Vanua, Indigenous Knowledge, Development and Professional Support for Teachers & Education
Nabobo-Baba, U. et.al. (2012).Fiji: University of the South Pacific-FALE & Native Academy Publishers. Four Parts, 412 pages. $40.00USD. (Paperback).ISBN: 978-982-01-0886-8.
[Unaisi Nabobo-Baba; Sereima Naisilisili; Samu Bogitini; Tupeni Lebaivalu Baba With Govinda Lingam]
The University of the South Pacific (USP), one of two regionally owned universities in the world-the other being the University of West Indies serves its 12 member Pacific Island countries where much of the population live in rural, remote and isolated islands. These “unseen” populace and their realities are necessary to our discourses and debates in education and development. The ideas and philosophies of their ways of life, their struggles, their responses to development needs of the school and of teaching as a profession, must be researched and should constitute an important agenda of research. The Academy in this case the USP must continue to find ways to attend to rural students, schools, teachers and communities in creative ways, The challenges of a regional institution like USP to do so and do so effectively will continue to pose challenges – challenges that are decades old as well as those that are as old as the countries themselves.
In the vanua (tribe) context, the regional university evidently like the government that pays the teachers and provides the school curriculum must work with and acknowledge vanua processes. Community processes like the vanua processes as in the case of Udu schools mediate how schools, teachers carry out their business. An understanding of the context of the community especially its decision making processes and economic power bases may enhance the academy in its attempt to “reach” rural teachers. This is also true of Government in its attempt to service rural schools and their communities given that local governance processes in Fiji’s 20 year history of military coups, as well as globalisation, pose new possibilities and challenges to teachers and schools in rural and remote places. Advances in ICT is proving to be a solution but can also create further digital divide if care is not taken to address not exacerbate existing disparities among the rich and poor within regions of a country like Fiji and other Pacific islands countries. Begs the question – Must a university heavily subsidise its services in order that its third world clientele get the development “goods” others elsewhere enjoy?. The role of national governments in ICT development and access for its rural communities also come into question here. Perhaps regional alternatives too of access and equity to education and training are needed and may be an agenda for regional leaders’ fora as education has historically been a force for good but it has also been a force that promotes inequity and differential delivery. The future must see us continually asking questions to redress past inequalities and address potential future developments of the same.
Guided closely by post-colonial critiques of knowledge and especially of the attempt worldwide to question the dominance of certain knowledge framings in research and writing, the study conscientiously framed its work given the methodological debates by Smith (1999) and the alternatives to methodologies (Grant and Giddings, 2002). This is to ensure the IK and processes of Fijians and specifically Udu peoples are embraced and acknowledged. The study utilized ethnographic techniques of in-depth interviews, participant observations and document study. The study was guided closely by Fijian Vanua Research Frameworks honouring local wisdoms and processes of knowledges, indigenous to context. This is why the book also highlights iluvatu as metaphor and derivative of Vanua framings to situate its findings and processes in the vanua Cuku (as home of the iluvatu mat) and Udu Point.
Decolonizing research allows us to refine institutional agendas to serve the under-privileged, the “unseen”. Rural and remote places also are places of positive struggles and sheer hard work and determination. Tribal Pacific indigenous responses to development, education and schooling as well as continuous research into our educational practices will provide us new insights into professional development ideas, models and strategies for such “far –away” places. Research such as this provide fresh and deep insights into of teachers, students and school communities we serve especially within the post colonial framings and notions of “voice” and access and equity. Suggestions for policy in educational ICT and teacher development are also highlighted. The book written by organic intellectuals provide as well an interesting perspective in the role women play in school and development of island peoples not often publicly acknowledged. The reflective pieces in the last part by the authors suggest the authors are not only engaging in theoretical masterfully scripted ideas but are effectively persons that live and have come through rural, remote island realities and have made it through schools and makes the book all the more interesting, deeply moving and interesting