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Legality of Dual Language program questioned

The legality of using the Samoan language to teach students in public schools has once again come under scrutiny in the Senate with Sen. Magalei Logovi’i telling senators that a parent has threatened to take legal action against the government for using the  Samoan language when it’s not in accordance with the law.


Magalei’s comments, made last Thursday during the Senate session, prompted swift reaction from Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli who described the Education Department (ASDOE) people as hard-headed and accused DOE director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau of turning her head against any advice from the Senate.


During a news conference earlier this month, Vaitinasa told reporters that the Dual Language program, which is now in its second year as a pilot program, is only being taught to students whose parents agreed to the program.




During the Senate session, Magalei said he received a phone call last week from a Tualauta parent who complained that their children had come home with a school assignment in the Samoan language. He said the parent questioned as to why the assignments were in Samoan, when their children were sent to school to be taught English.


Magalei says the parent asked if there is a law that allows teaching in Samoan in public schools and the parent insisted that teaching Samoan to a child is a parent’s duty.  He recalled Galeai having said in the past that if ASDOE wants to use Samoan in classrooms, the law needs to be changed first.


Magalei claimed that the parent has threatened to take legal action against the government and reiterated that students were sent to school to learn English not Samoan. He says ASDOE is using the Samoan language for teaching K5 to Level 8, but he didn’t elaborate if the assignment in Samoan was under the Dual Language initiative.


Galeai said representatives of both the Senate and House were invited to an ASDOE presentation on the Dual Language program, in which the Samoan language is used for teaching students.


The Manu’a senator says the first recommendation to ASDOE was to first amend current law, which states that English is the primary language of instruction and Samoan is to be used for clarification.


Galeai said he is surprised with the hard-heads (or ulu malo) of the people at ASDOE as well as the director, herself, who appears to turn her head away from any recommendations given to her. He said that parents have started to complain and if parents oppose the use of Samoan language in classroom teaching, “it is within their right” — but this matter can be easily resolved by amending the current statute, he said.


Galeai says that the Senate can put a stop to this by taking the matter to court for a “stop order” which would halt ASDOE from continuing this practice until the statute is amended. 


Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga agreed with the concerns but noted that there is an elective course for the Samoan language in public schools, and maybe the students were taking the elective course and that was the reason the school assignments were in Samoan.


This was also echoed by Sen. Uti Petelo, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, who pointed out that maybe the assignment was for a Samoan language class. However, he said, there is the need for further clarification from ASDOE and he has scheduled for Thursday this week a hearing with Vaitinasa.




Vaitinasa told reporters during an ASDOE news conference early this month that the Dual Language Program was developed in 2013 and 2014 for classroom teaching for K5 to Level One and was implemented in the last school year 2014- 15 with the program pilot in 13 schools, including one in Manu’a.


She said that more than 1,000 students and 65 teachers participated in the pilot program for the last school year. Vaitinasa emphasized that students and teachers are not forced into the program; instead, parents must agree to having their child participate in the program and teachers signed an agreement to teach classes for the program.


Additionally, the Dual Language program curriculum is identical to the classes taught in English except that the Dual Language is taught in Samoan and that English is also used, says Vaitinasa adding that there haven’t been any complaints from parents throughout the last school year.


Dual Language is now expanded to Level 2 for the current school year, with eight schools participating along with 57 teachers, Vaitinasa explained.


Samoa News should point out that it’s unclear at this point if the parent who complained (to Magalei) had their child in the Dual Language program, or in a Samoan class course.


As previously reported by Samoa News, the Dual Language program— using both English and Samoan languages— as a teaching tool in classrooms was proposed during the Education Summit in October 2013. ASDOE officials told lawmakers that the plan is to use the Samoan language in the lower levels or beginning classes — Kindergarten to Grade 5.


The goal of the Dual Language Program is to improve student proficiency in content areas such as English and Math. Vaitinasa told reporters that data shows that for over 20 years, 70% of ASDOE students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 10 continue to score below basic English and Math proficiency.


Research shows both in the US and internationally that students achieve higher levels of success in reading and math when they are taught in their first language (in American Samoa’s case the Samoan language) and simultaneously receive instruction about the second language or English.


ASDOE has established two committees— a Leadership Committee and a Teacher Committee— to develop and assess the Dual Language Program in public schools. (See Samoa News edition June 16, 2015 for details)