“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” – Charles Rosner.
We the people of Chuuk are in dire need of a major attitudinal change with regards to educational reform. We need a paradigm shift from thinking that educational reform is their problem (aruchok) to ours (achupok). For so long now we have put the blame solely on “the government (kofemen)”…ach nan kofemen…that government…educational reform as responsibility of the Department of Education…wiiser u chok. We make the mistake of thinking of government (kofemen) as those people working in the government offices. We’ve taken the easy way out by blaming everything on anyone pulling a salary in any government job as though only they (not us) make up our government. It’s been very easy for us to easily dismiss our deep rooted social and political problems with a blame on our government workers. We blame failed educational reform plans on the people working in the department and excuse ourselves from being part of the problem.
But can we truly blame the Chuukese people for this old mentality of identifying government as a “service provider” for the people? Hardly. We were doomed the moment the United Nations formed the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) and handed our post-World War II rebuilding to the US government. What the US did (and probably the only thing that made sense at the time of rebuilding these islands after they had bombed us to shits) was to appoint Americans to administer our affairs. A High Commissioner (High Com) was appointed by the US President and set up the seat of government. Heaquartered in Saipan that head of government was represented by various American appointees known as District Administrators (DistAd) for the various “districts” which later became states in the FSM, the Republic of Palau and RMI. These American administrators may have cared deeply for our good, but were nonetheless representatives of the mighty power of the United States of America.
Those were the years that government was truly them. We did not choose this form of government nor did we have any say in our leadership. THEY were the kofemen. THEY came to help us. THEY came bearing gifts of food and services. THEY had the money. THEY had the power. THEY made all the decisions. THEY were the government and WE were the helpless recipients of THEIR services.
But all that changed in 1983 when WE approved the Compact of Free Association with the United States essentially calling for our own sovereignty as negotiated by OUR own founding fathers. WE chose to become the kofemen. WE wanted to help ourselves. WE wanted to control our own food security and services. WE wanted to appropriate our funds from THEM. WE wanted the power. WE wanted to make all the decisions. WE wanted to BE the government and not the helpless victims of the war. WE no longer wanted to sit on our shores waiting for THEM to bring their services to us. WE wanted to decide on our services. And per our request, on November 13, 1986, THEY (the United States) agreed and signed U.S. Public Law 99-239 giving us the respect of a sovereign nation.
While we may have achieved our goal of self-governance, we have not fully embraced educational reform as ours. We will never fully achieve educational improvement in our State as long as WE the people continue to live in the post-WWII mentality of THEY-ism. We often hear the usual blame game when it comes to education; teacher absentism…tipisin kofemen! Low performing students…tipisin kofemen! Lack of resources…tipisin kofemen! We need to reverse this debilitating blame game from their problem to our problem so that WE can all work together to improve them. After all, it is OUR children, OUR islands, OUR future…therefore, OUR responsibilities.
This is of course not to excuse any of our leaders from taking charge of educational reform. We need them to do their part of providing leadership where we lack the inspiration to find hope. Our leaders in the government must lead by example. They must be our heroes for better work ethic, sound judgment, commitment to the common good over personal gains, and moral fortitude. I truly believe our education leaders are great Chuukese, but they alone cannot be expected to lead educational reform while we wait for schools to improve overnight.
The latest Chuuk State Educational Reform Plans (there have been several) call for five goals. These will continue to be great plans on paper, but will fail once again if we continue to expect the people in the central office on Weno to implement them while we idly wait. These are not JEMCO’s plans; they are OURS as formulated by our own leaders. It is time we rouse the same level of positive attitudes, hard work, care for the common good, honesty that have always been the hallmark of the Chuukese people and share in implementing these goals.
We must work together for educational reform. We need all our church leaders (catholics, protestants, mormons, seventh day adventists, jehovah witness…all) to put aside our theological disagreements and focus on making right the injustice and sinfulness of putting helpless children’s education as second priorities to our fundraising and proselytizing. How can we continue to praise God on Sundays and neglect the educational needs of Her children in the public schools from Monday – Friday? We need the elected officials to get off their self-appointed chiefly seats at the legislatures and Palikir to work with the real traditional chiefs to inspire people to get involved in schools. We need the parents to stop blaming the teachers / principals and form active Parent Teachers Associations to ensure student success. We need all Chuukese who have left the shores of our State to do whatever it takes within their power and talents to help educational reform efforts in our respective regions. I have no doubt that we Chuukese can do it. We have always succeeded when we work together.
As a start, we all need to know the five goals of the Chuuk State educational reform plans and offer our help to the CSSS leaders in implementing them:
GOAL ONE – Improving Personnel Management
The task of managing the human resources for optimum performance on behalf of the children of Chuuk continues to be a challenge for the Chuuk State School System. Among the most pressing issues that the Department of Education faces are; (a) unauthorized and unreported absence, (b) anomalies and inconsistencies in employee salary and benefits, (c) discrepancies between job functions, budget, and job descriptions, (d) the need for a data-driven, performance based system and (e) lack of full control over Department employees.
Unauthorized and unreported employee absence has been identified in a number of studies including that by Levine . By one estimate, (FSM National JEMCO 2008-2009 Report) the average attendance for elementary and secondary schools at the time was 97% and 93%, respectively.
Anecdotal evidence and findings from analysis of records suggest that attendance data submitted to the DOE payroll department may be inaccurate, resulting in fraudulent payments to employees who are absent for long periods of time. Unauthorized and unreported employee absence appears to be endemic and of serious concern, as it may result in poor student academic performance , undermining of professional standards and financial wastage.
Recent investigations of payroll and timesheet records identified 24 teachers who had been absent without leave for periods in excess of 15 days. According to public service guidelines, an employee who absents him or herself for a period of 15 days or longer has effectively abandoned and terminated their position. The Director of Education, in compliance with Chuuk Public Service Commission (CPSC) policy, issued letters of termination to these 24 teachers and sent termination actions to the CPSC. Unfortunately the termination actions appear to have been blocked or delayed by the CPSC. Enforcement of the employment conditions outlined in the CPSC policy guidelines is a problematic area that requires reform if employee absence is to be reduced.
GOAL TWO – Decentralizing Education Services
The islands that make up the State of Chuuk are divided into five (5) regions and spread across a vast expanse of ocean of approximately 750,000 square miles. As part of its mandate, the Chuuk State Department of Education established 94 elementary and secondary schools over the years to serve the educational needs of the children of Chuuk. Of the 94 schools, eighty six (86) or 91% are accessible only by boat or by ship. By nature of the “sea-highway” traveling by boat is susceptible to the weather, time consuming and cost intensive. In part, DOEs inability to effectively accomplish many of its core functions as Levin (February, 2010) and others observed has to do with lack of transportation and limited access to many schools. The noted factors underscore some of the challenges that the Department must mitigate or overcome to be able to provide and sustain adequate school support focusing on effecting improvement in teaching and student learning.
To that end, under this priority, the Department of Education plans to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the Chuuk State School system through decentralization of education support services and empowerment of stakeholders. Decentralization would allow for more efficient delivery of support services to schools, including mentoring and in-service training, facilitate resource delivery and maintenance, strengthen the monitoring and supervisory role of the department and provide opportunities for meaningful community involvement in the affairs of their schools.
To facilitate flow of essential support services for the schools, DOE will:
• Conduct functional analysis to better align work plans with job responsibilities and official function; thereby contributing to efficiency and effectiveness.
• Establish Regional Service Centers or Accountability Service Centers with adequate support staff as a means to bring services closer to the heart of schools, for effective management and greater effect on teachers, principals and students.
• Help develop a sense of community ownership. Define roles and responsibilities for schools and communities; provide guidelines and parameters for shared governance, for community involvement.
Decentralization seeks to right size the central administration office, eliminates unnecessary administrative layers where possible and links greater percentages of fiscal and human resources directly with children at the school-site level. Accordingly, DOE envisions establishment of five Regional Services Centers as recommended in the Chuuk Strategic Education Plan, 2001 and as recent Audits suggests.
The specific regions and islands to be served are listed below, (see Appendices C & D) for number of schools and enrollment by island and region.
1. Northern Namoneas: consisting of Weno, Fono, and Piis-Panewu,
2. Southern Namoneas: consisting of Tonoas, Etten, Fefen, Parem, Siis, Totiw, and Uman,
3. Faichuk: consisting of Udot, Eot, Ramanum, Fanapanges, Polle, Paata, Wonei, and Tol,
4. Mortlocks: consisting of Nema, Losap, and Piis-Emmwar, Namoluk, Ettal, Moch, Kuttu, Ta, Satowan, Lukunoch, and Oneop,
5. Northwest Islands: consisting of Nomwin, Fananu, Ruo, Murilo, Onoun, Makur, Onou, Unanu, Piherarh, Houk, Polowat, Tamatam, and Pollap.
GOAL THREE – Improve Quality and Effectiveness of Teachers and Principals
Student achievement data from the 2010 National Minimum Competency Test for Grade 6 Reading indicates that the combined performance level at Competent and Minimally Competent was 17%. This compares to the FSM national rate of 29% and is well below Pohnpei (33%), Yap (34%) and Kosrae (47%).
The Reform Plan aims to address low student achievement through a number of measures including focusing on the quality of teachers and principals. A growing body of evidence (Waters and Marzano, 2005) confirms that teachers and leaders are the two most significant school-based factors in improving student achievement. This is particularly true for low performing schools. Furthermore, research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation in 2004 also suggests that there are virtually no documented instances of schools being turned around without strong leaders (and effective teachers). Leadership undoubtedly is a catalyst to school improvement. Effective leadership is the main reason teachers are attracted to and remain in the most challenged schools.
Under this priority Chuuk Department of Education will invest in the continuing development of teachers and principals in order that teachers and principals receive high quality standard based professional development which will translate into high student achievement.
GOAL FOUR – Improving Quality of Schools
The elements that contribute to effective and quality schools are; (a) teaching and learning; (b) leadership; (c) job-embedded professional development; (d) resources and data management; (e) safe and effective learning environment; and (d) family and community engagement . Under the FSM School Accreditation System, all of the noted elements of effective schools are being addressed with comprehensive plans for systematic implementation throughout the nation.
Chuuk DOE fully endorses the system and is prepared to expend a major portion of its energy and resources to implement these standards for improved learning and student outcomes.
Under this priority, CDOE plans to:
(a) Introduce the FSM Accreditation System in all the95 schools throughout Chuuk State
(b) Ensure that at least 10 schools meet accreditation standards each year
(c) Strengthen the process of school improvement planning at all schools
(d) Enlist community support and involvement (as indicated in Goal 2)
GOAL FIVE – Expanding Curricular Offerings
Ultimately, the goal of education is to help the individual become a competent , responsible, contributing member of his/her society. Education in a sense is the means by which the society makes a person. It is the process of renewing society’s most precious resources—its own people, as a matter of perpetuating its values and culture; in short, as a matter of survival. It is important that the curricular offering that serves as the foundation for preparing the present and future generation of Chuukese be relevant to local situations and applicable to the world at large.
Under this initiative DOE attempts to provide a well rounded education experience by expanding its course offering so that the Chuukese child may develop knowledge, skills and character necessary to become a fully functioning and responsible member of society.
In line with the proposed curricular expansion, Chuuk DOE plans to accomplish the following:
(a) Improve and diversify course offerings under the Career and Technical Education Program at all high schools;
(b) Develop and implement a Cultural Life Skills Program at all grade levels;
(c) Implement a special elective program of learning designed to prepare high school students who wish to enter military service as a career path
(d) Put in place a Character Education Development Program from K to 12;
(e) Upgrade departmental capability for distance learning;
(f) Integrate the use of technology into the classroom; and
(g) Forge partnership with institutions of higher education and other service providers to help accomplish the above.
Click here to download the full reform plan and let’s find ways to be part of the solution lest we become part of the problem.