Dear Editor,

On Children’s Day we saw the future of Vanuatu on display as literally thousands of school children marched through the streets of Port Vila on their way to Independence Park.

In 1980 a group of men had a vision of a better future for their children and grandchildren and after much struggle succeeded in winning Independence for their country. Where are the leaders of today who have a vision of a better future for those children who marched on this Children’s Day?

Here are some facts that I hope shock everybody.

• Each year around 16,000 children enrol in Kindergarten. However, less than 1,000 students graduate from Class 13.

• Around half of the children who enrol in Kindergarten have left the system by Class 4-5. At this point the average student in a typical school is not able to read and write and those who dropout will probably remain illiterate for life.

• Of those students who graduate from Class 13, our testing of job applicants indicates that many cannot pass a Class 5 international standard test in English and Maths. This is why so many students who receive scholarships fail to achieve their goal. They do not have sufficient education to progress.

• Around 30% of teaching positions are filled by ‘community based’ teachers, paid by the community they typically have no training, no qualifications and few skills.

• The median age of Government funded teachers is 42 years old and the number facing retirement is increasing each year.

• The Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education (VITE) is introducing a new four year Degree course and has not had an intake of students for several years. Once new students are enrolled it will not produce a graduate for at least four years.

• Over the next four to five years the number of ‘community based’ teachers, those without qualifications and training, is expected to increase to 50% as qualified teachers retire and there are no graduates to replace them.

• In October 2019 the MoET conducted VANSTA testing across Vanuatu to assess the standard of education. To date, almost one year later, no official results have been released. However, on 4 July in the Daily Post, the Head of the Language Department at VITE, Ariane Naliupis, stated that “Vanuatu showed really low literacy levels from the regional PILNA tests which were done by children in grades 4 and 6 and the national VANSTA tests done nationally in grades 4 and 6 as well.” It seems that the results are available but are so poor that they have not been published.

The education given to the founding fathers provided the knowledge and thinking that achieved Independence and those who followed have brought us to where we are today. But if we are to progress, to go further, then we need more knowledge and new thinking to deal with the challenges ahead.

Vanuatu’s greatest resource is its people and the young, intelligent, enthusiastic children who love learning if only someone is willing to teach them. The handful of quality schools in Vanuatu are producing international standard results and this proves that the children can learn when they are effectively taught.

Vanuatu does not have enough doctors, dentists, nurses, lecturers or teachers because the education system is not producing them. Recently the government legislated to increase the range of positions that are reserved for Vanuatu citizens but the education system is not providing children with the educational foundation they need to fill these positions.

Sadly, the education system is broken and today’s children are being set up for a life of frustration and failure. Are there leaders who are prepared to fix it?

If there is one thing that comes out of this period of celebration I hope it is a clear vision of a better future for the young people of Vanuatu and a determination by our leaders to give today’s children an opportunity beyond what they themselves have enjoyed, an opportunity to compete on the world stage, to face problems and overcome challenges, to dream and to achieve. If they are to do this then they need an education, a quality education and an education that equips them for the next forty years.

Those who know their Bible would recall Galatians 5:13 says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Having achieved Independence forty years ago, is this generation prepared to see their children and grandchildren destined for a future of economic slavery, a future in which their capacity is limited to labouring for a boss, confined to menial jobs at minimum wage just to try and scrape together a living?

Please, don’t continue to fail our children. They are Vanuatu’s future and they deserve better than this.

Tony Batten

Pikinini Playtime

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