Sen. Galeai: the answer to improving education system is to improve teachers
For American Samoa to be successful, with a high rate of students graduating with high performance scores, Sen. Galeai M. Tu’ufuli suggests the government concentrate on having more qualified teachers in classrooms instead of pushing for students to be taught in both Samoan and English.
Low performance student achievement and high school graduates having to take remedial courses in college were among the issues discussed at last week’s Education Summit, where Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau pushed for the need to use the Samoan language to teach students at the lower levels.
Resolutions approved during the summit call for classroom instruction law to be amended to state that Samoan and English languages be used in the public schools and that a dual language program be designed and implemented to provide greater accessibility of content area knowledge and skills for children K-12.
However, Galeai said current law allows the use of Samoan language in teaching students and noted that current statute states: “Instruction in all public schools shall be in the English language, but the Samoan language may be used when necessary to facilitate teaching the English language.”
“So there is no need to change the law, which provides that the Samoan language can be used to supplement teaching in English — for example, to explain lessons in Samoan to further improve classroom learning for students,” said Galeai, who commended Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga for hosting the education summit, which brought together a wide range of the community and stakeholders to discuss ways to improve the local education system.
Galeai also said that there was a presentation during the summit outlining the low test performance of teachers and “this correlates with the low level of student performances”. He said, therefore, “it’s the quality of teachers that the Education Department should concentrate on improving.”
Government data revealed at the summit states that between 2007 and 2011 just 26% of local teachers passed reading tests and 38% in writing. Additionally, 41% of local teachers have no teaching qualifications.
“These statistics… and information revealed during the summit as well as DOE reports, and testimonies received by the Senate this year does show that there is a dire need to get more qualified teachers for public schools in order for our students to achieve successful classroom performances,” said Galeai.
“So it’s not the system or the language used in teaching students, but it is the inability for us to get teachers who meet the core standards in teaching our students,” said the Manu’a senator, who raised concerns with DOE officials earlier this year when the issue of using the Samoan language in classroom teaching was first brought up in the Senate.
Galeai noted that even if a student is taught under a breadfruit tree, that student will be successful during the education course of his or her life, as long as there is a qualified teacher.
The DOE director “is blaming this whole thing on the current education system. While I like her aggressiveness to solve this problem, we cannot condemn the English language for our failure in teaching our students,” he said. “The answer is teachers — qualified teachers.”
The bottom line, said Galeai, is that the current law “does not forbid using the Samoan language in the classroom. I don’t like the idea of trying to abandon the English language in teaching our children in school. Samoan language is taught at home.”
He urged DOE to move forward on this issue “with caution”. And if the DOE and the Lolo Administration presents next year a proposal amending the instruction law, Galeai said he will seek a full debate on this issue, to include members of the public.
The senator also suggested that the government should take this proposal to the public by holding several town hall meetings, and for DOE to fully explain the issue at hand.
“We’re talking about an important change to the education system, and it would require community response as well as public questions,” he said, adding that during the summit there was not enough time for the public to ask questions.
A handful of lawmakers reached by phone since Monday all declined to comment at this time, and plan to wait until a proposal is presented to the Fono.
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