SEATTLE — Kiribati, an island republic known as “Tungaru” in the native language and pronounced ‘Kiribas,’ consists of the island of Banaba and 32 atolls scattered about the South Pacific. It was the first country to usher in the new millennium and is situated in all four hemispheres. Education in Kiribati consists of a Ministry of Education which is supported by the Kiribati Education Improvement Program and three main partners: UNESCO, UNICEF and AusAID. Other educational development donors include NGOs, Japan, Taiwan and the New Zealand International Aid and Development Agency.
Over the years, it has been subjected to environmental degradation, phosphate mining, nuclear testing and climate change. In 1986, the U.N. classified Kiribati as a Least Developed Country. In 2015, the government of Kiribati reported a national GDP of $160 million and a 3.5 percent growth rate. As of 2015, Kiribati had a population of 112,423 at an annual increase of 1.8 percent.
In the 2016 budget, the Minister of Education, Alexander Teabo, stated, “The development of our youth through quality and inclusive education is an important part of enhancing the potential of our human resources.” There was no government expenditure for preschool programs as of 2015 because churches and members of the local community provided the service.
Education in Kiribati consists of primary school, junior secondary school and senior secondary school. Primary and junior secondary school, paid for by the government, are compulsory. Classes start in January and end in December. These academic divisions are managed by different departments within the Ministry of Education. Roughly 27,000 students are enrolled in 10 primary and 18 secondary schools; nearly 58 percent attend the former.
Students who wish to pursue technical or higher education in Kiribati need to be grade 12 and 13 graduates. Inadvertently, this creates a large number of academically displaced 15-to-24-year-olds who flood the labor market.
There are a number of higher education options for students. These include technical/vocational education and skills training centers such as: the Kiribati Teachers College, the University of the South Pacific (USP), Marine Training Center, Police Training Center, the Kiribati School of Nursing, Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT), the Fisheries Training Center and Tarawa Technical Institute. Agreements exist with other educational entities such as the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) and KIT.
Founded in 2007, APTC has trained more than 380 Kiribati nationals. At the end of last month, 46 students, mostly women, graduated in “non-traditional trades.” During a visit to USP last October, President Taneti Mamau stated, “This partnership is an excellent opportunity for my people to develop their skills and talents through Australian-standard qualifications, in an environment where they can explore their full potential and compete with students from other parts of the region.”
The government also encourages students to pursue graduate work and complete doctoral studies. USP vice-chancellor Rajesh Chandra believes that quality education is necessary to foster competition, expand markets and generate social mobility.
The government of Kiribati continues to battle a fundamental problem which threatens the country’s competitiveness: retention. Many adults leave the islands to find work, obtain skills or to marry. With a dwindling workforce and lack of information and communication technologies, it is difficult for the government to improve the nation’s economic prospects.
In the December 2016 issue of the Pacific Economic Monitor, published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), projected growth in the Pacific was 2.7 percent in 2016 and 3.3 percent for 2017; a new low since the 2007-2008 financial crisis.
According to an ADB press release, “This issue stresses the need to explore options for cheaper and more reliable information and communication technology services in Kiribati, Tonga and Tuvalu. Such services hold great potential to open up new business opportunities, expand access to financial services, raise labor productivity and reduce the costs of doing business.”
To address this issue, the World Bank and ADB have funded projects to complete the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program by 2021. Fiber optic broadband cables, laid by submarines, should improve communication, economic services, digital product offerings and education in Kiribati.
Moreover, personal and professional staff development is a chief concern among teachers in the republic. A government push towards increased access to in-service training opportunities may help educators remain in the profession and within the nation. Furthermore, education in Kiribati may improve if teachers receive the support they need.
– JG Federman