Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 04/2013

Education in Pacific Island States: Reflections on the Failure of 'Grand Remedies'

Victor Levine

April 2013

East-West Center


Victor Levine asks a fundamental question of increasing importance to a globalizing region: How can Pacific Island states provide decent public education to their children? Based on broad international experience, he examines the evidence regarding what does and does not work in public education. While the literature suggests numerous instances of declining quality in Pacific public-education systems, Levine finds some basis for optimism about what is possible. The underlying causes for generally declining standards do not point to a single factor. And additional funding is not necessarily the answer. Island countries generally spend considerably more per pupil on education and attain markedly poorer results, compared to countries in other regions with similar economic conditions. Outside support in terms of grants and personnel has not necessarily brought about the desired results. Rather than proposing a silver bullet or “grand remedy,” Levine suggests several more-modest options that policymakers may want to consider for initiating educational reforms. He maintains that the teacher is the single most important factor affecting student outcomes. In the past, many of the grand remedies have not worked because they are remote from the basic problem of ineffective classroom teaching. Based on this assessment, Levine argues for teacher-centered policies, which provide material and nonmaterial incentives to the teaching profession. He urges moving to a system where demonstrating the ability to produce learning gains in children (value added) would be a precondition for continued employment as a teacher. Finally, Levine argues that new teachers probably do not need a formal teaching qualification to do the job that is so crucial for a better future for Pacific Island children.