The Samoa News recently ran an article written by Fili Sagapolutele about how Sen. Magalei Logovi’i declared that an Administration bill seeking to establish by law the Samoan Language and Culture Committee of American Samoa was tabled for future discussion.
The hearing commenced after last week’s Senate session, where the bill was introduced during first reading. The bill calls for the establishment of the commission to provide authoritative guidelines on Samoan language and culture in education, government, the economy and social life.
Furthermore, it establishes Samoan and English as the official languages of the Territory and as languages of instruction in all public schools of American Samoa.
Among the issues that the bill seeks to address is a current law, which states that classroom instruction in public schools shall be in the English language, but the Samoan language may be used when necessary to facilitate teaching in the English language.
Over the years there have been calls by educators and past leaders to change the law arguing that there are students who are better equipped to learn if the Samoan language is also an official language of teaching, along side the English language.
The Administration bill seeks to amend current law allowing classroom instruction for public schools to be conducted in both “Samoan” and the English language.
“To ensure students acquire proficiency in Samoan, English and academic subjects, the [ASG] Department of Education shall develop quality literacy programs based on research and the current needs of students,” according to the bill.
With only a few days left in the current 2nd Regular Session, Magalei called the committee hearing to review this proposed legislation, while Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono and others voiced their support.
Sen. Togiola T.A Tulafono said this same issues had been raised over the years and therefore it’s not new and recommended that the Senate not rush into making a final decision on such an important matter without more research along with an expert witnesses called to give testimony.
He recalled a provision of the law pertaining to the Office of Samoan Affairs that includes what’s called Institute of Samoan Language and Culture — and is set by statute based on legislation introduced several years ago by the late Sen. Fai’ivae Apelu Galeai.
Togiola believes that there are provisions of the current statute on the Institute of Samoan Language and Culture that may be similar or connected to provisions cited in the Administration bill that need to be reviewed.
He said that he is not sure if the current Administration had reviewed the statute on the Institute of Samoan Language and Culture, which has its own governing board, and it’s important to also look at this current law.
He also said the proposed law can be costly and this was a set-back for the Institute of Samoan Language and Culture in moving forward, “the cost” – which is an issue he says will also affect the proposed Commission.
Magalei declared that the decision for now is that the bill remains in committee for future review and a possible hearing, with witnesses to testify.
According to the bill’s preamble, there is a need to ensure the Samoan language remains vibrant to support the survival and development of the Fa’aSamoa.
The preamble cites previous ASG reports which show that 90% of American Samoans speak Samoan as their home language or their first language, that the majority of students in public schools read three grades below level, and that more than 90% of high school graduates entering American Samoa Community College required Remedial English and Remedial Math.
Additionally, children learn the best when the first language of instruction is their mother tongue, and using the mother tongue in the classroom has been found to enhance classroom participation, decrease attrition, and increase the likelihood of family and community engagement in the child’s learning, and most research now concludes that learning achievement is enhanced when children are taught in their mother tongue for at least the first six-years of primary school before a second language is introduced.
Therefore, “it is critical that the Samoan Language be declared by Territorial law as one of the Official Languages in American Samoa and is recognized as of equal importance with the English Language in education, government, economic and social life of the people of American Samoa.”