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Vice Speaker skeptical of dual language for classroom

House Vice Speaker Iaulualo Fa’afetai Talia has raised concerns over Education Department’s “dual language concept” to be used for classroom teaching in public schools, but he is supportive of the DOE being a semi autonomous agency of government.


Iaulualo was among the participants of the Education Summit held in October this year, where DOE director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau shared her vision of dual language —Samoan and English — for classroom teaching to improve student performance.


Iaulualo wrote to Vaitinasa recently saying that one of the issues presented at the summit was to utilize the dual language concept method to teach students, adding that the presentation by DOE was impressive and it was delivered with facts based on several studies done on the dual language concept.


“However, I continue to have questions as to whether the concept has been scientifically tested with the Samoan language,” he said and asked, “Can the Samoan language be used to teach the curriculum in its entirety?”


“As we both know, it lacks many words,” he said about the Samoan language. “Could this handicap the application of the methodology to teach core courses such as science, math and technology? And are teachers properly trained to deliver this method of teaching?”


He said these are some of his many questions about the application of a dual language concept to the local education system.  “Currently, I am not fully convinced about the effectiveness of the concept and I will continue to remain skeptical unless some of these questions are fully addressed,” he said.


The other issue proposed by Vaitinasa during the summit is to run DOE as an autonomous agency and this will include the appointment or election of board members, said Iaulualo adding that he is supportive of this vision.


“I feel this would alleviate some, if not all, of the endemic political involvement in our kids’ education,” he said.


According to the lawmaker, the question remains as to whether the dual language concept, along with making DOE a semi autonomous agency, would solve the immediate needs of the department and dramatically improve student performance in school.


“...I don’t know exactly what actions must be taken to resolve our education system’s deficiencies,” he wrote. “I am deeply concerned and have lots of reservations in supporting legislation that would allocate resources to education programs without resolving the immediate needs of our children.”


“I know much has been said about the quality of teachers but I think we should seriously acknowledge it as a problem that needs our urgent attention,” he pointed out.


Iaulualo also said he wrote the letter to share his concerns because it was difficult for him to express an opinion at the summit. "I didn’t want the interpretation of any of my opinions to be politicized," he wrote.


“As you do, I take the issues concerning our children’s education very seriously" and "with this letter, I want to let you know the position I take on these issues when they are brought before the Fono.”


The Manu’a lawmaker also noted that the results of student performance as presented by DOE and the American Samoa Community College at the summit were alarming and that “our education system has failed our kids in 12 years of schooling before college” when some 90% of local high school graduates have to take remedial courses at ASCC.


He also says that there are many factors that can be blamed for this problem and “perhaps we have simply neglected our responsibilities to our kids’ education, or perhaps our government has failed to live up to its fiduciary responsibilities.”


“We can easily blame the problem on the fact that American Samoa is only spending a little over $4,000 per capita to educate a child which compares unfavorably to the national average of $20,000 per capital,” he wrote.


“However, what I witness in the education summit...was quite impressive. There was a high level of participation from every sector of the community - church leaders, the business sector, government leaders, parents, kids, etc.,” he said.


“Although we spend little on our kids’ education when compared to the national level, I know that with our collective involvement in their education we can see tremendous outcomes despite our limited resources,” he noted.