Well it is hard to believe that we have reached the half way point in our mission experience. Our mission has been somewhat of a different experience than we expected as the Ministry of Education here in Fiji has still not approved the church’s application to teach courses through Brigham Young University-Hawaii. It has been a complicated and frustrating process and at the present time we have just received word that the Ministry is now requesting additional information that was identified on the application but now want to see the documentation of the information. This has somewhat become a three ring circus. We will try to share with you our experiences of what we are doing but please do not think that we are discouraged or depressed. This is a unique and wonderful experience and one the Lord is teaching us as we experience another culture in another part of the world. We continue to learn everyday we are here in Fiji.
We are still providing professional development to both the Primary School and LDS Church College faculty and we feel good about what is happening. Here in the southern Hemisphere the school year is quickly coming to a close as the school year ends the end of November. Our efforts have been turned to helping teachers to organized themselves and their classes for the next year that starts in mid-January. Education here in the South Pacific, at least here in Fiji, has its limitations and deficiencies and is geared on the English system of education. Since it was previously an English colony for many years they have adopted the English way of educating students, however, there are very few resources available.
The biggest concern is lack of leadership in the schools. It appears that principals and other school leaders are appointed based on the English model and that is very different than the American model that we come from. This may sound like a little bit of complaining and frustration but it really is not. There just is a great deal of work that needs to be done and because of the Ministry of Education situation we are not able to accomplish what the Lord would want us to do and how to help these wonderful people who are desperately eager to learn and become better at their craft.
The church is trying to begin a teacher mentoring program that can help struggling teachers and new teachers that are hired. This will be a cultural change here in Fiji and we would imagine throughout the islands of the south pacific. The culture of these people is very, very important and anytime there is a change it becomes a very difficult implementation process.
What we have tried to do is to spend time on instructional implementation and working with the teachers on trying new teaching strategies in hopes that they may start to see a difference in the performance of students they serve. This has been very difficult work as change does not come easy to those who are so ingrained in past practice and cultural tradition. There is a tremendous need to assist the administrators in learning and understanding instructional leadership strategies and skills. We see very little evidence of administrators knowing what is effective teaching, in fact we see very little evidence of administrators going into classrooms and observing teachers except for evaluation purposes. The problem is they evaluate and do not have a clear vision of what effective teaching looks like or what they are seeing. In the south pacific, Fiji for sure, and I am sure the other islands as well there is a need to provide professional development for principals and what their role should be in the 21st century school. From our evaluation this is the only way that the children of the south pacific will be able to survive in a world that is moving quickly in a direction that will leave the south pacific students at a major disadvantage for generations to come.
An example of this is we are working at the Primary School with the reading program and helping teachers learn how to evaluate the reading level of their students. The Primary School is a school for students who enter at kindergarten through year six. They call grades here years. In the US it would be a K-6 school. In helping the teachers to understand their students reading and comprehension reading level, it is not to uncommon to find some 5th and 6th year students reading at the primer and pre-primer levels. Just to be fair to those of you who understand what we are talking about here, we also have some students who are reading at the 8th and 9th year levels also, but those students are very few in number. most of the students are reading and comprehending anywhere between one to three years behind there grade placement. There is no program for remedial reading or resources, either human or material to provide such a program. There appears that there is no vision or rush to provide such resources and if there were material resources available there are no human resources available to carry out the needed programs.
The present administrator at he college, in his first year in Fiji and first year as a principal has done a very good job in identifying the limitations and needs of the school. Hopefully he will stay at the school for a period of time to implement and see through the initiatives that he is trying to put into place. He has the potential to be an exceptional leader and one that is sorely needed at this time.
Thanks for reading this post, we are having the time of our lives and we are so grateful that the Heavenly Father has seen fit to call us to serve the people of Fiji. These are wonderful and beautiful people who are proud of who they are and want to do better. They love the Lord and we see that everyday in the schools that we serve. The church schools are strong in spiritual education and the children are getting a spiritual education that will build strong testimonies for the rest of there lives. It brings tears to our eyes as we watch and interact with these sweet children and youth as they grow and develop the skills and abilities in becoming an adult. The isles of the South Pacific are a special place. Life is slow but it is direct and the people are God fearing and want to do what is right.