Radio New Zealand recently ran a thought-provoking story regarding school children in the Pacific. The story said that Pacific students could achieve more for themselves and their communities if their learning focused more on local knowledge and culture.
This idea comes from Paul Beumelburg, a Development Studies Scholar and who has just completed his PhD focusing on Mangaia in the Cook Islands. He said the New Zealand based curriculum used in the Cooks, Niue and Tokelau would work better if the overarching focus was on indigenous culture and ideas with western ideas and knowledge used as a helpful tool. Dr. Beumelburg said, “There’s special characteristics about an isolated island in terms of distant transportation and the cost of transportation, economies of scale and so by looking at those examples, that can really help the students learning, because it’s stuff that they’re familiar with and that their community can help them learn.”
Dr Beumelburg lived on the Cooks southernmost island of Mangaia for four months over three visits. He set up a cultural advisory group including community and school leaders and parents and conducted interviews to find out about locals’ ideas, values and practices around sustainable living and how these fitted into the education system. He also developed a teaching model out of his Mangaia study which he said could be used around the Pacific. He said, “I’m not dismissing western style education per se. For some they want their students educated with western ideas so that they can become doctors, lawyers, accountants. But there’s also a lot of students there they’ve got to look back within their culture and so therefore it’s important they understand their own values and customs which are so valuable.”
Dr. Beumelburg continued, “What I’m talking about is just developing a thinking space which is not having just a western paradigm so it’s a thinking space which, the center of it, if you like, is an indigenous focus on in indigenous knowledge and culture, but it allows western ideas and that to come and be critically evaluated and then from there the students can then develop their own conceptions and their own community’s conception of sustainable development.”