Julie N. Church and Dr. Macleans A. Geo-JaJa, Educational Leadership Foundations
The Republic of Kiribati, located in Micronesia, has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the world’s poorest nations. One crucial aspect of the underdevelopment of this small Pacific atoll is that of education. Education plays a major role in the empowerment of people and contributes immensely to national capacity building.
It is a well-known fact that education has a powerful role to play in the development of individuals as well as in the development of nations. In order for education to be effective in meeting national development objectives it must be both localized and accessible to all as described in Article 26 of the World Conference on Education for All that took place in Jomtien, Thailand March 1990. As individuals in all communities are provided an environmentally specific education true development will manifest itself through poverty reduction, choice expansion, personal dignity, the acquisition of human rights and health, stimulating community participation, leading to an increase in productivity, national cohesion, peace and the overall well being of the nation.
Government leadership is a key determining factor in the attainment of equitable education, especially within developing countries. Accordingly, the degree of importance placed on education by leaders is tied unequivocally to the policies and programs put forth and provided for by nations. Therefore, it is in the best interest of developing nations to invest in far reaching and sustainable educational initiatives.
With this in mind, I traveled across the capital island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati to live and study for three months while completing my teaching practical at Moroni High School in the village of Eitia. During that time it was my intent to understudy the national development objectives of the Republic of Kiribati and to explore the attitudes, goals and educational reforms enacted by the government on behalf of the people.
Not long after arriving in Kiribati I became associated with many educators at the school where I taught, along with others from the government and mission schools. Their interests in education were impressive and sincere. Much of the education provided on Tarawa and other outer islands is sustained by the efforts of mission schools and other NGOs dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and the stresses incurred therein. These mission schools provide many more children with education that would otherwise go without due to the lack of facilities and trained staff.
Among these great educators was the man that would facilitate my research and guide me to the people with the information I needed, Herman Tiikana, my mentor teacher. Herman listened to my ideas about the correlation between economic prosperity and education. We agreed that while economic prosperity did not necessarily determine a person’s happiness, it did require an education fit for the opportunity of economic success and the attainment of human dignity. He took my endeavor to heart and arranged for me to meet with the secretary to the President of the nation, Nei Kokeaki.
Nei Kokeaki was very helpful. We spoke at length about the present economic and social situation of the Republic of Kiribati. She helped me understand the quandary imposed upon the nation as a result of limited natural resources and their dependence on outside nations for the supply of food and other goods as well as the lack of educated, skilled professionals. She also conveyed to me the deep desire of the President to improve the situation of his people and of his commitment to education as a means of improvement in both the economic and social sectors.
Kokeaki referred me to the Ministry of Education Training and Technology and I was soon able to sit down with the Chief Education Officer, Timau. It was apparent to me that his enthusiasm for education was infectious. When I asked Timau to tell me his vision of education and its role in the betterment of the nation he shared with me an Asian proverb, “If you are hungry, pick a fruit. If you think of tomorrow, plant a tree. If you think about the future, educate a child.” Timau, a simple man, spoke with wisdom and conviction. He then sent me to the Planning Office in the Ministry of Finance where I was able to receive a copy of the National Development Strategies 2000-2003 (NDS).
From Kokeaki, Timau and the Planning Office I learned that the attitudes of government officials with respect to education are positive and progressive. In addition, I learned from the NDS document that the primary objective of the government of the Republic of Kiribati for 2000-2003 is to improve the living standard of the people of Kiribati through a combined effort on the part of the government, private enterprises, NGOs and the community as a whole. Therein is stated the realization that without sustainable development and real economic growth it would be impossible to realize the goal of improved living standards.
A key developmental constraint as outlined in the NDS is the realization of a social and cultural system with limited understanding and experience with business concepts and practices. According to the report the majority of the labor force lacks education and job skills necessary to support economic development. In response to these constraints, education has become the focus of the government in producing a competent work force that will entice investors and promote an environment of economic mobility previously limited to a small scale market.
The government has stressed the importance of training a workforce capable of interaction with a globalized economy and has implemented and supported already existing attempts to improve educational equity throughout the nation as set forth in the 1996-1999 NDS. Among these reforms priority has been given to strengthening primary education, providing equal access to basic education through primary school and forms 1-3 in junior secondary schools, strengthening teacher qualifications and curriculum content, expand enrollments, improve vocational-technical programs in secondary schools and the expansion of linkages with the University of the South Pacific, based in Fiji. These reforms are intended to reach the outer islands as well at little or no cost to the communities.
In short, the diligence of the government in lifting the standard of living through education of the community is commendable and will, in time, prove itself and enduring developmental strategy. In this regard I congratulate the government of Kiribati and wish them well in their constant efforts to lift and build the future of their nation through continued investment in the education of their children.