The education consultant who was hired in September to reside in Chuuk and guide the on-going implementation of the Chuuk Education Reform Plan (CERP) has quit. Unconfirmed reason: frustrations. His sudden departure is a setback in an already problematic and painfully slow implementation of the CERP. The stakeholders; namely, the Pacific Resources for Education & Learning (PREL), Department of Education (DOE), the Chuuk Board of Education (CBOE), the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), and more importantly the children of Chuuk State are without the consultant to help with the CERP implementation. Luckily, Myjolynne Kim, the Chuukese member of that 2-person consulting team is reportedly staying on.
PREL, which hired the last consultant, is now searching for a replacement. If you’re interested, then click here for the formal announcement. But before you do, perhaps you may want to know what you’re up against in case you want to quit before you waste anyone’s time and money or figure out a different and winning strategy for implementing the Chuuk Education Reform Plan.
For whatever it’s worth, here’s my take on the five major challenges ahead and some humble recommendations:
My poor State of Chuuk is suffering from a public relations problem some deserved and most of which is untrue. Chuuk has been unfairly labeled as the “problem child” among the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia. Usually this label is from foreigners including our fellow FSMers. Attracting non-Chuukese (and maybe even Chuukese alike) to live in Chuuk for a year to engage in the very difficult work of helping to guide educational reform is a challenge. The contract needs to include more than a huge financial incentive to make up for the undesirability of living in the State. Or find those experienced educators who already live in Chuuk and empower them to do more.
Recommendation: PREL needs to stop looking elsewhere and hire Paul Hadik who is already living in Chuuk!!! Paul is an extremely capable, straight up honest and ethical consultant, former Director of Education in Kosrae, who is already completely committed to the children of Chuuk. Paul was originally hired by the US government to serve as a consultant for the Chuuk DOE. Sadly, the Chuukese pride, incompetence, and lack of vision got in the way of utilizing his skills. Instead he was relegated to serve as the principal of Chuuk High School. While he is doing a phenomenal job as the administrator at my alma mater, Paul’s skills are still under-utilized. In my opinion, PREL should have hired Paul in the first place instead of going all over the globe looking for someone who doesn’t love the Chuukese people as Paul does. Pay Paul what he is worth and give him the freedom to help implement the CERP as he is more than capable of doing it.
The short term (now 9 months left) contract for a resident education consultant is a band-aid solution. Given the complexity of Chuuk’s leadership, cultural, political, communal, and even religious culture, there is absolutely no way the CERP will be completely implemented to its fullest potential in one year. The CERP itself is a 5-year plan which is already three years behind schedule.
Recommendation: DOE needs to rework the contract for the next consultant for at minimum a 3-year contract. A long-term contract for a resident consultant will attract those consultants who have the interest of the Chuukese children to heart. It will help weed out the overpaid drive-by consultants from abroad whose consulting careers depend on the existence of educational problems; they come, consult (at times insult), and then laugh all the way to the bank with a fat check. And Chuukese kids still have no books, no classrooms, no improvement in teachers.
Our struggling State of Chuuk has been on consultants overload with absolutely nothing to show for it. Let’s face the fact: Chuuk is a fat cash cow that is being milked to the max by consultants including PREL and McREL, the two Hawaii-based firms that are part of the mess. We Chuukese have become accustomed to the idea that foreigners know it better than we do. Sure we have competency problems which can be resolved by getting our local people the training they need. But the bigger problem that we have in Chuuk is that we just don’t care enough about educational improvement. And we have a huge leadership vacuum. So, instead of addressing those needs we pay these overpaid foreign consultants to come and tell us what we then bury with lame excuses and unethical practices.
When will we wake up to our over-dependence on these damn consultants who care more for making money than helping us? I have yet to meet a consultant who wants to be unemployed. After all, consultants make a very comfortable living out of quick boilerplate work in problem-prone places like Chuuk. They fly-in, twirl their consulting magic, do the work for us and then leave us in their first class seats all the way home to deposit their fat checks. Consultants have gotten tens of thousands (probably in the millions now) worth of contracts to solve educational problems in Chuuk. Guess what…we still have problems and they have all the money that could have gone to the local schools or get the local teachers the training and degrees they need. We seem to have no qualms about paying a foreign consultant an exorbitant fee for a week’s worth of work that is 20 times more than the yearly salary of a hardworking local teacher. And when consultants leave us, we are left holding the same problems and blame that we created for ourselves in the first place.
Recommendation: Enough dependence on foreign consultants who know nothing about the strength and conviction of the Chuukese people!!! We need to build partnerships based on trust with the few foreign consultants who are already in our midst that truly care about Chuukese children. Enough giving money to others who don’t understand the nuances of our local culture, politics, faith, and schools.
But we Chuukese are part of the problem too. We need less politics, more leadership. We need Chuukese leaders to step up and work with DOE on educational issues. And we need real leadership in DOE. We are quick to say that nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than the education of our Chuukese children. Yet the Chuukese political leaders fret over the little things. We need all leaders to work together to make the hard decisions that are for the good of educational reform without worrying about their re-election or who gets the credit for successes. We we are more than capable of solving our educational issues by our own strength and convictions. We just need competent leadership to emerge to inspire us to do more for our kids. Right now that is sorely missing at DOE because they are bogged down with systems, policies, threats, deadlines, etc.
Educational reform in Chuuk is caught in a net of confusing and often clashing expectations. Why PREL was awarded the fat contract to provide the two consultants when PREL clearly did not have the personnel is confusing. Having PREL in the mix is actually part of the confusing reporting structure. It adds another level of bureaucracy that is completely unnecessary on an already cumbersome system of accountability. To whom do the consultants ultimately report to, PREL, DOE, OIA? Ultimately, the consultants are PREL employees who answer directly to PREL. Chuuk DOE is a funder for PREL. The Chuuk DOE Director is on the Board of Directors for PREL and McREL. So, can we truly expect PREL to challenge the Director Gardenia Aisek when she is a member of the PREL Board as well as the funding agency that supports PREL? Is it ethical for the DOE Director to make contractual decisions on bids from PREL and McREL when she is on their Board of Directors? Is there a conflict of interest? For the record, all the DOE directors in FSM, Palau, and RMI are on the Board of Directors for both PREL and McREL so this is not a Chuuk only ethical problem. Yet those organizations are supposed to challenge the educational practices of these struggling departments. Who wins in this set up? PREL and McREL. Who loses? Chuukese kids.
The new Chuuk Board of Education (CBOE) is going in the right direction, but it’s heavily burdened and hampered by local politics. Even though a new law was passed by the Chuuk State Legislature making DOE as an independent body guided only by the CBOE, the politicians still control things. The prime example is in the recent selection / nomination / confirmation of Gardenia Aisek as Director of Education. The Board of Education had given the governor their list of nominees in order of preference with Graceful Enlet as the top choice. Rightly so, he is the most capable of the three candidates (indeed the right choice in my humble opinion). Yet, rather than supporting the CBOE, the governor reshuffled the priorities nominating the Board’s last choice to the Chuuk State Senate for confirmation. Of course politics took over and the Senate confirmed the Governor’s choice and it’s business as usual at DOE. Had the governor followed the CBOE’s vision for the leader of the DOE, there might have been a chance of unity among the leaders for educational priorities and strategies. Mr. Enlet would have brought new hope, new approach. Afterall, he was the chief architect of the CERP, former faculty at College of Micronesia (COM), current Board of Regents for COM – FSM, former Director of COM – Chuuk campus, an upright and respected leader among the religious and traditional leaders, and someone who works very well with Noah Ruben the Deputy Director of DOE. Oh, politicians, how can you be so politically motivated and blind to the children of Chuuk?
Then there is the 3-person (now 2-person) Advisory Group comprising of Tom Bussanich from the US Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) and Patrick Tellei from Palau Community College (Fran Hezel, SJ was the third member). This is the most powerful body which holds the purse. Yet they have done nothing more than dish out empty threats of withholding funding for education in Chuuk. Chuuk is beyond needing “advisory” from OIA; Chuukese children need action, leadership, commitment! If educational reform in Chuuk is a game of poker played between DOE, CBOE, Chuuk State Legislature, Governor, PREL, OIA’s Advisory Group, McREL, the Graduate School, PCC, then OIA’s Advisory Group has the strongest hand. Yet they are losing the bluff and folding prematurely. They have 99.9% of the stack of cash, but can’t go all in lest they step on the toes of the other players. This is happening while the children of Chuuk helplessly watch in the audience waiting for superman to make the move on their behalf. Nick Pula is the superman, but the Chuuk politicians seem to hold all the kryptonite! Or maybe they have perfected the art of bluffing (or lying) which stops superman in mid-flight.
Recommendation: Let’s face it; the United States as represented by OIA needs to take some real leadership rather than serving as a pseudo consulting / advisory group to the Chuuk State government. Enough of the song and dance already. Nick Pula needs to do some drastic changes for the sake of the children of Chuuk who are being victimized by adult incompetence. Whatever you’re doing is NOT working!!! We get it…it’s the US taxpayer’s money that is invested to help the children of Chuuk. For God sake, make it worth the millions of investment that is being wasted with little to no return.
Or you should throw in the towel, get the hell out of Chuuk, take your money with you, and let the Chinese government (God forbid!) have at it. It’s not ideal given China’s terrible track record with human rights issues, but maybe the Chinese school system which is ranked higher than the US in the world will help the Chuukese children better. OIA should stop throwing money at these overpaid organizations with their high overhead fees and the overpaid consultants. Instead, they should get real professionals to come and take over the Chuuk State School System. They should treat the lack of progress (zero progress) with some sense of urgency before we lose an entire generation of Chuukese. Rebuilding the entire education system from the ground up is now a matter of justice for the sake of the helpless kids some of whom are now allegedly cheated out of an education with unethical test proctors. Remove all the existing consulting firms (maybe even demand that they pay back all consulting fees), replace all uncaring and unethical DOE staff, retrain all incompetent educators both at DOE and in the local schools, and set up an entirely small but well run Department of Education. Stop tip toeing around the real issues of incompetent leadership and put your money where you mouths are.
It’s time both PREL and McREL revisit their organizational structure and ethics policy (if they have any). They need to address the fact that they are in no position to make real changes when the Director of Education sits on their Board. There’s one thing to be partners in educational reform efforts; there’s another to not rock the boat lest the funder stops awarding contracts to the client. The line between the client and the funder are very slim and perhaps non-existent when the two are sleeping together in the same filthy bed. Director Aisek (and all the DOE Directors in the FSM for that matter) need to resign from their lofty perks as Board members for these two organizations and challenge them to stop milking the fat cash cow and deliver on the wasted US tax payers’ investment.
The DOE and CBOE are operating consistently with one dim headlight. That headlight is directed on the day-to-day operational issues, putting out fires, courting consultants, and shining spotlight on worthless politicians. They are neglecting to fire up the equally and perhaps more important headlight, i.e. addressing the long-term need of forming a new generation of educational leaders. DOE has not set up a way to inspire, recruit, incentivize, and train a new generation of excellent and committed teachers. Instead of training the principals and teachers and giving them the resources to succeed, the DOE central office has perfected the art of blaming them for the low performing students. Is it any wonder why Faichuuk school teachers have resorted to helping their students cheat on the national standard exam? There is such a huge shortage of teachers in Chuuk that the DOE has given up on any innovative ways to provide effective ways for the teachers to complete their college degrees. In a year or two, DOE will have to fire the 200 teachers who do not have any degrees. If we think we have problems now, in two years time Chuuk public schools will not have any teachers left for they will have all been fired.
Recommendation: Innovate! Create! Think outside your air conditioned cement box of an office! Collaborate with the regional institutions of higher learning to recruit college students to come and teach for two years to free up some teachers to get their degrees done. DOE needs to actively set up partnerships, scholarships, and training programs at the College of Micronesia, University of Guam, University of Hawaii, Chaminade, and other institutions of higher education. Once the partnerships are set up, then create a real systematic way to free up current teachers to get their degrees. Stop waiting for the principals and the teachers themselves to fight you for funding, educational leaves, navigate your ineffective policies…all for the sake of getting their credentials done. Stop being gatekeepers for antiquated policies; start being enablers for progress and success.
I challenge the Chuuk DOE to be part of the conversations for building the Teach for Micronesia (www.teachformicronesia.org) initiative. Modeled after the Teach for America movement, Teach for Micronesia aims to recruit Micronesian and American college graduates to teach for two years in high need schools throughout Micronesia. Infusing the local schools with new teachers will free up the local teachers to go off to get their degrees.
I don’t mean to scare anyone away. But, if you want to apply for the consultant position, then click here for the PREL job announcement . You have until January 3, 2014 to figure our your winning strategy and apply. Good luck to you.