DOE strategy to upgrade teachers by 2016 spelled out for Fono
Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau plans to have current public school teachers, who only hold an AA degree, take college courses full time, while teachers hired from Samoa take over classroom teaching, as the department moves to fulfill its promise that by 2016 all public school teachers will hold a Bachelors degree in education.
The plan was revealed in a recent House Education Committee hearing focusing on DOE’s recent move to recruit teachers from Samoa, with some 50 applicants brought back for review. Teachers from Samoa, said the director, will also help fill the need in classroom teaching in content areas such as English, Math and Science.
Responding to a committee question, Vaitinasa explained that volunteers from the WorldTeach organization hold degrees in the content areas of Math, Science and English, but they are not trained teachers. “They don’t hold Bachelors in education and their contracts are for one-year unless the person wants to stay longer,” she said.
And while DOE has not conducted a survey on the impact of these volunteer teachers, Vaitinasa said, “generally we are happy with their performance. Most of the contract workers are very good, attendance is very good.”
But for the local American Samoa teachers, she told lawmakers that “the attendance rate of teachers in school is very poor” as they are absent “for personal reasons, faalavelave, illness”.
She also said DOE currently doesn’t have a teacher substitute program to fill in for classroom instruction for absent teachers due to the lack of funding, adding that “we have no budget” for such a program.
When asked about local current teachers without a Bachelor's degree in Education, Vaitinasa said 50% of them don’t have Bachelors degrees and these teachers need to take full time courses to obtain their required Bachelor in Education as well as being certified, and the DOE has set a goal for all DOE teachers to have a Bachelor's degree by 2016.
She explained that DOE now has a contract with the American Samoa Community College teacher education program for a four-year degree program. She says the plan is to bring in teachers from Samoa to fill classroom instruction needs, while DOE teachers work toward their Bachelor degrees in full time courses..
There is also the University of Hawai’i CoHort Program which helps teachers obtain their Bachelor's in education, she said and pointed out to complete these programs, it takes anywhere from three to four years. She said these Cohort teachers would teach during the day and take courses in the late afternoon.
She then revealed one of the problems which DOE has faced: when these teachers have more homework to do for their college courses, the teacher would then work on his/her homework during classroom hours. The DOE director said there have been complaints from parents about it and that students are also talking to one another about this same issue.
“In an effort to resolve this issue, we are bringing in teachers from Samoa to fill the classroom teaching posts, and releasing our local teachers to attend school full time,” she said, and emphasized that local teachers without a BA have the knowledge and experience in classroom teaching.
“...but are they really exercising teaching methods, teaching development that they’ve been trained in? The answer is — not all of them, especially with only 50% with AA degrees, which is basic education. First year, second year is only basic Math, English and the other subjects. Only in the third and fourth year of a Bachelor's degree — that is when the person specializes in their major,” Vaitinasa explained.
She stressed that this is the plan and “it’s not firmed up yet” to have teachers from Samoa in classrooms, while those without BAs attend college courses full time.
Vaitinasa also says teachers from Samoa will fill the teacher shortage in content areas Math, English and Science.
DOE had proposed during the Eduction Summit last October to use both English and Samoan for classroom instruction. The director told the House committee that the law states, “the language of instruction in public schools shall be English and Samoan should be used only for clarification.”
The plan is to use Samoan language from the lower levels, Vaitinasa said, adding she hopes the administration will support this move and the Fono will approve appropriate legislation to amend the law.
However, Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele said the Samoan language is already used in schools by teachers and this is in evidence if anyone visits classrooms. He believes the law says to “use the English for classroom instruction but also use Samoan language to facilitate teaching.”
“So I don’t know what other changes to the law” the DOE wants, he said.
In his State of the Territory Address last month, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said legislation will be sent to the Fono for consideration to change the language of instruction in the classroom to include Samoan “used concurrently” with the English Language from Kindergarten to Grade 5. It's unclear at this point as to when the the governor will submit such a bill.