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By Jan Kohout, RNZ Pacific journalist

A new initiative has been launched in 15 Pacific Island countries to improve educational standards.

The Pacific Regional Inclusive Education Review was launched last week with each country having their own national surveys with the assistance of community groups, NGOs and stakeholders.

It has has been signed by Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Pacific Disability Forum comprises one of the many networks used to complete the survey, and it has roots in 21 countries.

Its main objective is to ensure children, including those living with disabilities, access quality learning.

The Forum’s CEO, Setareki Macanawai, said the review allowed for an understanding of the current issues within education across the region.

“[The purpose is] to have a shared understanding, and I think this is what this review has done. It has provided a lens-key, a good starting point. A good starting point condition for us in the Pacific to then develop a shared understanding of what inclusive education should look like for us in the Pacific.”

Making education accessible
Macanawai also said it was hard to make education accessible in the region due to various pre-conditions.

“There is a lot of stigma, there is a lot of discrimination broadly and generally across the Pacific in the different cultures and societies which is a pre-condition that makes it hard to create an inclusive education for all, particularly those with impairments,” he said.

Representatives meeting to discuss inclusive education in the region.
The biggest challenge to inclusive education in the Pacific is limited access or children living in poor housing. Image: UNICEF Pacific/2022/Temakei/RNZ Pacific

The review is conducted by UNICEF Pacific and the Pacific Regional Inclusive Education Taskforce.

UNICEF Pacific’s Chief of Education Programme Anna Smeby said the biggest challenge to inclusive education in the Pacific is limited access or children living in poor housing.

We know that challenges can be in physical access, teaching approaches and availability of extra support, and it can be in the inclusiveness of the environment which means the infrastructure, but also social and emotionally whether it is a welcoming environment,” she said.

“Improving policy for inclusive education, building and strengthening to adapt and differentiate instruction, the resource in classroom so that they have the resources they need and improving school infrastructure, bringing inclusive education leaves us to learn from each other both the shared challenges and the promising practices.

Vulnerable groups
“Vulnerable groups include learners with a disability or some sort of impairment, commonly students in remote places who do not have access to full-cycle schooling and students who have missed earlier learning but also gifted and talented students that need additional support in different ways,” Smeby said.

The collaboration between the 15 countries, regional partners, and the Pacific Inclusive Education Taskforce, supports Sustainable Development Goal 4 to achieve quality education for all and to build a pathway for all children to a productive and healthy adulthood.

UNICEF Pacific’s Deputy Representative Roshni Basu said countries needed to include the review’s recommendations into its policies urgently.

“UNICEF is committed to ensure that all children of our Pacific shores are able to enjoy their right to inclusive, and of course quality, education.

I urge all countries to maximise effort and commitment to translate the review findings into concrete investments for inclusive education.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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