Education in Chuuk
This year, less than one percent of seniors graduating from Chuuk’s public schools were able to pass the test to attend the College of Micronesia. This stat is just one of many that led the U.S. Ambassador to Micronesia open the state’s weeklong teachers’ symposium with a speech berating the Department of Education, the principals, and teachers of Chuuk for failing to educate their own children. A couple quotes:
“Test scores show that most graduating seniors are illiterate and innumerate…. They will face futures of limited choice and opportunity.”
Quoting an Obama speech: “The status quo is morally unacceptable, it’s economically indefensible, and all of us are going to roll up our sleeves and change it.”
The ambassador’s speech didn’t just rely on statistics, he himself visited schools several months ago, only to arrive and find that neither teachers nor students were present. This isn’t an isolated incident, the major problem here is that school is often cancelled or teachers don’t show up. Parents also aren’t held accountable for students who miss school. School should have been in session for four weeks now, but some have yet to open.
At my school six of eight eighth graders were able to pass the high school entrance exam, a seventh qualified for an interim year and a second chance at the test, and the final one failed, which is marked with the ominous “END” on the results page. But this is hardly typical. At many schools, only one or two students passed the test.
The hope is that the installation of a new director of education, a woman, no less, and the substantial house cleaning that she’s already started in the department with help to fix things. At the symposium she presented her plan for improving the system.
The problem is that the challenges faced by the school system are as much geographical and cultural as institutional. Chuuk lagoon consists of 20 or so islands accessible to one another only by motorboat. The outer islands are flung in nearly every direction, and rely on fishing boats (which can take days to reach their destinations) or a single plan, all of which run on erratic schedules. Checking up on schools and enforcing policies will be difficult over such a wide area.
Culture, however, presents the biggest challenge. Small, close-knit communities tend to be resistant to change. Especially on outer islands, where people rely heavily on family ties and friendships to survive, people are unlikely confront one another. Teachers who don’t show up to work are left alone, because to turn them in would damage important relationships. Making them lose their paychecks would cut off the income of several families. People are expected to help their kin, so nepotism is common, and accepted. Positions of power are given to respected elders, not necessarily the most qualified person.
The current education system is the American system, which relies on a distance between people that allows administrators to fire incompetent and lazy teacher and hire effective ones. It relies on mothers (since in this culture they are in charge of raising children) who can voice their opinions in PTA meetings. Unfortunately, principals are tied down by family obligations, and a culture that makes firing people even more difficult than it already is, and women are expected to be deferential, not loud and angry (as most mothers they should be right now).
So the plan is to make sure that schools are in session for 180 days a year, with all teachers and students present. It will also make sure that students have proper schools with adequate supplies (my school has been in need of a new roof for years ). It will make sure teachers are writing lesson plans and are actually qualified to teach.
It seems pretty basic, but the basics are what need to be fixed before anything gets better.