ROCHESTER, New York — Due to their proximity, the relationship between the United States and the Pacific Islands is important to maintain. Rep. Ed Ed Case (D-HI) reintroduced H.R.2967 in the House on April 5, 2021, together with Congressmen Ami Bera, Ted Yoho, Brad Sherman and Don Young. The aim of the BLUE Pacific Act is to “establish a comprehensive, long-term United States strategy and policy for the Pacific Islands.” The goal is “promoting peace, security and prosperity for all countries” involved, the bill says. This includes respecting the sovereignty of the involved nations. One important aspect of the bill is its focus on bolstering education across Pacific Islands in order to reduce poverty.
Introduction of the Bill
During a speech given on July 30, 2020, Case stated that “As a Pacific nation, the United States can and must contribute to regional efforts to address these issues. In naming and reintroducing this bill, we pay tribute to the Blue Pacific vision pioneered by Pacific Islands leaders and reaffirm our commitment to the region once again.”
The bill will strengthen “U.S. diplomatic and development presence in the Pacific Islands” and aims to bring mutual benefits for all parties involved. As stated by Congressman Young in a press release, “The relationship between the United States and the Pacific Island nations is one of shared values and a commitment to diplomacy.”
The Importance of Education
A particularly important aspect of the BLUE Pacific Act is building and maintaining a quality system of basic education in order to reduce poverty rates. Education is a proven pathway out of poverty, yet across the Pacific Islands, rates of educational attainment are low. This impacts the overall prosperity and economic growth of Pacific Island nations.
In 2019, UNICEF reported that roughly 40% of Pacific Islander children “are not enrolled in pre-primary school,” equating to about 175 million children who are not receiving the foundational skills and education necessary for success in future academic levels. Without a pre-primary foundation of education, children will struggle in other levels of education as each level builds on the other.
In a 2019 press release, UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett says, “In the Pacific islands, progress has been made and more children than ever before are enrolled in pre-primary education. But, the most vulnerable are still denied this opportunity. This increases their risk of repeating grades or dropping out of school altogether and relegates them to the shadows of their more fortunate peers.”
For these reasons, the BLUE Pacific Act directs the United States to work with Pacific Island nations to “reform policies, improve curricula, strengthen data systems, train teachers and provide quality learning materials.” Additionally, other efforts involve constructing new educational facilities and rehabilitating older school facilities.
The bill also directs the United States to provide assistance to support “national nutrition and health programs” to eliminate any further barriers to school attendance in relation to food and physical well-being. School programs will also focus on providing students, especially the most disadvantaged students, with the skills and knowledge necessary to secure employment after their schooling ends.
The legislation directs the U.S. to prioritize out-of-school children by providing support for them to return to education and giving them the remedial education support necessary for them to “catch up” to their peers.
From 2022 to 2026, the bill directs the allocation of $5 million per year in order to meet these educational targets and strengthen overall educational systems across Pacific Island nations.
The World Bank confirms that there is a “strong link between education and earnings,” highlighting the importance of the BLUE Pacific Act’s educational focus. In addition, education has many other socio-economic benefits that will contribute to the overall strength and resilience of Pacific Island nations.
– Max Cole