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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2

On education

Black and white photograph of a boy doing school work.page 29 On education

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Gilbert Islands

A long time ago, very few boys went to school and girls were not allowed to go. They stayed with their parents and had to do the housework. We are lucky nowadays that our girls go to school, and that our women are now working just like the men.


Education in Fiji. I wish that the Permanent Secretary for Education in Fiji comes to talk to you because he may give a clearer picture than I will…! There are three hundred islands in the Fiji group and over one hundred are inhabited, including the ones some of us come from. And we've been away from our islands for so long that we don't know whether we still know our aunts, and our great-grandfathers. Well, that is how education has removed people, to come over to this main island, Viti Levu, the largest one, with over 4,000 sq. miles and about 74% of the population.

Education is for everybody. It is everybody's business. Therefore, we have in Fiji, like in any other country, our own education system. Our system is administered by the Ministry of Education. We have our officers and they are far-flung officers who are living with the people, helping the teachers, helping the children, setting exams, which are sometimes rather rigid, for us all to follow, so that we may have some form of standard right throughout the country. I think that is enough to briefly say what is happening in Fiji.

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We have exams, we used to have exams galore, but thank goodness some of them have been removed. Exams to get into an intermediate class after six years in a primary school; then you sit another exam after two years to get into a secondary school. Then you sit another exam after that (after the 4th form - after three years) to be able to get to another level. Then you sit another exam in order to sit for your university entrance exam, and then when you've sat your U.E. you can get into university. So if you work all that out, that is your elimination of those people who are not fit to progress and you drop out a lot and therefore are left with a selected few who, if they are not careful, will become an elite member of a separate world, useless to other people but useful only to themselves.

However, this system, we must say, has produced and it has blessed the country in many ways. As a unionist, I can't help but look at the system critically, and I hope that you will bear with me. If you have your figures in front of you you will see there are almost the same number of girls and boys - there's not much difference - going into that factory.

The YWCA and other voluntary bodies have piloted their own pre-schools, and the women are not waiting for anybody. They've set up their pre-schools and they put their children through. I hope that one day the government will recognise the importance of such education; that the children, before they go to school, have to be prepared. The school system is too sophisticated for many of our ethnic groups, and therefore, somehow, you've got to help them to come through the system, if you're going to adopt that system. The pre-school has about 44 groups running in the country - there's probably a little more now.

Then you put them through that factory, and they come out, perhaps, at the university. When they come out, you'd be lucky to read on graduation day that there are more women coming out of that factory, and all did well in their different forms.

After pre-school, you come to the primary. Primary education means more exams - very much formal-oriented, very page 31 little informal learning. The joy of play, and game, and learning in the pre-school, where my children have picked up such a lot about life, is somehow gone when they go into the primary school, gone when they go into secondary, gone when they go into the university.

What I'm really trying to say is the fact that much of what we learn is very irrelevant to the life that we're going to live. It is very relevant to the successful ones, perhaps like me. But how about the ones who dropped out, who dropped away from the system somewhere along the line? There's nothing for them. We need a new force to cater for people to learn to respect themselves, to learn to use the opportunities that arise; and to be able to learn something in life, that life becomes meaningful.

I'm interested in women's groups because they provide a group of people who are interested in giving education to the women, to the people of the community. Men's clubs in Fiji are just socialising clubs. Women's clubs are very hard working, trying to educate and trying to develop community work. People have to be aware and develop an awareness of the needs of their community in order to help to make that community better.

What are our educational objectives? I feel that it should not just be formal and informal education but should be all that you learn to enlighten yourself for a better life. That, I feel, is much more meaningful in the Pacific if we're going to retain a lot of our Pacific traits and add on some of the things that we feel that will make life more wholesome.

What kind of a woman are we trying to produce? Perhaps you want an eloquent, intelligent, clean, healthy, nice-looking woman, so academic that she will just be able to floor everybody including the men. Perhaps your image of that woman that you are trying to create in the Pacific is not quite that. I asked a few men: “What do you want?” and they said: “I want a nice, submissive person, beautiful to look at, obedient, in some ways she can talk but she should only talk about what she is supposed to talk about.” What is your page 32 picture of this woman that we're trying to create, the New Woman of the Pacific?

We've given all our educational systems, we've given our criticisms and the things we've yet to develop on curriculum, that we'd like the women of tomorrow to learn. All they are learning now at school is very irrelevant. I say to Domestic Science teachers: “For goodness' sake, don't teach them about wool - that's useless! Learn more about handicraft, to plait things, don't just talk about it.” I went and got someone to come and teach handicraft - she does not speak a word of English, but she can plait! And that's all I want - to communicate some skills that exist in the community, that if they are not shared for the betterment of individuals and the community, they would be gone.

To conclude, I leave you with some comments and this is an old wise saying: “To be educated is to be useful.” When you are educated you're supposed to be better everyday, you're supposed to know and be very wise about things. I don't know what your educational system is creating in your countries, but I know that in my country people are getting worse, they are losing their own respect and they are becoming street people instead of being homely people; they're becoming poorer people rather than richer or respectable people, and I leave you with that thought, because I think you must depend on what you want in education, depend on what you want that Pacific woman to be, then if you clarify those thoughts then you will have more hope of working on those strategies and putting your plans down and saying “You go here, and you go there.” So that in five years' time when we do meet again, we can see what we have done - whether you've destroyed Pacific women or whether you've helped them.

The following questions were asked by Nahau Rooney, from Papua New Guinea

These people, when you ask them to come and teach, do you pay for them or not? That's the first question.

The second one is: When you pay them, I find that they don't come to the classroom, so the introduction of pay for the value of work has an effect on the contribution of who- page 33 ever you ask to come and teach. Do you find that problem in your experience?

Answer by Esiteri Kamikamica

Yes, I do. But I find the way out is by asking relations to come, because I cannot afford to pay anybody. I once sat down and said to the girls: “Is there anyone here who has any relations who can teach us a good meke or dance?” The girls said: “We want to go away tonight and think about it and ask everybody.”

Some of the people in Fiji will tell you that it's one of the dances that has been performed by schoolgirls really skillfully. The old man who taught the dance to the girls was paid in kind - we used traditional ways to pay him. We went in the traditional way to invite him with yagona, talked to him, I used to pick him up and bring him to school. I used to give him fifty cents or more each time he came - this was for his tavako or cigarettes. We then held a ‘vakacirisalusalu’ at the end of his teaching period, that is, we performed the meke he taught us and thanked him in style and the girls gave him anything that they could give: a dress, a sulu, a shirt, whatever, and mats, and we all presented these to him. Then we all ate together and we really had a wonderful time. So it was payment in the traditional way, because we could not afford the money.

New Zealand

We are here as women to look at ourselves and to ask ourselves: Why are we here? What have we to offer each other? What are we going to do as women of the Pacific area?

I won't go through the education system that exists in New Zealand because it is here - it's right here - in the Pacific area. Whatever nation you turn to - be it the Cooks, Tonga Fiji - it's an imposed, it's an introduced education system. Because it is an introduced education system it produces products more biased towards Western concepts. While this education system exists in the Pacific area, you will not stop the flow out of the Pacific area. Pacific Islanders page 34 will flow to New Zealand, they will flow from your rural areas to your cities, to your urban areas, they will flow to Australia.

I ask you the question: “Education for what?” Why are we educating these Pacific islanders, why is the education system British in Fiji, New Zealand, in other areas? Education for what? As suggested by somebody yesterday - for brown-skinned pakehas? I'll give you my answer - education to provide the more industrialised areas of the Pacific, including Suva, but mainly for urban areas of Auckland, Wellington, with manpower. While these education systems are here our young manpower will flow to the cities.

You won't stop the migration - you can jump, you can scream, you can do whatever you like - you won't stop our young people leaving our shores and going overseas, because the opportunities are there, because that's what the education system has made them do, and that's what you, as a mother, expects of your child. Some of us may be slow to admit but we are very conscious of status - for our child to be a teacher, for our child to be government-employed, for our child to be in some fairly responsible positions in ministries: they have done well. But for our child to be planting, for our child to be fishing, for our child to be helping in the community - there's an air of embarrassment, we're slightly sad. Why should we be?

Unfortunately, the education system here prepares people, our young people, for things that are beyond what the environment can provide; prepares them to aspire beyond what their immediate area can give them. You know as a mother, (and you know that your husband thinks the same as you do) that for your child to be successful is to sit with a white collar and a tie and glory in a package with paper money in it. That is a successful person who has come through the system.

Is that all the education system is about? I hope not. Because it is examination-orientated, this flow continues. My remedy is: Here we are right in the centre of a place that can help to change the education system. What is our page 35 backbone in the Pacific area? We've got the sea around us, and the little bit of land that God had provided. Agriculture and the sea - those are our industries. We don't have the mineral resources that other highly developed areas of the world have, but we do have these other resources. Our products are to be found in the waters, are to be found in the land. That is our backbone, and that is what the education system should be doing, looking and adapting its curriculums to suit the needs of the local, indigenous person, not to prepare us to provide manpower beyond the horizon.

I will tell you a little bit of the New Zealand education system. I am speaking as a person who has come through that factory as Esiteri Kamikamica has said. I hope I don't belong to the small elite, useless, group. The New Zeland system then is pre-school, primary, intermediate, secondary, tertiary - just as it is here. Of the areas of New Zealand where Pacific islanders are to be found, mainly Auckland, Tokoroa, Hawkes Bay and Wellington, by the time they reach 6th or 7th form, 98% ‘drop out’, if I may use the term here. How many come through then to become useful tools? Education is a tool to be used for the betterment of yourself and your fellow people and more especially, as migrant people in a new society, for the betterment of our own people trying to adapt to a new way of life.

But who can survive the system? I know of one Cook Island girl, in Wellington, who is going to training college; I know of five Samoans who are going to training college; I know of three Samoans who are at present at Wellington Teachers' Training College. You can count them all on your fingers. When you think of the large population of Porirua, Wellington, the Hutt Valley, that is very inadequate a number to be of use to the Pacific Islands people in just Wellington, let alone Auckland, which has a much greater population…

Solomon Islands

The Education system and how it Influences Women

About two-thirds of all children in the Solomon Islands go to school. Girls go into the education system about the page 36 same age as boys, at about six to eight years old. But twice as many boys go to school as girls. This means that most of the children who do not go to school at all are girls.

Black and white photograph of children.

Most of the children who do not go to school at all are girls.

The primary schools have many more boys than girls. The feelings and interests of the class are influenced by boys. Most of the teachers are men. Women teachers often have difficulty controlling classes of older children, where the boys are quite big and there are few girls. Sometimes, men teachers have affairs with the bigger girls, which may disgrace the girls but nothing very bad happens to be teacher; recently, however, some male teachers have been sacked or had other heavy punishments for this.

Secondary schools are also mainly boys' schools. But these schools are even worse, because there are three times as many boys as girls in secondary schools. And these schools are preparing pupils to work in the modern economy, where nine out of ten jobs are held by men.

So the atmosphere in secondary schools is to prepare pupils for a world where men go out and do the important and page 37 exciting jobs, while the women do domestic duties. They can also become teachers or nurses, but they are not expected to last long in these jobs before they get married or become pregnant.

A lot of employers do not like the idea of employing women in important jobs, because they do not trust them or they do not think other men will trust them, or because they are uneasy about sex differences at work. This affects the way teachers prepare girls for employment and careers.

The education system is dominated by men, like everything else in the modern side of life in the Solomon Islands. So the system has the effect of getting girls used to the idea of male domination. This is reflected in the fact that so few of our well-educated girls feel strongly or want to do anything or change the pattern of male domination. They have been brainwashed by the education system.

This is odd because in our traditional society, women were much more powerful than we are now and we still have more power in the village than we have in the town. Our women have lost power through modernisation and new ways of living. The education system is one of the main ways that these changes are being spread and encouraged.

The planning of the education system has been entirely done by men. There is not one woman politician, or one woman on the permanent headquarters staff of the Ministry, or the Central Planning Office. The needs of women - for example, the need for pre-school facilities in town areas, where many mothers go out to work - are therefore forgotten, or given a low priority.

How can we Improve things?

For sure, the answer cannot be found inside the education system itself, because it naturally tends to continue the way it is. We have to make changes by pressures from the outside.

We should be tackling this in several different ways. page 38 The main points of attack would be -

Black and white photograph of a group of schoolgirls standing in lines.

Educating the parents to send their daughters to school…

  1. Educating the parents to send their daughters to school. We have to get parents to see and understand that the best investment in education is to get their girl children into school.

  2. Educating the employers to give proper, full career jobs to women and to accept us as real competitors for a wide range of jobs.

  3. Changing the school curriculum to include subjects and material which will show to both boys and girls, what women can do if they are given the chance.

  4. Teaching people about education so all kinds of people can see what is wrong with the system and think how to improve it.

  5. Appoint women advisors to Central and Local government education bodies.

  6. Have ‘balanced employment’ rules for government to give a good example and to get women into key jobs as models of what can be done.

  7. Generally raise women's consciousness.

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Black and white photograph of schoolgirls in a typing lesson.

Changing the school curriculum so that all subjects are open to both boys and girls

Black and white photograph of schoolboys in a metalwork lesson.

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Papua New Guinea

I am at the moment studying Law and I should be the first woman graduate in law from the University of Papua New Guinea. I do find a lot of opposition from male students in the Law Faculty at the university but they have a lot of respect for me and it is encouraging to see that there is not that traditional attitude that women should not come out and talk in public. I do fight for what I think is right and for what I am capable of.

In modern Papua New Guinea, women are better educated - there are a lot of young girls going through secondary education and quite a number of us are in university.

New Caledonia

After more than a century of French colonisation in New Caledonia, one can no longer talk about a woman's education which is really Kanak or traditional.

On the one hand, as far as the woman who is brought up on the reserve or in tribal surroundings is concerned, one continues to instill in her the respect of the group to which she belongs, her duties towards her community, and a submissive attitude in front of men. For example, she is still advised not to speak to certain assemblies of men, such as the Council of Elders, not to talk to her brothers nor her maternal uncle, and to find a husband in order to have children. She is taught to weave mats and baskets, taught how to work in the fields, how to look after the plantations and the areas around the house, the flower-gardens and the weedings, for example. She is shown how to prepare the “bougna” which is the traditional Kanak food cooked in an oven made of hot stones buried in the earth. She is brought along to gather coffee beans, and to cut straw for the roofs of their own houses. And she learns how to recognise edible shells on the reefs for the tribes along the shore.

However, given that traditional Kanak values are denied by the colonial system, a woman's ‘tribal’ education is an page 41 education designed to make her into a perfect imitation of the white woman. In the bourgeois, capitalist, colonial society, the Kanak child collides with Western values in the primary school, whether it be in the rural areas or in the town: all teaching in New Caledonia, from primary to secondary school, is done in French, with programmes designed for Parisien children. In addition, when teachers tell young Kanak girls to “work hard at school and get your diplomas so that you can get good jobs”, it is purely and simply encouraging them to become good little “civilised” blacks.

In the same way, when Kanak mothers say to their daughters: “Find yourself a husband who has a good position”, they are simply pushing them into the arms of lower-level Kanak civil servants - primary school teachers, nurses, country police or policemen - who have an enviable position for Kanak people in the white colonial society. For the Kanak woman to be looked upon favourably by the white people, she must not only speak good French, be well-dressed, and be well made up, but also be a good housekeeper, a good cook, and must know how to sew, iron and mend clothes. She must also be a good mother, a good wife, a good Christian and an excellent hostess.

In this New Caledonian colonial society where racism is institutionalised, where the superiority of the white over the coloured peoples is set up as a principle, the education system is established in such a way that the person being educated - here, the Kanak woman - cannot refer to herself in order to make judgements, since there are no criteria other than Western criteria to be used. This system of education designed to integrate and assimilate can only force the Kanak woman to renounce her original society and make herself more white than the white woman, and to flee the reserve for the town.

Being a well-educated Kanak woman today in the colony of New Caledonia means that you know the rules of how to live in the white-man's way, that you have had solid learning in white schools, and that you have your diplomas. In school, one is successful or not according to how well one knows the history of France, the geography of France, etc.

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The more we forget, the more we deny our identity as Kanak women, the better one is “educated”; that is how it really is in New Caledonia. This is why when it is heard said to a little Kanak girl: “Work well at school so that you can get your certificates and a good job”, it must be interpreted as: “Try to become a good little civilised black bourgeois who won't have anything more to do with her primitive people”. It must be interpreted that way and not otherwise.

But in any case such an integrationist education contains its own contradictions as is demonstrated by this expression frequently heard in New Caledonia: “They have their diplomas, but they are Kanaks”. Indeed, however much one is educated, has diplomas, or tries to be more westernised than the white woman, the colonial system is there showing us every day that the white leaders are not prepared to consider us as their equals, still less as human-beings.

In fact, this Western education is only intended to make us into little puppets, or rather cheap exotic merchandise in the hands of the white master. The intention is to make us into alienated people, so that as mothers we can educate our children in ways still more Westernised, which will thus perpetuate the bondage of our people by the white colonial system.

Now we are going to briefly list some of the Kanak woman's complexes which are the result of this integrated education:

  1. Racial complex: the Kanak woman who believes in the superiority of the white in everything, is ashamed to speak her vernacular language, to meet her Kanak parents in town, to be seen with Kanaks and coloured people in general.

  2. Social complex: denying her original society, that is say the tribal, village world, she prefers to be exploited by a white boss or become a prostitute in town than to return to her original community. Of course, those who live in Noumea, the capital, consider themselves “civilised”, and scorn those living in the village.

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  3. Class complex: women who have their secondary school certificates, or who are teachers, nurses, or employed in offices, believe themselves to be superior to the housegirl in town. Naturally there is no question of her joining in with work in the fields, or quite simply of her dirtying her hands working the land.

If she wants a husband, he should at least be a minor civil servant.

If she is married, the mother of a model family, and a practising Christian, she can only regard unmarried mothers, for example, as whores.

In our group - Groupe 1878, which is a mixed group - we are only a minority of women who are trying to start posing the problems of the Kanak woman as being indissociable from that of all our people subject to the colonial domination of France.

New Hebrides

I would like to make a comment to support and clarify Lucette's statement on education in New Caledonia which is similar to the situation in New Hebrides. I feel even though some of our speakers have said that national topics are becoming or clouding the overall women's issues, as far as the area of education is concerned, I feel that we must understand and I ask you to understand, that in the French territories, that's New Caledonia, Tahiti and New Hebrides, the situation is a little bit different if not very different from the experience that the other territories have been through. Some of you people speak from independent platforms, places that have already gained their independence, and determine their own education system; whereas in our areas that exist under colonialism, this problem is not only duplicated, it is multiplied, because the education system is not only an imposed one it is in many ways in contradiction to our traditional way of education.

The underlying factor in our colonial situation is that page 44 the type of education that we have has been planned hundreds of years ago and that is why we have this type of education that we have. For example, Lucette has brought out the fact that in today's education on the French side, a woman is expected to speak good French, is expected to dress nicely, wear make-up the right way, and all those kind of things. This is because the colonial policy, the plan that has been made by the colonial governments when they came in and took over our countries, especially on the French side, have always been and are still effective today, is that you educate a person to become a Frenchman, and that when you move into a country, you occupy that country and make it a part of France outside France. Therefore, you try to turn those people into French people. So to be recognised at all, you either inter-marry and produce mixed-blood people who speak French and who adopt French life-style, or if you don't inter-marry and you keep within your own ethnic groups, then you must deny everything that is yours before you can be recognised.

In the New Hebrides, for instance, education has not been allowed until the last ten years even though the New Hebrides has existed under colonialism for more than sixty years - it's in its sixty-nineth year this year. At the moment there is only one high school in the whole country. This is not an accident, it has been planned.


I would like to speak to you about French Polynesia, as the New Caledonian women and the New Hebrides woman have done, but there will be a difference because I am a Polynesian, and it would be interesting for you to compare.

By chance, the Tahitian women have not the same kind of life as the New Caledonian and the New Hebridean. Even in the olden days the Tahitian women had a very high position in the society and they could even become chiefs. This is so in other Polynesian groups. In Tahiti, the women have always considered themselves the equal of the men, and they always did what they wanted to do.

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In our time, the boys were not as well educated as the girls. Both went to school, but when the boys reach the age of twelve they are taken from school to work on the plantations, to go fishing, to work for the family. But, the girls could stay at school and learn more. And now, these girls have married those who are not as well-educated as themselves. This has become a problem in many households because the women know much more than the men and it is very difficult for them. And the women want to dominate the men, and if they cannot do that, they at least want to be on the same level.

I want to speak a little now about the education of our children today. I have three daughters and they got their secondary education in Tahiti in the French school and the girls got their GCE “A” Level certificate. We then sent our daughters to France for further education. I am a farmer, even though I am also well-educated. I have a very good and close relationship with my three daughters, but I can see that some of my friends do not have such a good relationship with their children and I feel that now there is a big gap between the children and the parents. Many young girls now have this type of education. After some years, they come back to Tahiti and it takes time for them to become once more Tahitian-minded because they had very little contact with their own people.

When they begin to work, they always need the family so they come back to the family. But they want to make the parents do things in the French way, and the parents do not always agree. So, with all the education you have got, you still need your mother on the farm, to give you money. You are not able, with all that education, to get enough money for yourself. It is a big problem now, because all those children who come back from France are taxed by the French government and it tries to get them to do what it wants. But we are trying to prevent this and we hope that we shall be able to help these children and take them back into our society.