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DOE Director assesses current condition of education

“The Department of Education is currently unable to systematically function to provide quality services for the children of American Samoa,” admitted DOE Director Vaitinasa Salu Hunkin Finau at the Governor’s Education Summit yesterday.


The three-day summit, which wrapped up yesterday, covered many issues pertaining to teachers, their salaries, their participation and how to better parent and community involvement in school and their child’s education life. The importance of parents participating in the PTA and the problem of parents who leave their children home while they attend Bingo were also among the issues that were raised during panel discussions.


During her speech on Tuesday elaborating on the state of the Territory’s education system, Vaitinasa proposed to Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga to have DOE’s five year strategic plan legalized. This summit was a move by the governor to bring education stakeholders together to address alarming student performances, with students performing way below the national average.


Since it began on Tuesday, the Summit has been packed with government leaders, lawmakers, District Governors, village mayors, educators, church leaders and business owners from throughout the territory.


The DOE Director on Tuesday stated that DOE’s strategic plan incorporates Common Core Standards which require high quality teachers and teaching, and concentrated efforts by students and their parents.  It also requires student achievement and assessments, teachers who are the major factor in student success, language and education and also parent and community involvement and governance.


Vaitinasa stated on Tuesday that everyone’s input and recommendations regarding this 5-Year School Improvement Plan are critical to their efforts to ensure we make all students our priority.


“Although our school system has faced and continues to face many unique challenges since the establishment of the first public school in Fagatogo in 1904, we are hopeful that following this great Summit, and with the assistance of the Commission, the leadership of the Governor, and your support, we will successfully address the most critical educational issues.”


On the last day of the summit, Vaitinasa gave a final presentation where she admitted that DOE cannot “systematically function to provide quality services for the children.”


She noted that the teaching and learning environments need attention, given that "we need to know what exactly is the problem and we need to be truthful on the condition that education is in.”


Vaitinasa asked — who designed, plan and implemented the system… the system is what people put together… DOE people planned, designed and implemented education… the business and members of the community sanctioned the designed planned, meaning we are all involved. She pointed out that as a teacher, once we identify and admit we have a problem, we can move forward.


“The teaching and learning environment needs attention", she said.


She also shared with the participants that when asked by the governor to oversee DOE, she had to think about it, given it’s the largest department with the highest budget and has a lot of long standing problems.


Vaitinasa stated that one of her first steps was to focus on maintenance and supplies, with school facilities, because a clean and healthy environment is the best learning environment. The DOE Director also commended the governor, the government and its directors and members of the community for their participation in Lolo’s 'Adopt a School' initiative. She said DOE spent almost a million dollars on the renovations, yet there’s still more to do.


Vaitinasa also stated that the government should consider having local funding and not solely depend on federal funding for the schools. She pointed out the shortage of supplies and equipment, as well as a shortage of college students entering the field of education and the 'plague' of poorly trained teachers.


The director stated that DOE is underfunded, given that there are 15,000 students, with a staff of 1,800 working with under $62 million.


“Where do we want to go from here?”


She noted that in the US each state has Board of Education that works closely with the leaders in education and it’s something that American Samoa should have.


Samoa News should point that out the Board of Education is mandated by local law; however it’s been dormant for many years. There is, however, a board of higher education which governs the operation of the American Samoa Community College.


Vaitinasa again pointed out that DOE’s strategic school improvement plan should be enacted into law, so there’s a set requirement for education and no one can deviate from this plan, even with a change of command. She said that there should be research/ a study conducted on the best practices for Pacific children and especially for Samoans.


And, she added, there's still a need for qualified teachers who can respond locally to global demands.


“We cannot be isolated, because the Samoan children we are teaching today are different from the children three decades ago. I think the generations today are DNA wired for technology, so even though they are born here in American Samoa, they are wired for technology, yet DOE’s technology isn’t wired, which is why we need to step up.”


Another issue, she said, is the lack of ongoing responsive assessments with students, given the shortage of professionals on island who can do this.


She further stated that a culturally responsive curriculum should be for local and global demands, pointing out that students shouldn’t only be taught of the outside world; rather their education should start from our own culture first.


Samoa News will report on the panel discussions and the Education Summit resolutions in later editions.