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Education has been an affluential force in the recent history of Micronesia. For the past fifty years, it has responsible for opening better living opportunities for many of the islands' people. From its beginnings in religious lessons to its boom in the 1970s, education has been labeled a prominent must-have for any person aspiring to be a respected citizen in Micronesia. However, the present-day islands are exposed to a number of factors, such as technological advancements and job prospects abroad, that have brought about a change in life choices and education values in the islands. While education has been considered an important attribute throughout Micronesian history, the current generation is adapting a quickness to disregard it for other opportunities thus degrading it to the level of an ill-respected feature of the past. It continues to be an important part in the achievement of a better lifestyle, but what is the purpose of education in today's Micronesian society?
In Micronesia, the roots of education can be traced to a well-known cultural practice known as oral tradition. Oral tradition is defined as the “verbal messages which are reported statements from the past beyond the present generation (Vansina 28).” In other words, information regarding a particular culture or group of people (society) is passed from the old to the young via verbal methods such as storytelling, chanting, singing, etc. According to an article entitled “Oral Traditions and Archaeology in Micronesia: An Attempt to Study Past Ideology in a Built Environment” written by Rita Olsudong, oral tradition in Micronesian history “finds norms that govern...the proper methods and protocols.” For example, the brother of a woman is responsible for his nephew's knowledge of male responsibilities (in Palauan culture). The uncle may teach his nephew the ways of a man by sharing his life experiences through casual, afternoon talks and storytelling. Through such practices Micronesians were able to preserve a majority of there traditional values.
Eventually time passed and the Micronesian islands fell under the administration of different foreign powers. The practice of oral tradition was gradually replaced by the formal educational practice now known as schooling. Under the rule of Spain, the first forms of education were established. In his article entitled “Schools in Micronesia Prior to American Administration”, Francis X. Hezel, SJ identifies Colegio de San Juan de Letran as the first school established in Micronesia and the entire Oceania region. Colegio de San Juan de Letran was founded by the Spanish power in 1669 on the Marianas island of Guam. Its purpose was to provide for the people, specifically the young boys, of the islands a “strong instilling of Christian beliefs (Hezel, The Price of Education in Micronesia).” Other skills, such as reading and mathematics, were tied into the school's curriculum but the backbone of the education system was Christianity. Eventually other missionary schools, such as the Protestant schools on the Marshall Islands, were founded on the other islands of Micronesia providing similar curriculums.
After the islands fell under the control of Germany, the religion-based schools were kept and continued to be the fundamental providers of education for the islanders (Hezel, “Schools in Micronesia Prior to American Administration”). However, the German administration expanded on the concept of public school education. Under German administration, schools were required to teach the curriculum in the German language as a means of establishing a sense of German power in the islands. As sated by the German government in an annual report, the role of education for the natives was to “[train them] to work; they must be encouraged to earn and save money.” In other words, Germany was interested in establishing a sense of material value via the education system. While the German government did not intercede in a majority of the islands' learning process, it eventually created the first public schools on the island of Saipan while establishing a learning program for the police officers in Palau (Hezel, “The Price of Education in Micronesia”). Thus, the beginnings of formal education were introduced into the culture of Micronesia diminishing the once prevalent practice of passing knowledge through chants and storytelling.
While the German power formulated the first form of a formal education system in the islands, the Japanese administration was able to effectively provide for the people a well-suited learning curriculum. The Japanese administration disbanded German missions but maintained a few religious-based schools as a means of “civilizing the islanders (Hezel, “Schools in Micronesia Prior to American Administration”). In Japanese schools, “the study of Japanese language dominated the curriculum, with a variety of other subjects, academic and practical, rounding out the syllabus (Hezel, “The Price of Education in Micronesia”).” Micronesians were taught skills that were meant to improve the quality of the people for Japan viewed education as the “bestowal on children of moral education as well as of such knowledge and capabilities as are indispensable to the advancements and improvements of their lives (“Japanese Government Annual Report to the League of Nations ... for 1925”).” Thus, under the Japanese administration Micronesia experienced effective improvements in its school systems. In addition, the Japanese learning institutes were meant to “civilize the people (Hezel, “The Price of Education in Micronesia”)” by opening them to what was deemed as better life practices provided by the ruling power.
After World War II Japan lost its control of the islands to the United States of America. Under the administration of the United States, the formal school systems of Japan were further improved and reformed to provide better benefits for the people. The education values of Micronesia were changed from establishing an understanding of foreign cultures to respecting ideals such as personal opinions, individuality, and the concept of democracy (Hezel, “The Prince of Education in Micronesia”). During the earlier years of its administration, the United States government expanded the formal education of the islanders from a few years to six grade levels. Eventually, the systems were expanded to their present-day form of more than twelve years from pre-school levels to universities. In addition, under the last year of John F. Kennedy's presidency, the islands experienced a refreshing improvement in its education. Because research and studies provided evidence that rapid development was needed in order to increase modernization, the United States began to provide for the islands grants that established strong educational foundations for the islands. For example, an increase in the education budget allowed the islands to provide learning opportunities for everyone, thus not limiting the experience only to people who could afford it. In addition, the budget increase also created a substantial pool for possible scholarships for islanders who could not afford education outside of the islands (Hezel, “The Price of Education in Micronesia”). Eventually, learning institutions became functional means of obtaining knowledge as well as the central focus of better livelihood for the people of Micronesia.
The Kennedy administration ushered in for Micronesia an era of educational boom. In the 1970s, the Micronesian islands doubled in their numbers of students and graduates since being under the control of a foreign power. According the Micronesian Counselor, colleges in the United States experienced a boom in a number of its Pacific Island population because of the grants provided by educational budgets. Because the United States had provided for the Micronesian people grants that paid for practically their entire college education, the students of that era sought after education as an opportunity to experience the world as well as a chance to improve their livelihood in the standards of western civilization. Thus, education won its title as being the most sufficient means of better-living in the islands.
Today, education has maintained its prominent definition as a life-altering opportunity in Micronesia. However, with the formation of the Compact of Free Association, the people of the islands have been granted additional benefits that are not limited to educational needs (Hezel, “Where Did Our College Graduates Go?”). Technological advancements of the twenty-first century have also allowed for the free flow of information worldwide, as stated by Yukiko Inoue and Suzanne T. Bell in Teaching with Educational Technology in the 21st Century: the Case of the Asia-Pacific Region, providing for the new generations of Micronesians learning opportunities that are not confined to the walls of a classroom. In addition, technology is also exposing young Micronesians to the outside world (globalization). This window has established the mind-set that other opportunities (such as fame through personal ambitions) can be obtained that do not require a degree given by formal education.
Francis X. Hezel, S.J. outlines in his article entitled “Education for What?” what a majority of Micronesians consider to be the core purposes of education. He separates education into four categories: livelihood, basic learning, personal values, and cultural heritage. Livelihood referred to the type of education that provided development through practical skills, such as those offered by vocational schools. These skills can then be honed to provide for the people job opportunities. Basic learning argued that education should focus only on the fundamental learning subjects, such as reading and mathematics skills. Personal values suggest that while education should provide adequate knowledge for children, it should also strengthen personal values (such as virtues and Christian beliefs). Cultural heritage argued that culture should be the basis of all learning systems in Micronesia since culture embodied the inner-meaning of all Micronesians.
However, in present-day Micronesia a formal education program that encompasses all four cores can be found outside of the traditional school setting. In a collaborative written piece by Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg called The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, the researchers suggest that due to current students' lack of a life experience without computers, learning has become a hereditary effort. Technological networks, such as Wikipedia, have created a type of learning that provides for anyone information without limitations. While the information may be obscured due to different sources, it has become the basis of most information for any curious mind. Websites such as Facebook have also encouraged participatory learning that allows the user to interact with the information provided (as well as other users). Such experience allows the user to absorb as well as build a fundamental understanding for the information being shared. Thus, education in terms of a learning tool is no longer limited to textbooks and lesson plans provided by a teacher.
Education is also becoming a second option to personal aspirations, an idea established by the exposure to the western concept of individuality. For example, a Palauan student currently enrolled in Palau Mission Academy commented, “I only go to school because my parents want me to, but if I could, I'd try my hand at becoming a professional basketball player (Wiseman Olkeriil).” In addition, other students who are exposed to other skills (such as singing or playing a musical instrument) are concentrating more on perfecting their personal practices rather than spend the time learning academic skills. Slowly, school is now seemingly taking a second-seat to short-term priorities.
Another Palauan student named Walker Miner, currently attending high school in California, states that he “passed on chances for vivid glances at an A plus future and [he'd] rather not torture [himself] with overrated grades because F's, A's and B's do not define [him].” Currently, he is an independent model who has established a good name for himself since pursuing his desire to pose. While he continues to attend school, his priority has shifted from obtaining a degree to booking the next photo session. His personal experience is an example of how, in today's modernized world, even someone from a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can pursue a career in entertainment without restrictions. Over time, more Micronesians may also follow suit thus creating a new generation full of models and actresses instead of lawyers and politicians.
Other students have also found opportunities provided through military service rather than educational endeavors. According to the Micronesian Counselor article entitled “What Happened to All Our College Graduates?” approximately 100 Micronesians are recruited each year by the United States military. When asked about why they chose this route instead of college, a number of Micronesians currently enlisted stated that the military was a better option in terms of financial stability. Bertha Timothy, currently stationed in Alaska, was enrolled in the University of Hawaii at Manoa under a one-year scholarship. However, after the expiration of her money source, she was unable to continue her education pursuit. She states that while education is still an important goal in her life, the financial struggles were too much for her family. Thus she opted to spend a few years in the military as a means of saving the money needed some day to continue her learning experience.
Another enlisted soldier named Karel Ngirakesau is currently serving in the United States Navy. He stated that joining the Navy not only provided a substantial income, but it also allowed him to see the world. While having graduated from Palau High School, Ngirakesau did not find an interest in pursuing his learning career any further. After spending a year in Palau Community College, he joined Jobs Corp. in Hawaii where he obtained a certification in culinary arts. He is an example of a Micronesian who has been able to win life abroad via non-educational means. While he could have spent years learning an academic skill in a university, he opted instead to spend his time learning skills in the workplace while receiving a paycheck along the way.
In addition to the change in priorities and opportunities granted by military service, Micronesian students are also given the chance to work for a living instead of study. According Hazel, during the boom of Micronesian education in the 1970s restricted islanders from holding jobs during their attendance at a school abroad (“The Price of Education in Micronesia”); however, with the introduction of the Free Compact of Association, a Micronesian citizen has the opportunity to work for a higher minimum wage than he is accustomed to back home. Such a change in wage plants a false sense of security in a number of young Micronesians causing a great number of islands to migrate to the United States not in pursuit of academic opportunities but for jobs that pay $7.00 an hour. Such an opportunity has established in the minds of numerous Micronesians the sense of easy money without the strain of learning.
Education, in the history of Micronesia, has always had a purpose in society. If it were not to teach the people the importance of cultural traditions, it was used to expose the islanders to foreign civilizations that seem to promise better living situations. Eventually, it became the main opportunity that an islander may have of obtaining wealth, life security, and exposure to the world beyond the Pacific Ocean. However, in today's world where information is accessible, minds are stimulated by a number of interests. Financial and worldly chances are available through different mediums, and the young Micronesian mind seems to consider education as a requirement rather than an opportunity.
Most are willing to quit school and pursue a passion rather than follow the path of the old generation that fought for better living via learning abroad. Is education becoming a thing of the past? While many Micronesians continue to attend local colleges, it seems that eventually, the military or some other driving force will replace this once invaluable institution. In addition, the traditional classroom is slowly being replaced by a virtual dome which suggests that education for Micronesia will some day adapt a new definition (i.e., Moodle may some day completely replace traditional learning in classrooms).
While information will continue to be taught in classrooms for a decent number of years into the future, it will (as history seems to suggest) change according to the needs and advancements of the time period. Education, it seems, exists to support the existing social culture; and in a time where Micronesia is being adapted into worldly interactions via globalization, it seems that learning will only strive as a means of exposing our little part of the world to whatever information the Internet fails to mention. Eventually, our educational systems in Micronesia will be reformed to meet the standards of the world today.