By Lori Lyn Lirio
COLONIAL education, whether British or American, are geared to answer the needs of corporations and it impacts the language, culture and the beliefs of indigenous communities.
Thus said Deborah Ellen as she led the discussion about western education on ‘Schooling the World,’ one of the presentations at the Pacific Islands Bilingual Bicultural Association or PIBBA conference.
“The Western education – whether British or American – pushed the education program on us which is only focusing on building economy for corporations,” Ellen, an educator from Guam, stressed.
She noted that the education model today expects children to learn a certain standard making everybody the same, “and if you don’t learn the standard, you are labeled as a failure.”
Ellen said the ‘imported education’ took away a lot of traditional values and traditional knowledge.
“Now, it is supposed to be learning the textbooks coming from different place. We are not getting the knowledge about how to sustain ourselves in our own islands,” Ellen added.
The lack of education on being sustainable resulted to more issues and problems on the islands.
“We have to import most of our food and most of the things that we used. Our local economy, we are in debt because we have to keep paying out for the food to come in.”
Ellen presented a documentary on American education, wherein it showed that the same was not even working for the children in the U.S. The education model that has been using for years has not improved the students’ learning for the last 25 or 35 years.
“Instead, we even see higher suicide rates, drop-out rate, we have a lot of mental issues and substance abuse issues.”
Under the current model, education in Micronesia spends at least a third of the day just for English language instruction.
“Has it improved their test scores over the past 25 or 30 years? Why are we using something that is not even working in the U.S.?” she said, adding the present system only measures, monitors and promotes certain knowledge and certain ways.
“We have other ways of knowing as well,” she said.
“Our ancestors lived sustainably without polluting the island, without over fishing or over harvesting.”
“We could look at other models. We have other models in New Zealand and Hawaii, even in Finland where they used different models and kids are showing that they are learning more in those ways, especially by being multilingual,” Ellen said.
The participants, mostly educators, said there should be a balance in educating the children.
“We also need to bring in our own culture, our languages, our own ways of knowing how to take care of our islands and what is important in our land,” Ellen said.
All educator participants agree that there should be a revisit on education model.
“There should be incorporation of our own knowledge, about our own island, about our relationship that we have because that promotes wanting to take care of it,” Ellen said.
She added that it is not easy to get away from the present model as many schools islands live by on funds coming from the U.S.
“In order to get those funds you have to go along using certain things, meeting the same standard.”
Deborah Ellen has been a teacher for 30 years. She is a curriculum specialist, professor, and a strong advocate of indigenous languages and rights.