Education of the Marshall Islands

Education of the Marshall Islands
In traditional Marshallese society, the youth learned essential skills, concepts, and attitudes through direct involvement with family and community. Persons with special knowledge or skills trained selected apprentices to preserve the skills and cultural knowledge. In 1857, the Boston Missionary Society arrived to establish church schools on 22 atolls. The missionary schools continued to exist through German and Japanese occupations of the islands until shortly before World War II.


Upon landing, the American military government encouraged Marshallese pastors to reopen schools, but little or no supplies were available. A school for interpreters was established on Ebeye in June 1945. About 25 Marshallese completed the twelve week course. The United States Navy also established schools in the labor camps on Majuro and Ebeye to provide instruction in English.

In September of 1945, fifty prospective teachers were enrolled in a teacher training school on Majuro. A year later, they were sent out to open schools on the atolls, and fifty more trainees were given a year's training. The second group then relieved the first group who returned to Majuro for a second year of training. This continued until 1950 when the first commencement was held at the Marshall Islands Intermediate School (MIIS) with 12 graduates.

In July 1947, the Marshall Islands became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) administered by the United States Navy. The Department of Interior assumed administrative responsibility for the Trust Territory from the Navy in June 1951. Subsequently, a Trust Territory Department of Education was formed with District Departments of Education responsible for educating the islands' youth. In 1962, the tenth grade was added to Marshall Islands Intermediate School with another grade added each year until Marshall Islands High School graduated its first class of 13 in 1965.

The 1960's saw increases in the number of schools and an influx of American contract teachers and Peace Corps Volunteer English teachers. It was also a decade of increased teacher training with a push toward at least a high school equivalency. The Marshall Islands Teacher Education Center (MARTEC) was established in 1968 as a branch of the Pohnpei-based Micronesian Teacher Education Center (MTEC).

The 1970's brought an emphasis on the Associate of Science (AS) degree for teachers. The Micronesian Teacher Education Center officially became the Community College of Micronesia (CCM). The establishment of extension centers in each district to offer CCM courses accelerated the acquisition of AS degrees for many . A concerted effort was launched to develop curricula and materials for students. More and more expatriates were replaced by Micronesians at all levels of the Department of Education.

With the founding of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 1979, the District Education Department was replaced by the Ministry of Education headed by the Minister of Education, a member of the President's Cabinet and elected member of the national legislature, the Nitijela. The District Director of Education became the Secretary of Education.

In 1981, the College of Micronesia Cooperative Extension Program was expanded to the Marshall Islands to provide practical, non-credit education in the Federal Land Grant areas of agriculture and natural resources, home economics, and community resource development. In 1987, the college with its recently acquired School of Nursing and its Continuing Education and Cooperative Extension Service divisions were integrated under one administrator and relocated to its present campus. In 1989, the College of Micronesia- Majuro was established as an independent campus within the College of Micronesia system. The charter also designated COM-Majuro as a post-secondary agency for the Marshall Islands. The challenges of the 1980s to self-government were exacerbated by a rapidly increasing school-age population, deteriorating educational infrastructures, and decreasing funding for education. By 1988, there were no supplemental assistance for education.

The 1990s brought hope with the reinstatement of some supplemental assistance for education. The Ten-Year Education Master Plan, developed in 1989 with funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior could be implemented. Teacher and staff training could be programmed with short-term, mid-term, and long-term results. Programs and services to meet the needs of special populations could be initiated, expanded, and improved. Curriculum materials could be developed to facilitate student achievement toward the Curriculum Framework expectations; instructional equipment and supplies could be purchased to enhance classroom teaching and learning. The future of the RMI post-secondary agency was also hopeful as the college separated from the COM system and, in 1991, became accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC). On April 1, 1993, the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) was established as an independent institution with its own Board of Regents.

Elementary and Secondary Education

Today, compulsory education remains as age 6 through 14 or completion of eighth grade. A high school entrance examination is administered to all eighth graders to determine the approximately 300 students who will be admitted to the two public high schools each year. During the 1994-95 school year, 15,755 students were enrolled in 115 public and non- public primary and secondary schools in the Marshall Islands. Additionally, approximately 1,200 preschool children, ages 4 and 5, were enrolled at 36 Head Start program sites.

Public education consisted of 75 public primary schools, one middle school with grade eight, and two high schools, serving 10,384 students; non-public, government-supported education consisted of 26 primary schools and 10 high schools, serving 4,554 students. Fifty-one percent of all students were male, forty-nine percent were female. 512 teachers were employed by the public schools: 427 for primary schools, 19 for Majuro Middle School, and 63 for Marshall Islands High School and Jaluit High School. Additionally, 28 school or atoll-based principals and field officers and 34 system-wide education officers and specialists were employed. Non-public schools employed 297 teachers: 216 at primary schools and 81 at high schools. Nationwide average student-to-teacher ratios were public primary of 20:1, non-public primary of 15:1, public secondary of 16:1, and non-public secondary of 17:1. The average student-to-teacher ratios of public primary schools on Majuro and Ebeye were 23:1 and 24:1, respectively. Approximately 47% of the primary school teachers hold associate degrees for professional teacher certification; 2% have earned college and graduate degrees; and 51% are certified to teach with post-high school coursework. Among public secondary teachers, about 36% have earned college and graduate degrees; 32% have earned associate degrees; and 32% are high school graduates with post-high school coursework. There are 341 classrooms in 93 buildings in the public primary schools. 89% of the buildings are at least 20 years old; 18 must be replaced, 40 need major repair, and 20 are in need of minor repair. Sixty schools have no electricity. Upon completion of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) civil works projects, the 20 schools without toilet facilities will have "benjos"; and the 30 schools without accessible drinking water will have water catchments.

The education budget including subsidies to non-public schools is approximately $9,000,000. About 83% of the budget is from general funds and 13% from special funds such as U.S. grants; about 4% of the annual budget is capital improvement program funds. The total education budget represents about 13% of the government budget. The budget available for public primary and secondary schools less CIP funds means a per pupil allocation of less than $900.

Post-Secondary Education

Today the College of the Marshall Islands serves a range of students from high school graduates pursuing associate degrees in nursing, education, business, architectural engineering, and liberal arts to high school and non-high school completers engaged in other vocational education courses, certificate programs, adult education programs, continuing education programs, high school drop out intervention programs, and enrichment programs. In the 1994-95 school year, 1,149 students, approximately 400 per school year and summer semester, were enrolled at the college. 550 students were enrolled on a full-time basis and 599 on a part-time status. 356 students were registered for pre and in-service teacher education; 261 in nursing and allied health education, 176 in liberal arts, and 387 in vocational education. 92% of the students were Marshallese; 56% were male. The instructional staff consisted of 20 full-time and 5 part-time instructors during the school year and 17 part-time staff during the summer semester.

Initiatives during its first two years as an independent college included revision and strengthening of the core curriculum, expansion and refinement to the developmental English Program, review and restructuring of teacher education, development of a Marshallese Studies Program, establishment of a Student Services Support Program (SSSP), and strengthening of its physical and administrative infrastructures. Upward Bound and SSSP, the institution's second TRIO program, provide supplemental instruction to students with U.S. Department of Education funding. The Job Training Partnership Program (JTPA), funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, supplements, complements, and furthers the advancement of the School-To- Work transition initiative. Outer-island outreach, technical assistance and research, U.S. nursing exchange, and extension campus programs were implemented to meet the needs of the college and Marshall Islands community.

In 1993-94, CMI realized unrestricted revenues from local appropriations, student tuition and fees, and other sources of $1,260,173; and restricted revenues from federal grants and contracts and other sources of $1,555,269. During the same period, expenditures from unrestricted revenues was $1,022,089 and from restricted revenues was $1,320,653. Of the latter amount, $806.000 was expended on student aid.