We have recently completed a scoping study with members of the Council of Pacific Education (COPE) – a regional organisation of education unions from the South Pacific and a sub-branch of Education International – to map the trends of education reform throughout Pacific Island nations.
First, it is necessary to extend our thanks to the officials and members of the eight COPE unions that participated in this research, including the Cook Islands Teachers Institute (CITI), Fiji Teachers Association (FTA), Fiji Teachers Union (FTU), Tonga’s Friendly Island Teachers Union (FITU), Kiribati Union of Teacher (KUT), Solomon Islands Teachers Association (SINTA), Vanuatu Teachers Union (VTU) and Samoa National Teachers Association (SNTA).
The study recruited 82 survey participants (principals and teachers) and 6 interview participants (education bureaucrats and teacher union officials) in Fiji to provide a preliminary understanding of education reform in Pacific Island systems and schools, and the impact this has on schools’ and teachers’ work.
This scoping research identifies that, like many jurisdictions around the world, COPE nations are embarking on significant reforms to their education sector. What this report demonstrates is that the reformist zeal that Sahlberg (2011) identified as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) is impacting schooling in the Pacific Islands, albeit within the unique context of each nation. Sahlberg (2011) identifies six features of education reform principles that have been employed to try and improve the quality of education. Each of these are discussed in relation to the Pacific Islands in the report and are summarised here.
- Standardisation: centrally prescribed curricula and testing
Standardisation of and in education. Like elsewhere in the world, COPE nations seem to now focus on education outcomes, as evidenced by centrally prescribed curricula and testing of students.
- Increased focus on literacy and numeracy: EQAP
An increased focus on literacy and numeracy where skills in reading and mathematics become central to education reform strategies potentially at the expense of a broad curriculum. This is evident through the establishment of the Education Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP). EQAP – supported financially by the Australian Government, New Zealand Aid Programme and UNESCO – conducts the Pacific Islands Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (PILNA), and also provides a range of support, advice and services around leadership, policy, assessment, curriculum, teaching and learning, qualifications recognition, and ICTs. All these activities suggest there is global influence on COPE education systems, and a move towards further standardisation across these systems. The role of EQAP and national legislation shifts into the future should be followed.
- Teach to predetermined results: teachers feel they lack training
Teaching to predetermined results is defined by Sahlberg as a low-risk way to reach learning goals and while this project did not collect data that would suggest teachers are constrained in pedagogical innovation, teachers did feel they lacked the skills and training to design and implement innovative pedagogies. Throughout the survey participants reflected that they needed further training in behaviour management strategies and inclusive pedagogies.
- Transfer of innovation: short-term teacher contracts and unknown role of philanthropy
The transfer of innovation from corporate to the educational world where education policy and ideas are borrowed from the private sector. Perhaps the most striking issue in this regard is the use of short-term contracts for teachers throughout the Pacific Islands. In the case of Fiji, for example, the Ministry believes that placing teachers on contracts is a way to drive up education training and qualifications which is in the best interest of students and the school system more broadly. Despite this intention, participants in this project clearly identified that short term contracts were detrimental to their performance, citing issues of professionalism, wellbeing and reduced likelihood to attract and retain teachers in the profession.
The other point Sahlberg makes with the increasing privatisation of education is that these reforms are often driven by international development organisations and private venture philanthropy. While participants in this research made some reference to international organisations and aid agencies involved in their education systems it seems necessary to further investigate the role and influence of philanthropy in COPE systems.
- Test-based accountability policies: punitive teacher policies
The adoption of test-based accountability policies in which school performance and raising student outcomes is linked to accrediting, inspecting and ultimately, rewarding or punishing schools. Again, this feature does not seem as apparent in the Pacific Islands. It appears that more focus is being cast on the teacher workforce – and seeking to punitively improve this – before attention is turned to schools.
- Increased control of schools: strict teacher accountability
The increased control of schools in which there is a drive to collect data to identify and target low-performing schools. It appears more focus is directed at auditing and evaluating the skills of teachers and policies have sought to increase control of teachers and place them under stricter accountability mechanisms. Further research is required in understanding assessment policies and related accountability policies at the system level of all COPE nations.
GERM has clearly had consequences for teachers’ work in the Pacific Islands. On the one hand, it has been able to emphasise some guidelines to improve the quality and effectiveness of education systems, including access to schooling for students, putting more focus on curriculum and assessment for learning and strengthening the training of the teacher workforce. However, on the other hand, it has strengthened logics of privatisation that assume explicit targets for teachers (and students in the case of PILNA) are the most effective way to improve COPE educational systems.
Download the full report here: https://go.ei-ie.org/GRPacific
Download the summary report here: https://go.ei-ie.org/GRPacificSummary