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OP-ED: Part II — Why English should be the primary language of instruction for K-6

When it comes to the Samoan language, I am in total agreement with Senator Galea’i’s perception that a child born of Samoan parents naturally has an innate ability to learn and speak the Samoan language fluently based on proven linguistic theory of LAD (Chomsky). This child for a better part of his or her infancy life will be spoken to in Samoan, learn the culture by observing her or his parents; therefore, she or he will naturally inherit and master the parents’ native language because the LAD is overwhelmed with Samoan language data.


Significantly, parents must be proactive in nurturing their children from early on, implanting the language and culture. As the saying goes, a child’s first education starts at home. Home is where a child learns his or her language, is spoken to, and by developing basic words and meanings is able to form simple sentences just like a child exposed to the English language; which therefore increases a child’s ability and to store more Samoan lexicons in her mental device.


Further improving a child’s Samoan language, culture etc., is accomplished by revisiting the importance of faifeau schooling which was the core in our ancestors’ early education.


Following a belief that it takes a village to raise a child, we too must believe that raising a child is a community affair. Taking advantage of after school curricula activities such as aoga faifeau or Sunday Bible studies and tutoring will not only enhance reading and writing skills in Samoan, but also will broaden cultural engagement.


Moreover, by the time a child reaches middle-grades (7, 8 and 9), her ability to comprehend and dissect both the Samoan and English languages grows into complexity and becomes much more advanced due to a huge lexicon of data already stored in her mental mechanism and new ones added as her education continues. This process will make a child become an effective communicator and writer, make better choices in term usage, and have a more polished style of writing because of the huge language data gathered even before a child reaches high school.


The Pros and Cons of Bilingualism


A case study was done of Bilingual Education in a Latino Community in East Menlo Park, California by Dagmara Drabkin who views bilingualism as a positive sign for Hispanic students with limited English, particularly students from low-income families. The parents of these students supported the program because it would be “beneficial” for their children and “Caucasian students to be fluent in both Spanish and English.”


The downfall of the program, however, was caused by “poorly run program with a lack of resources and absence of a defined curriculum.” The outcome of this was student failure to receive adequate education in both languages. According to this case study, the bilingual language failed due to the lack of parents’ participation either through their “poor English literacy” or lacking time due to working to support their families.


Final Thought


The world is changing, and our children must also meet and adjust to rapid changes that evolve in colleges and universities around the world today, and English comprehension, indeed, is the fundamental element in assuring our children’s success in their academic lives. Our children should be able to enter any college or university of their choice with confidence and expect positive results.


English literacy is absolute necessary especially for students pursuing a degree after high school. James Cummins of St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, who did a case study of bilingual students, finds that bilingual students may “suffer from language handicap when measured by verbal tests of intelligence.” Most students fail to solve arithmetic problems “expressed in sentences.” The study however, failed to prove any significant improvement in English proficiency for students in bilingual programs; similar to theLatino students in Menlo Park, California.


To better educate our children to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century head on, the department of education needs to strengthen the current system and reassess the present curriculum seeing whether it meets the criteria necessary to improve our children’s progression in reading and writing. The focus, though, should be to resuscitate our failing educational system by certifying the uncertified teachers to bring health to our ailing system. Then, the priority of the department of education is to find ways to assure that teachers are equipped with necessary tools, materials and the experience in order for the system to work.


The whole purpose of early language intervention for K-6 students is to grasp the basic process of acquiring knowledge and understand thought, experience, and the senses, which will enable them to be effective thinkers and writers.


I admire Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau’s bold move to find solutions to the resolution, and naturally her capacity as director of education dictates that “dual language” is the absolute answer to our struggling school system.


However, as a concerned observer, I urge Dr. Hunkin-Finau to be patient with implementation of this dual language system and await public opinion and other educators, Fono members and our Governor’s perspectives relating to this very important issue, which will affect the outcome of Samoan education for future generations.  


To conclude, a final solution to installing any changes in the current system must be strictly based on data collection or facts and statistics gathered, which will show the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of bilingual instruction. We must take a scientific approach and have a hard fought debate to assure that the decision you and I make today will benefit our children for many, many years to come.