Combining English and Samoan as a teaching tool
The Department of Education has been asked by the Lolo administration to appoint a task force to look into the best way to implement the use of Samoan language to co mingle with English when teaching students at lower school levels.
During last week’s cabinet meeting, DOE director Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau says one of the ways to improve student performance in the classroom is co mingle teaching in both Samoan and English languages from lower levels in school.
She says between 70 and 80 percents of high school graduates are below basic standards of education when entering college prompting the need for them to take remedial courses in reading and math in college.
She says American Samoa spends millions of dollars to educate students but this same problem with below basic student performance has continued to occur over the last three decades. “We’ve not seen significant changes in their reading abilities or the math abilities of children” throughout the last 30-years, she said.
“And we have spent millions on text books and millions in educating our students and still when we test them on these national tests comparing them with their counterparts [in the U.S.], they do not do well,” she said.
According to DOE data, the department’s total FY 2013 budget is $71.42 million with $8.10 million in local revenue and $63.31 million in federal funds. It also states the cost-per-student to be educated in the local public high school system is $4,373 a year while the national average is $10,499 per student.
Hunkin-Finau believes one way to improve student performance is co mingle the Samoan and English languages when teaching students from early childhood education to level three in elementary school.
“One of the things that I believe as an educator over the years, and basically from my training as well, is I believe the instructional language, the language which we use to teach children especially in the early childhood and early elementary school levels, needs to be revisited,” she said.
“And I say this with a passion because I believe we’re teaching our children in a language that they do not understand,” she said.
Hunkin-Finau hopes the Fono will amend local law from the current requirement of English to be used as the language for teaching and Samoan to be used only as clarification. She says the law should be amended to say that English and Samoan should be used as languages for instruction starting from the lower grades. She also says that the governor is supportive of this push by DOE.
Lolo responded that for years the government has forced students to speak and be taught in English at a level they cannot speak and he is supportive of the Education director’s suggestion of co mingling the use of English and Samoan languages in classroom teaching for lower levels.
Lolo said he asked the education director to appoint a task force with members who have insights into the use of Samoan language as a teaching method in classrooms the at lower levels.
“We’ve been saying that we should start teaching Samoan in those levels, but how can we teach when we don’t have teachers teaching Samoan in those levels,” he said and noted that DOE needs to come up with a strategic plan [on] how we can approach that.”
“We cannot just go to the Fono and tell them - use the Samoan language as an official language inside classrooms. Let’s do our homework,” he said. “Get the task force together, get their ideas, then we can move from there.”
He said a full and complete plan should be submitted to the Fono for their review.
Hunkin-Finau has raised this issue at least three times in the Fono over the last couple of months but this is the first time that the governor has spoken about his view on this issue as well as calling for the establishment of a task force.
Early this month, a Samoan educator from a New Zealand university was in the territory, invited by Hunkin-Finau, to discuss with DOE the use of the Samoan language as a teaching tool at the lower levels.