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Aspects of primary education in Samoa : exploring student, parent and teacher perspectives

28 Jun 2005

This thesis is a qualitative study into aspects of primary education in Samoa. Using student, parent and teacher interview material, I investigate local perspectives on why education is important, what children should learn, how children learn, and what constitutes 'good' teaching. I also look at local perspectives on the place of exams and physical discipline. Fieldwork included classroom observations in rural and urban settings. The thesis documents how children approach learning at school, how teachers go about their work, and how teachers and students interact. This is primarily an ethnographic study and, as such, focuses on local theories and meanings. However, several broader theoretical areas emerge as important. In the thesis I look at: a) the interdependence between different aspects of school (i.e. curriculum, teaching methods, assessment practices, material constraints, etc.); b) the relationship between primary education and the wider society; and c) the increasing impact of globalisation on education. The thesis challenges the belief that patterns of interaction at school undermine primary socialisation. It also challenges the idea that primary education is an alien Western institution. Formal education has been eagerly embraced, co-opted, and reshaped to ensure consistency with local perspectives and practices. Increasingly, global flows impact on education in Samoa. This has created tensions between educational policy and teaching practice. Education policies are profoundly influenced by Western ideologies and practices. These reflect fundamentally different ways of thinking about children, their relationships with adults, teaching, and learning. By contrast, teaching practices in Samoa are consistent with local beliefs, values and understandings, and the material realities of a small, fiscally constrained Pacific nation. Policy initiatives are often met with inertia and resistance. The thesis raises issues as to the role of education in maintaining the status quo versus education as an agent of change. It also points to the increasingly difficulty task of defining what is a relevant education and how this is best achieved.

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