By Veronica Lawson, a teacher from Queensland with a Masters in Educational Leadership, has been in Pago Pago, American Samoa, since August 2022. She is working alongside educators across three schools in the Diocese of American Samoa. Her article below explores the theme of this year’s International Day of Education [24th January] “invest in people, prioritize education”.
Feature image: Marist St Francis Elementary School, American Samoa
The UNESCO report REIMAGINING OUR FUTURES TOGETHER — A new social contract for education published in 2021 recognises the power of education to bring about profound change. According to this report one of the remaining outstanding challenges is to ensure the right to quality education for every child, youth and adult and fully realizing the transformational potential of education as a route for sustainable collective futures.
The report outlines two foundational principles underlying this new social contract for education:
- Assuring the right to quality education throughout life. This is a reiteration of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but has been extended to include the qualifier quality
- Strengthening education as a public endeavour and a common good. Underpinning this principle is the need to ensure continuing government funding for education as well as a commitment to universal public discussion to mould and strengthen the common good that is quality education
This report provides a significant springboard for my position in American Samoa. My position description involves:
- Providing mentoring and professional support for local educators
- Modelling best practice in classroom teaching
The American Samoa Department of Education (ASDOE) curricula documents aim “To prepare all students of American Samoa to be ready for college, career, and life.” Studies up until ten years ago indicate some difficulty fully achieving the stated outcomes.
According to Zuercher et al (2012), young adolescents in American Samoa can be labelled “at risk” in terms of academic performance in school, and risk behaviours. On the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 87% of American Samoan eighth graders in public schools scored at or below a “basic” level in reading (Jerry & Lutkus, 2003), and assessments of American Samoan eighth graders in mathematics and science indicated that 93% and 95% of these students, respectively, lacked basic skills in these subjects (Hunkin-Finau, 2006). To put these results in perspective, 26% of 8th graders nationwide scored at or below “basic” level in reading. Moreover, American Samoa had the largest percentage of eighth graders at or below a basic level in reading, followed by the District of Colombia (52%), the U.S. Virgin Islands (51%), and Guam (50%) (Jerry & Lutkus, 2003).
The ADSOE content standards describe expectations for student learning in specific subject areas, K–12. Content standards provide a framework for professional reflection and planning that enable content-rich curricula and literacy for all in English language arts, Samoan studies, math, social studies, science, and aligned standards for English language proficiency (ELP). They offer teachers, schools, and the Department a guide to plan and assess learning, as well as set goals within a school improvement process.
For the vision to become a reality, the report outlines a number of proposals including:
- Teaching should be further professionalized as a collaborative endeavour where teachers are recognized for their work as knowledge producers and key figures in educational and social transformation. Collaboration and teamwork should characterize the work of teachers. Reflection, research and the creation of knowledge and new pedagogical practices should become integral to teaching. This means that their autonomy and freedom must be supported and that they must participate fully in public debate and dialogue on the futures of education.
- Pedagogy should be organized around the principles of cooperation, collaboration, and solidarity. It should foster the intellectual, social, and moral capacities of students to work together and transform the world with empathy and compassion. However, the selected pedagogical strategies should maximise learning impact and those with limited effect size should be discarded (Hattie, 2012). Teachers will need to move from a culture of isolated classroom teaching to a more collaborative model of shared professional conversation.
- We should enjoy and expand the educational opportunities that take place throughout life and in different cultural and social spaces. At all times of life people should have meaningful, quality educational opportunities. We should connect natural, built, and virtual sites of learning, carefully leveraging the best potentials of each. Key responsibilities fall to governments whose capacity for the public financing and regulation of education should be strengthened. The right to education needs to be broadened to be lifelong and encompass the right to information, culture, science and connectivity. As with any profession, continual appropriate and specific professional development is essential to the advancement of appropriately qualified, experienced teachers here in American Samoa.
My first six months here has supported discernment of my role in assisting to advance such a process of Professional Development for teachers in Diocesan schools. This is particularly important given that low remuneration attracts fewer well qualified and experienced teachers to our schools.
I can see a potential path for professional development if we are able to engage our teachers in action research projects with the American Samoa Community College. This would assist them to identify and employ the pedagogical practices to maximise learning impact as identified above by ASDOE. If alongside this a process of teacher registration can be put in place, to recognize qualifications and skills gained in such professional development, our teachers will be further encouraged to lifelong improvement.