ASBA Gubernatorial forum emphasizes the importance of teachers
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Support for teachers, who are instrumental to American Samoa’s future success was the first of seven questions, asked of the four gubernatorial teams, at last Thursday night’s American Samoa Bar Association forum at the packed Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium.
The four teams, certified for the Nov. 3, 2020 general election, as introduced during the forum: Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, candidate for governor and running mate Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet, candidate for lieutenant governor; I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia for governor and Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga for lieutenant governor; Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga for governor and Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale for lieutenant governor; Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua for governor and Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., for lieutenant governor.
“Teachers are critical for the development and success of American Samoa’s future and economy. What would your administration do to make sure that teachers are getting the support that they need to do their jobs?” was the first question posed to the candidates.
(Samoa News is reporting on the responses to each question, based on the response-format during the forum presented as a round-robin.)
GAOTEOTE & FAI’IVAE
In his response, Gaoteote pointed to the need for reclassification of teacher’s salaries. He said the government can’t “motivate” teachers in classroom instruction unless their salaries are adjusted and reclassified accordingly.
He also pointed to providing support for students holding Associate degrees to return to school for a Bachelor’s degree, or those with a Bachelor’s to achieve a Master’s degree and how this would make teachers happy in classroom instruction.
Furthermore, many teachers are no longer in the classroom teaching students, due to problems with the salaries and shortage of supplies not only for teachers but students.
Fai’ivae added that it’s time to take into consideration that the local Education Department is one of the government departments that should be an “Authority”, governed by a policy making board, whose members “should be selected from different school districts, teachers to be involved, [and] Fono members, so that way the transparency from the Department of Education is going through to not only the government but all of our people.”
“That is one of the things that Gaoteote and Fai’ivae if we are elected, we will look into the possibility of the Department of Education” becoming an Authority “but still under the umbrella of the government,” he added.
I’AULUALO & TAPAAU
I’aulualo said major complaints from teachers to whom he and Tapaau have spoken is there are not enough supplies. “A very simple thing. Not enough supplies” but it has become an obstacle in teaching students, he said.
If elected, he said “I’aulualo and Tapaau will look very closely to the budget and how the budget is being allocated and we will reform that part” of the ASDOE budget to “make sure that money is allocated directly to the districts and to the schools and right to the classroom” so there are sufficient supplies.
Additionally, “we will develop a system” that will provide internet access to all families in the territory, ensuring that students have access to the internet, according to the candidate for governor, who noted that every student in American Samoa will also be provided a computer.
He said that “distance learning” could no longer be ignored with current challenging times of the virus pandemic.
Tapaau pointed to the need to “partner with the private sector so that there are apprenticeships and graduates can get jobs after they graduate.”
“We need to partner to build the trade school so that Nu’uuli Vocational Technical HIgh School becomes a real trade school,” he said. “So that there will be two-year scholarships, not just 4-year scholarships, two-year scholarships, so more of our graduates go into the trades.”
And “we have to help our young people build emotional resilience. There’s too much going on right now that’s hurting our young people. All of you know what I’m referring to,” he said but didn’t elaborate on what he was referring to. “We need to bring emotional resilience-building into the curriculum.”
LEMANU & TALAUEGA TEAM
Lemanu cited programs already implemented by the governor for ASDOE, such as infrastructure improvements as well as new school facilities, and the Adopt-A-School program. He explained that the goal of these programs is for teachers to prepare for classroom instruction, while the government and the public focus on outside of the classroom.
Additionally, the current administration has already set a threshold for teacher salaries — Bachelor degree at $23,000; and Master’s at $27,000. He asked if all of these accomplishments are sufficient enough to assist teachers and he answered, “Talauega and I believe it’s not enough” and points to a proposed plan to further help educators in the classrooms.
For example, “establish [a] teacher allowance”, such as COLA — or a cost of living allowance — which he says is “a non-taxable allowance to offset the high prices of housing, and goods and services.
“It is a subsistence allowance, based on the cost of living in American Samoa,” Lemanu explained. “Will also look at allowance for housing [to] help offset the cost of rental property. These financial assistances are not new, they are used by the JROTC program, for their instructors in American Samoa.”
The Lemanu and Talauega team will also focus on teachers working in Manu’a and Aunu’u, he said. Furthermore, they will also look at the budget to pay teachers as well as reviewing current programs and implement further improvements for teachers such as the University of Hawaii COHORT program and a similar program with other universities.
NUA & SATELE TEAM
“The Nua and Satele team believe education is the keystone to achieve the desired quality of life and one of the key components of our platform,” said Tapumania.
They support the proposal of ASDOE becoming an Authority, as it “would allow maximum quality and flexibility to make decisions [but] it would take a while to create an authority.”
In the interim, “we are proposing that we establish a commission, through an executive order, that would be able to address the needs of teachers right away, [and] this commission, has to have some teachers — so teachers can have a voice,” he said.
Tapumania said, “We believe that there are three things we need to have in order to address the needs of the teachers,” and noted that one of them is that “we must make sure that we invest in teacher qualifications.”
“Qualify, meaning they have to have the credentials that they need in order for them to present a viable curriculum to our children.”
He reminded the audience that teachers are faced with a new challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with students at home with a portable device and teachers in the classroom.
“So we want to make sure that we provide them the kind of training needed. We also want to make sure that they are compensated for the value of the work that they do,” he continued. “We want also to make sure to provide stipends for teachers in order for them to have proper tools to teach our children. It is not fair that teachers have to use their own pay, that they have very little of, to try and get their classroom prepared.”
“So for us, Nua and Satele, we believe that we need to set aside a stipend, pay teachers so they don’t leave to look for better pay, [and] make sure that they are trained properly so they can teach our children,” he said and reiterated that “teaching is one of the most difficult professions.”
Samoa News will have more in future editions on other questions asked of the candidates.