|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1995 (Issue 96) - Education and Culture (UNESCO, 1995, 264 p.)|
|OPEN FILE: EDUCATION AND CULTURE|
Konai Helu Thaman (Tonga)
A distinguished Tongan academic and former Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. She currently holds a position as Reader in Education at the university. She is one of the best known poets in the South Pacific, with three volumes of poetry published in recent years.
In the tradition of contemporary Western discourse, I begin with definitions of culture and education, since my own socialization in a small Pacific island kingdom may have caused me to see things differently than most readers. For the purposes of this paper, I define culture as the way of life of a discrete group of people. It includes language together with an associated body of accumulated knowledge, understandings, skills, beliefs and values. I regard culture, therefore, as central to our understanding of human relationships, particularly cross-cultural relationships.
I define education as an introduction to worthwhile learning, and distinguish among formal, non-formal and informal education. Formal education is organized and institutionalized learning, such as that which occurs in schools and universities; non-formal education is organized but non-institutionalized learning; and informal education is unorganized and non-institutionalized learning. The first type of education was introduced to most of our islands in Oceania in the early part of the nineteenth century.
My definition of culture is inclusive of the education system of a people because, for most of the indigenous communities of Oceania, culture is something that is lived and continually demonstrated as a matter of behaviour and performance. Oceanic peoples - variously described by Western scholars as Melanesian, Polynesian or Micronesian - generally have cultural identities and world-views which emphasize place and their links to the vanua/fonua/ples (inadequately translated into English as 'land'), as well as networks of exchange and/or reciprocal relationships.
Although Oceania is characterized by cultural diversity, its people share common colonial histories and have suffered the same consequences of colonialism, whether it be French, British or American. Although colonial and imperial forces transformed many aspects of our cultures, some important aspects have persisted despite the imposition of foreign values, languages, religions and systems of education.
Schooling and cultural change
The introduction of formal education to Oceania last century meant the promotion, through the manifest as well as the hidden curriculum, of the dominant values and ideologies of European cultures (the United Kingdom and France in particular) and, more recently, of Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Until then, education had been largely informal, although there is evidence of non-formal education aimed at teaching specialized skills and knowledge such as those relating to warfare and navigation in the case of males, and various craft-related skills for females.
These non-formal and informal education processes were disrupted by the introduction of schooling, which was carried out first by European missionaries and later by colonial governments. In their quest to 'civilize' and convert our forefathers and foremothers, these foreigners provided orthographies for some of our languages and taught some of our people to read and write. More importantly however, the foreigners tried to teach them to reject those aspects of Pacific cultures which they regarded as detrimental to their purposes, whether motivated by religious faith or economic gain. Thus, important aspects of Pacific cultural traditions, including those relating to education, have at best been devalued and at worst destroyed. Goldsmith (1993, p. 285) is harsh in his description of the situation:
The colonial powers sought to destroy the cultural patterns of traditional societies largely because many of the essential features prevented traditional people from subordinating social, ecological and spiritual imperatives to the short-term economic ends served by participation on the colonial economy. There is no better way of destroying a society than by undermining its educational system.
The legacy of colonial education remains. Contemporary education, from primary to tertiary, continues to be mainly concerned with training the peoples of Oceania for a career in the urban industrial sector or, more generally, in the cash economy. It is not concerned with cultural development. This has several consequences. One is urban drift: primary school-leavers desert the villages for the towns, secondary school-leavers move to the capital cities to find work, and graduates from tertiary institutions choose to use their new-found skills in metropolitan countries. Instead of providing our societies with a means of cultural renewal, formal education is providing them with a means of assuring their cultural demise.
This is because, during the past twenty years, formal education has increasingly come to be seen by the leaders of Oceania as the base for modern development and the key to success in the global economy. Indigenous Pacific Island cultures are perceived as having little contribution to make towards the achievement of economic goals. Only those elements of our cultures which are regarded as potentially important for economic development are valued. These include, for example, certain types of traditional rituals, ceremonies, modes of dress, crafts and performing arts that are used to promote tourism. The result is that an increasing number of Pacific Island people are unable to renew themselves culturally, and therefore are doomed to become isolated and alienated in the towns and cities of Oceania, as well as in the foreign countries to which many have migrated.
Schooling and Tongan notions of education
There are also less visible signs of the impact of formal education on Pacific Island societies. One is the way schooling has affected our notions of what education and the educated person are, which in turn can affect what we consider worthwhile to learn and to teach. Later I shall illustrate this with reference to the evolution of three Tongan educational ideas: namely ako, 'ilo and poto. But first, a brief look at schooling itself.
We know that throughout history, societies have differed in terms of what they consider to be worthwhile to transmit to their young. Most societies, however, share the view that education should aim at ensuring 'the cultural continuation of the group, race or nation, transmitting knowledge, skills and values from the mature to the immature either informally through the social milieu or formally through the school' (Gutek, 1972, p. 11). These worthwhile patterns and values of a culture usually are reflected in its language and especially in its meaning.
In Tonga, as in most parts of Oceania, schools developed not, as Shipman (1971) has suggested, because the social organization had become too complex, but rather because foreign missionaries wanted to convert Tongans to Christianity and 'civilize' them. Gradually, as the missions and new-styled (colonial) governments required clerks, school teachers, nurses and other types of workers, the school came to serve the function of mobilizing labour.
As in most indigenous Pacific Island societies, early Tongan education was informal (i.e. unorganized, worthwhile learning) and aimed at the continuation of the social order and the maintenance of the status quo - what Shipman (1971, p. 70) calls 'cultural continuity'. For over three thousand years, this type of education prepared Tongans to fit their societal roles and to keep their desires and knowledge within the limit of their social positions and island environments. Where learning was organized (as in the case of the education of some members of the aristocracy), the values taught did not conflict with those of the larger society; in fact, they reflected the nature of the society. Persons were instructed in the specific knowledge and skills of acceptable behaviour, as well as in the practical skills needed for survival and the continuation of the culture (Cummins, 1977).
This largely informal and non-formal education was provided within the 'api (household) and to some extent within the wider community of kinsfolk. Education was effected in a variety of ways, but most of all through myths, legends, dance, poetry, song, proverbs and certain rituals such as the 'inasi (the annual presentation of the 'first fruits' to the Tu'i Tonga, or divine leader). But in the early part of last century, this pragmatic approach to worthwhile learning had to be widened in order to accommodate the new European knowledge and the new approaches to acquiring that knowledge - predominantly gained from books and the institution of the school.
In school, education was associated with learning those things which the missionaries deemed important in their perceptions of a good, pious and economically productive life. The emphasis of learning shifted from the 'here and now' and the practical, to the 'there and then' and the abstract. As can be expected, there was a basic conflict between the values promoted by the school and those of the pupils' culture. This conflict continues to exist among a large proportion of students, not only in Tonga, but also in other parts of the Pacific (for example, see Ninnes, 1995), creating what Little (1990, p. 4) calls the 'learning gap'.
The Tongan cultural values which underpinned Tongan education included emphases on: the spiritual and supernatural; formal conformity; rank and authority; kinship and interpersonal relationships; 'ofa (compassion); and restrained behaviour (Thaman, 1988). Such values were important in maintaining and continuing a culture which was group-oriented rather than individual-oriented, as reflected in Tongan notions of ako, 'ilo and poto.
Analyzing Tongan educational ideas
In the tradition of Western education, it generally is accepted that the primary aim of analysis is clarification. My own analysis of Tongan educational concepts involved four simple tasks: examining the word in which the idea is expressed; examining how the word is used in different contexts; determining whether the meaning is educational or non-educational (i.e., pertaining to worthwhile education or not); and determining what the meaning implies or presupposes.
The terms ako, 'ilo and poto and their derivatives have been used widely within the context of Tongan education. Accepting that there was no single standard use of words in ordinary language and that some philosophers tend to stress certain uses rather than others (Langford, 1973), I tried to identify as many types of uses as possible for each term (Thaman, 1988).
The earliest reference to the meaning of 'aco' (sic) is by Martin in 1827. He attributed to it the meaning 'to teach, or to learn' (Martin, 1827, p. ix). Ako also was a term used to denote teaching and learning in a society where everyone was expected to perform certain roles in accordance with various predetermined hierarchies which were expressed through a complicated network based largely on kinship relationships. A person learned mainly through observing, listening to and imitating others. When the need arose, specific skills and knowledge (for example, knowledge of navigation and warfare) were taught by those who were responsible for imparting such knowledge.
Current usages of the term ako provide some clues as to the evolution of the concept, as well as how social and cultural changes have affected and transformed its meaning. Today, ako is variously used to mean: to learn, the learning process, instruction, training, to study, to practise, schooling, to receive instruction and the formal education system. Figure 1 gives several examples.
FIGURE 1. Examples of the use of the word ako.
TO LEARN REPEATEDLY OR TO PRACTICE:
THE FORMAL EDUCATION SYSTEM:
A derivative of ako, faiako, is used to refer to a teacher or instructor. (The prefix fai is commonly used to denote doing something or making it happen. In this sense, faiako implies 'making learning' or bringing about learning.) Faiako is closely associated with formal education, since in informal contexts people learn largely through observation, listening and imitating those who possess the desired skills and knowledge. Today, the term kau faiako is used almost exclusively to refer to school teachers.
According to Koskinen (1968), 'ilo was used widely among Polynesian peoples to denote what he called 'seeing'. In Tonga, 'ilo is used in a variety of ways. As a verb it means to find, to recognize, to discover, to know, to experience and to understand. As a noun it refers to information about something or someone, as well as to different types of knowledge and skills. In Tongan, 'ilo refers both to the process of knowing and to the knowledge itself.
Koskinen also suggests that 'ilo may be obtained naturally or through active searching, studying or learning. Tongans distinguish between 'ilo which is public and passed on from adults to young people through observation and imitation and 'ilo which is more restrictive and personal. For someone to have 'ilo implies that she or he has gone through a prior stage of either searching, learning or studying. Hence, 'ilo may be said to be the end result of ako (learning).
Educational uses of 'ilo
'Ilo is used in a variety of ways, including to see, to find, to recognize, to find out, to discover, to know, to experience, to be well informed and to understand. It also refers to knowledge itself and may be used as an adverb meaning knowingly. Figure 2 presents uses of the word 'ilo.
FIGURE 2. Examples of the use of the word 'ilo.
TO FIND (AS A RESULT OF A SEARCH):
TO RECOGNIZE SOMEONE OR SOMETHING:
TO FIND OUT:
TO BE WELL-INFORMED OR KNOWLEDGEABLE:
KNOWLEDGE OR INFORMATION:
Derivatives of 'ilo: Various derivatives of 'ilo such as faka'ilo, faka'iloa and faka'ilo'ilo are also commonly used in educational contexts. Faka'ilo is a causative form which means 'to make known or to inform'. For example, when news of a death is made known to someone, we say, 'Na 'e faka'ilo e putu ki a me'a ... (So and so was informed of the death of ... ) Faka'ilo'ilo means to learn gradually or slowly, or to become accustomed to someone or something: Na'e faka'ilo 'a Mele ki he 'alu po'uli (Melo became accustomed to going out at night).
The above examples are considered educational because they are associated with learning. They reflect the fact that 'ilo denotes the understanding of something because it expresses different aspects of knowing, as well as the knowledge and activities that help learning (ako) because it is linked both to finding and seeing. In the context of knowing, 'ilo is not something that occurs automatically. One who has 'ilo has special insight into something which implies learning, studying and understanding. Thus, we may conclude that ako is an important and necessary condition of 'ilo.
Poto is the fundamental concept of Tongan education (McCrae, 1986; Thaman, 1988). However, the pre-contact meaning of poto simply denoted cleverness and skill. Churchward (1959, p. 125), the author of the most comprehensive Tongan-English dictionary, defined poto as 'to be clever, skilful; to understand what to do and be able to do it'. Another linguist, Schneider (1977, p. 60), more or less agrees. Among his suggestions are intelligent, knowledgeable, skilful, clever and wise. Like most terms, poto is used by Tongans in a variety of ways and contexts. Figure 3 demonstrates uses of the word poto.
A derivative of poto is fiepoto, a rather derogatory term which denotes pretending to be poto or imagining oneself to be clever - and therefore being presumptuous or conceited.
FIGURE 3: Examples of uses of the word poto.
TO HAVE ENOUGH SENSE OR INTELLIGENCE
TO LEARN A LESSON:
TO BE SKILFUL OR GOOD AT SOMETHING:
TO BE CLEVER AND SUCCESSFUL IN SCHOOL:
In relation to educational uses, various types of poto situations can be identified. 'Atamai poto denotes a good mind or intelligence, 'nima poto (clever hands) denotes good motor/manual skills and anga poto implies appropriate/acceptable behaviour. The modern Tongan poet, Mamae'apoto, used poto in the sense of utilizing one's knowledge and skills to survive in difficult situations such as when one meets an enemy (Colcott, 1928, p. 125). In such a situation, one had to know what to do and be able to do it well; in short, one had to be poto.
Relationship between ako, 'ilo and poto
Poto, in the context of Tongan education (ako) may be achieved through the appropriate use of 'ilo. Therefore, poto may be defined as the positive application of 'ilo (knowledge and understanding), and the 'educated person' (tokotaha poto) as the one who applies 'ilo with positive and successful results. Kavaliku (1966, p. 13) refers to the educated person, the one who is poto, as 'a man (sic) of wisdom, an ideal, a thing of value'. Someone who is not poto is vale - one who does not apply 'ilo positively. 'Ilo therefore, is a precondition of poto but it is through the positive application of 'ilo that one becomes poto.
For over one hundred years now, the school has come to be closely associated with all three concepts. School has been regarded as a major source of 'ilo. Children are sent to school in order to become poto. To become poto one had to be able to read, write and do simple arithmetic. By the turn of the century, those who had the new knowledge, as judged through passing school examinations, were considered poto and were referred to as kau poto - meaning 'the educated ones'. We may therefore conclude that poto was reconceptualized in order to include formal education.
However, this reconceptualization of poto did not go unnoticed. In 1931, for instance, Havea, a well-known schoolmaster and a tangata poto himself, compared the old and the new conception of poto in a poem, reminding his readers of the traditional basis of poto which was rooted in the value of maintaining good relations and helping one another, and not in attending school (Havea, 1931, p. 3).
In a recent study of the perceptions of Tongan teachers, I found that the majority of teachers interviewed considered school a place where children can become poto. But in clarifying their ideas, they emphasized the need for students to use their school knowledge ('ilo) for the welfare of others and not to be selfish with their education. 'What is the use of your degree, if you are only looking after yourself?' (Tu'itupou, 1981). Thus, modern education is valued in Tonga, not so much because it is good in itself, but because it helps people find jobs which in turn enables people to fulfil their social obligations to their respective groups - whether these be family, community, school, church or country. Such a utilitarian view of education is characteristic of traditional Tongan education, and is reflected in the three concepts discussed above.
What are the implications of these trends for Tongan culture and modern education in Tonga? For me, it means that all is not lost with regard to ensuring that children acquire useful Tongan cultural knowledge in school in order to survive in our rapidly modernizing world. This is based on the assumption that there are aspects of indigenous education which children will need for survival in the next century. Tongan teachers will emphasize these within the constraints of the school because of their cultural values. For such an 'educational synthesis' to be successful, educators need to critically analyze those values that underpin traditional education as well as Western, institutionalized education.
This is beginning to happen within the Pacific region. Already some Pacific Island educators, as well as educators in metropolitan countries, are questioning the values underpinning modern education and 'development'. Some see the dominant paradigm of scientific materialism as problematic in an age of global environmental concerns, shrinking resources, widespread social breakdown and political chaos. Some are looking for alternative world-views. The indigenous Pacific Island view of the world is one in which people are an integral part of the environment, not the masters of it. Beare and Slaughter (1994, p. 59-61) suggest that the scientific-industrial view of the world (which has dominated education in the Western world for the past 300 years) is now questionable even for Western societies. Unfortunately, our schools and universities continue to promote this scientific-industrial view, a view characterized by reductionism, positivism, materialism, objectivity, rationality, quantitative analysis and anti-enchantment (Harmann, 1988, p. 29-33). In this kind of education, indigenous and holistic views yield to the reductionist view in which knowledge has to be broken down into bits and pieces, and only people with specialized knowledge are permitted to teach it in schools (Beare & Slaughter, 1994). For over one hundred years, we too have promoted (or at least accepted) this view of education, one that is diametrically opposed to our traditional notions of ako, 'ilo and poto: a view that is characterized by an overemphasis on individual gain and competition, and not on maintaining good relationships; a view where the status of schools and teachers is based on the number of students who pass examinations irrespective of what is being learned or how their learning relates to the culture of which they are a part.
The irony is that although most teachers in Tonga perceive their role in a traditional sense - that of nurturing Tongan values and appropriate Tongan behaviour (Thaman, 1988) - many of them do not appreciate the fact that the scientific-industrial paradigm and its current manifestations (the rapidly expanding market economy, its associated growth-mania and consumerism) are really destructive and exploitative of their culture and its values. Although many may be aware of the impact of the market economy on their island ecosystems, its impact on themselves (as individuals and as groups within the society), particularly on their labour, their minds and their cultural relationships, are less understood and not well documented.
Why? Because those of us who are best placed to confront the issues are ourselves too cocooned in our Western scientific and materialistic education to be aware of what education is doing to our island environment in general and our cultural heritage in particular. In my view, the apparent degradation and desecration of many Pacific cultures and languages is due in large measure to the education systems we have inherited. The urgency with which we in the Pacific must tackle and critically analyze the knowledge which schools are imparting to our children cannot be overemphasized.
So what can be done to solve this educational dilemma, a dilemma which seems to be compromising our chance to evolve an education that would best serve our island societies in a rapidly changing world? It is my belief that Pacific Island educators (and I include myself in this category) must begin by critically examining those Western social-psychological theories and philosophies which have influenced our work in schools and institutions of higher learning for so long. Such theories include those which rely on a biological model of interaction and a view of personhood comprising a distinct, physically bounded, genetically determined, self-actualizing individual (Austin & Worchel, 1979; Strauss, 1977) as opposed to the view, prevalent in most of our island cultures, of persons being defined through their placement in different social settings (Linnekin & Poyer, 1990, p. 7).
Of tantamount importance is the need for us, Pacific Islanders, to go back and examine our various indigenous notions of education, health, wealth and government in order to see how it might be possible to salvage our educational institutions, and bring about changes to our formal education systems that incorporate our indigenous notions of education as well as those cultural values which have nurtured our societies for millennia.
Above all, we need to continue the process of reclaiming indigenous discourses by placing greater emphasis on our cultures and vernacular languages in our curriculum planning, teacher education and research activities. We need to continue to analyze indigenous structures, processes and emphases, and to find out about assumptions that underlie teaching and learning in our traditional societies. In this way, we may finally succeed in bringing about the kind of synthesis of the best of our cultures with that of our colonial mentors for the sake of learners in the twenty-first century; a century increasingly hailed as the 'Pacific Century'. If we delay or fail in our task, we will continue to witness the erosion and/or disappearance of our cultures and languages, as well as the type of education (ako) that provided the link between the two. This would ultimately lead to cultural and environmental bankruptcy, an affliction which has been an obstacle to sustainable development in much of the modern world.
for we cannot let anything
again keep us apart
mortgage our identity
or even sell our pride
we do not want to suffer pain
privately at the end
because we know deep inside
we've only ourselves to blame
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