.

"Other pressing issues include need for increased enrolment, improved retention rates, more opportunities for students with disabilities and an expanded TVET range with direct correlation with employment opportunities."

In this regard, Fiji recently hosted 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (20CCEM) with the theme Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?

At that meeting, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Baroness Patricia Scotland had stressed: "Education is the cornerstone of the sustainable development agenda, and is an essential precursor for peaceful, prosperous and just societies. At this first CCEM to be held since the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals was agreed in September 2015, ministers will assess progress and share prospects for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, on how to: 'ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning'."

This article overviews the challenges in education in PICs.

James Marshall et al. in the book Politics, Policy, Pedagogy: an Introduction stated education can never be neutral, as it is an inherent political activity and politics, policy and pedagogy are closely intertwined.

According to these authors, it is important to know the intention of the policy maker and the context in which policy is drafted. As Kathryn S Young and Svjetlana Curcic stated there exisst a disconnection between the research and practice of polices.

Akhila Nand Sharma's article Overview of Educational Policy Issues and Gaps in the Pacific highlights the context of PICs policies, challenges and directions it provides the policy makers, practitioners and policy users. As per the author, the educational policy of each nation depends on the overall government's national vision; but mostly all islands' policy depend on some enduring values of Pacific society such as human rights and dignity, honesty, respect for justice, integrity, responsibility, compassion, sense of family and community, righteousness, love and appreciation of differences… education plays a critical role in the achievement of the national vision.

Based on this desire of the government, the educational policy vision, mission and the strategic activities, such as policy objectives and policy directions, are formulated to enhance educational development in particular, and the social, economic and political development at large.

Some Problems in Pacific Islands Education

Mr Sharma's research (2000) on TVET in Fiji, found lack of relevance of the innovation and the readiness of the policy users were the key factors that impeded the successful implementation the TEVT programs in most secondary schools. He explains the successful management of educational policy depends largely on the nature of the political system, political ideology, official and non-official actors and international influences; and also the effected by the bureaucratic orientations and the politics of self-interest.

Furthermore, Mr Sharma highlights the finding of Fiji Rural Education Project (FREP) funded by EU in regard to Fiji, "firstly, is the accessibility and equity is not available as because of islanders' ruralness and smallness are the demographic realities of island nations so rural and island communities lag behind than other groups in educational achievements.

Secondly, very little wage employment opportunities exist in rural areas. He also said the education system does not fully prepare school leavers to establish their own self-owned and self-managed enterprises with its examination driven education agendas.

The fourth finding highlighted the lack of TVET initiatives to prepare students for employability in rural areas; other several problems such as:

* Low representation of women in all decision-making bodies;

* Minimal interest and participation in educational activities;

* Increasing domestic violence, crime and substance abuse; and

* Little access to information, financial capital, markets and resources, among others

Victor Levine's work Education in Pacific Island States: Reflection on the Failure of Grand Remedies reviews the state of education, hypotheses about the underlying causes of declining standards in Pacific Island education, "grand remedies" that have been attempted and poses a question. Can Pacific Island states realistically aspire to ever provide decent education to their children?

He contends that in individual countries, if sufficient political will and leadership exist, meaningful reform may be possible but complex technical documents, regional conferences and complex national plans actually obscure the basic problem and thereby constitute impediments to change.

Because of these inherited differences in their education systems, Levine states there is a risk of generalisations about Pacific Islanders and that educational problems that are common in many but not all developing PICs.

The author further discusses 10 hypotheses for the stagnation and decline of education in the Pacific ie inadequate funding.

Do Pacific Islanders value education? Is there a mismatch between formal education with Pacific culture, lack of technical capacity, how is education viewed as a source of public employment, is weak governance a factor, no incentives to improve efficiency, weak civil society etc.

He then goes on to describe six major approaches as how these problems have been approached, by large infusion of donor funding, technical assistance, analysis and reports, national education plans, regional donor projects, capacity building, donors, migration" and I shall conclude with his remark of strong hope that "Pacific Island leaders can bring about substantial reform and improvement, if there is political will".

n Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at the FNU's College of Humanities and Education in Lautoka. Bhawna Kundra is a French and business management teacher at International School Nadi. The views are theirs and not of this newspaper or their respective employers. For comments email.

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