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Monday, April 21, 2014

Sablan pushes for reform in CNMI’s education system

Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D, wants the current structure of education in the Commonwealth reformed so it would be more effective and efficient for the needs of the islands.

The CNMI Public School System handles the preschool to 12th grade educational program on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, while the postsecondary program is administered by the Northern Marianas College, which offers bachelor and associate degree programs. Both systems have their own legislative bodies that govern separate policies: the Board of Education for PSS and the Board of Regents for NMC.

Based on the last few years of observation, Sablan believes it’s about time to make some changes in the system to provide better quality education to Commonwealth students.

“We need to reform the structure of education in the CNMI so it becomes more efficient and more effective and that it will meet the needs of the Commonwealth. Make it a structure that would be pre-school all the way to the 16th [program],” she told Saipan Tribune last week.

At present, PSS handles only up to 12th grade or until senior year in high school. Sablan believes that with a unified system, a seamless transition to college will be achieved.

NMC earlier disclosed that many high school students fail its placement tests, resulting in many being placed under remedial programs at the college.

Sablan blames this on the “gap” being encountered by students under two separate educational systems. She believes the CNMI must adopt the restructured system in many states and countries like Singapore where preschool to 16th grade programs have been effective.

Sablan wants a board whose members are elected by people to handle the educational system. She said it can be the Board of Education or Board of Regents, so long as members are elected by voters. Her proposed one educational system will be an autonomous agency.

Making this happen is more daunting because it will require a constitutional amendment, Sablan said. But she believes that the CNMI has to start thinking about the idea and put in a legislative initiative for voters to ratify in the near future.

“Somebody has to instigate it…but I think that this is something that our community has to decide. Remember, this is not new and this is happening in other states and even in Singapore. So why can’t we be like Singapore?” she said.

This unified system, she said, will give a vertical alignment of planning for students and a better way for tracking their success.

Flaws of current systems

Sablan said that there’s a gap between PSS and NMC in its current setup. But she sees this gap as more of a challenge than a disadvantage. She said she’s glad that the two boards already had their preliminary meeting early this year on how the two can work together for all students.

When asked if she is satisfied with NMC’s performance at present, Sablan replied: “Maybe I am not satisfied in terms of equity because they really missed out in providing educational programs for our students on Tinian and Rota…because I really feel for our students on the two islands who are also looking for opportunities.”

Sablan also believes there’s a need to look at what program offerings need to be offered that will meet the demand and needs of the community. Programs like finance and accounting, hospitality and tourism, and education and nursing must be given priority and expanded, she added.

“If tourism for example is our industry, what kind of tourism programs do we have to offer: is it culinary arts, is it about hospitality, or do we need to begin teaching Japanese language, for example?” she asked.

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