Australian educational development assistance in the Republic of Nauru

    The Cairns Institute Research Fellow Dr Greg Burnett from JCU’s College of Arts, Society and Education, has recently returned from Nauru in the Central Pacific, where he spent 12 months as an Education Advisor to the Nauru Government. The advisory role, supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Australia-Pacific Partnerships Platform, was to begin implementation of the Nauru Education Programme (NEP), a 10-year, $40 million development aid project, funded by Australia. The NEP’s four end of project outcomes are: to improve school enrolment and attendance, particularly in the early years; improve learning outcomes for all children, particularly in terms of literacy; new and improved secondary to post-secondary school learning pathways; and strengthened and more inclusive education system delivery generally.

    Nauru has had a long-running, sometimes fraught, relationship with Australia beginning as a UN Trust Territory administered by Australia after WW2, through to being a source of cheap phosphate for Australia’s agriculture sector over several decades, to more recently as an offshore processing and detention centre for those arriving by boat in Australian waters seeking asylum. Over this time Australia has also been the main source of educational expertise flowing into Nauru, either via employment of Australian teachers in the early years through to current more formalised development aid arrangements, such as the NEP. Development assistance to Nauru must be understood in terms of Australia’s foreign policy concerning the Pacific - in regard to Australia’s own border protection and the rising assertiveness of China in the Pacific region.

    Initiatives led by Greg and Nauruan colleagues over the 12 months include, among others: changes to early years literacy teaching, with a greater focus on phonemic awareness; the establishment of an Inclusive Education Advisory Group, consisting of the Ministries of Education and Health to better support learners with a disability; and moves toward more culturally aligned Pacific approaches to schooling. The latter has emerged from key Pacific regional policy from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIFS) and the Pacific Community (SPC). Despite ongoing Australian influence, Nauru education is beginning to align itself with instrumentalities such as PIFS 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, the Pacific Regional Education Framework (PacREF) and the work of SPC’s Educational Quality and Assessment Programme (EQAP), all of which encourage Pacific nations to first look to island neighbours to meet development challenges. For those in Nauru education this is a new direction for positive change.

    Top image: Students from Nauru College, the junior secondary school (Years 6 to 8) at a morning assembly.

    Above image (left): Sacred Heart College Primary school staff, from left to right, Melania Matai, Eigoda Aiyunge, Laisa Ratunaisa and Prospina Stephen, workshopping new approaches to teaching literacy.  Above right) are Elvira Hubert (left), Inclusive Education Manager with Elmina Quadina (middle) and Queenie Teabuge (right), from the Able/Disable Centre, working on Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) for students. 

    Below image: A working lunch around the lazy susan with Nauru Departmentt of Education staff, from left to right: Josephine Dame, Fay Itaia, Chavannah Dowobabo, Lovita Detabene, Joel Joram, Kutan Ribauw, Greg Burnett, Bob Agigo, Priscilla Seymour, Rosario Taumea and Osanna Jeremiah.

    Images supplied by G Burnett.

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