Australia and education in the Pacific: What is relevant and who decides?

Helen Ware


Education plays an essential role in defining national culture. Therefore, aid donors' involvement in recipients’ national education systems is always likely to be controversial. In the case of the Pacific Island Countries, this sensitivity is increased by the fact that there are significant divisions of opinion within the countries, notably between those who emphasise the role of education in preparation for participation in the global economy and those who are fighting to preserve their local cultures from extinction. Whilst optimists argue that it is possible to do both by creating global citizens who are deeply grounded in their own cultures, realists suggest that with very small groups this is simply not possible. Both sides accept the statistical evidence that the small group cultures of Melanesia have failed in delivering even basic literacy to all as compared with the nationwide cultures of Polynesia. Meanwhile, Australia pursues an explicit neoliberal agenda of providing education to the islanders to make them employable across the globe. This paper explores some of the issues in this debate, including differences of approach between AusAID and NZAID.

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