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Monday, April 21, 2014

Educators urged to act on challenges of Pacific students

A 58-member group of students from Guam and the CNMI faced a host of educators from the region on Friday and told them that Pacific schoolchildren are dealing with serious challenges that, if not given proper attention, will have devastating consequences for the younger generations.

Speaking before hundreds of educators gathered at Marianas High School, the students pushed for education policy actions on several issues that they said continue to hinder their successes.

The policy agenda the students presented were the result of a two-day intensive research and investigation on a variety of pressing educational issues that ran parallel with the 28th Pacific Educational Conference. The students, meeting at the Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, developed policy proposals in six areas: curriculum, teacher quality, infrastructure, school climate, higher education, and youth services and development.

The school climate proposal reports that bullying remains a serious concern among students in the region, reportedly rampant in and outside schools. It was revealed that many absenteeism are related to bullying and that several school districts in the Pacific have no clear plan of action to remedy the situation.

“The fear of being teased or shoved any minute of any day shifts their attention from their studies to their survival in school. With this in mind, we believe that education policy makers must take action to address this problem,” one student told the crowd, adding that schools can cut down on violence if they identify specific “hotspots” within the school where students feel violence is likely to occur.

Also bared is the rampant occurrence of alcohol and drug abuse among students in almost all the Pacific islands. In the CNMI alone, their research showed that nearly half of public school students are regular underage drinkers. Young adults’ interactions in school, around friends, and at home play an important role in alcohol and drug abuse.

Statistics show that 3.6 percent of 8th graders, 14.5 percent of 10th graders, and 28.1 percent of 12th graders have reported getting drunk in the past month. Currently, marijuana use is trending at 22.9 percent among 12th graders, while only 17.1 percent reported smoking cigarettes.

As for higher education, the students cited the lack of preparation classes for graduating high school students due to the absence of SAT and ACT prep classes.

The limited or absence of AP (advanced placement) courses was also cited as a major concern for Pacific students. They cited U.S. Census data that showed that Pacific islanders are less likely to obtain college degrees than people in the U.S. due to lack of these courses.

The group also pointed out the need to have enough number of counselors and programs to promote higher education among Pacific islanders.

They also raised concern about school security. Several break-ins in schools and campuses were cited, including technologies and equipment that were lost to burglars. They expressed concern about the estimated $25 million investment for technology that have been lost to these break-ins in the region.

The group reported that in Guam, break-ins since the start of the 2012 school year resulted in losses averaging about $308,560 and $8,642. At the Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School in Hawaii, computers worth more than $7,380 were stolen. Also cited were the successive burglaries reported in CNMI schools.

Teen pregnancy

According to the group, teen pregnancy remains at an alarming rate in the region and should be addressed by stakeholders.

It was revealed that American Samoa was rated as the second highest in teen pregnancies, and the rising ratio of teenage mothers are also evident in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

In Guam, it was disclosed that in 2011 alone, there were 128 babies born to mothers who were 15 to 17 years old. In the CNMI, surveys show that 51 percent of high school students engaged in sexual acts in 2011 alone.

“Without proper sex education, a naïve teenage girl may end up living her whole high school life, a time when she is still maturing to become adult, raising a child,” one student member said.

Cheating, distance education

Because a teacher cannot physically monitor students in an online classroom, it was bared that many students are capable of being academically dishonest.

A survey conducted by the American School Board on a group of high school seniors showed that 70 percent of them cheated on a test in an actual classroom and 95 percent of this percentage said that they were never caught.

According to the students, if a student never gets caught cheating, they will pass the course without actually learning anything, thus lessening their chances of succeeding in the future.

Other issues raised that need immediate policy decisions include the shortage of adequate transportation in many schools, school meals, and ineffective teacher evaluation and teaching methods.

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