“There are different sets of beliefs about what is quality teaching, if you move from one Pacific country to another,” Greg says. “Teacher education students get a certain sense of what constitutes quality teaching at the university in Fiji. The students are encouraged to take a learner-centred socially interactive view of teaching and learning. But when they return to their home country, it’s not quite the same. There is a little bit of tension that they have to negotiate."
“For example, in many parts of the Pacific conservative beliefs about children and young people mean that classrooms must be teacher-centred and controlled.” In Fiji, for example, children are expected to be passive learners. But the Northern Pacific Islands, such as Kiribati or Micronesia, are influenced by the more liberal United States of America.
When different teaching styles collide
Greg has completed research on experienced Fijian teachers serving as volunteers in schools in the Northern Pacific. “The Northern Pacific is a somewhat more liberal, democratic place,” he says. “These retired teachers who have been teaching a lifetime in Fiji, are very much set in their ways. Of course, they are very respected, too. But they found themselves in the Northern Pacific as volunteers, surrounded by a set of more liberal social values and children just behaving differently. So, you can imagine the struggles they face.”
Maintaining the basics is sometimes challenging
However, there are other things, simple things, that can make a teacher’s job very difficult. Freight by sea is slow and expensive by air. “The physical infrastructure of schools in the Pacific in general is hard to maintain,” Greg says. “Just the basic things, like tables, chairs, are sometimes in a state of disrepair or even non-existent. In my early Pacific school teaching, children would often have to sit on the floor. Electricity was provided by a small generator or not all.”
As a result, Pacific countries also rely on foreign aid and consultancy. Sometimes this works out very well, as in a teacher education project in Nauru that Greg was a part of. “But there are instances of foreign educational assistance in the Pacific that have not been as successful. Pacific educators need to work very hard to maintain autonomy and control when it comes to outside assistance.”
Westernising the Pacific?
There is also another controversy that Pacific nations need to tackle, and that is the debate about Westernised education: how much is too little or too much? “A lot of Pacific island countries have no choice but to juggle globalising influences from the West with a local sense of identity,” Greg says. Perhaps one of the most important aspects is teaching children across the Pacific how to read, write and speak English.