The Kiribati Government acknowledges the importance of providing a relevant and quality education for all children in improving the socio-economic outlook for the country as a whole.
A qualified domestic work force is imperative for Kiribati to progress. Currently, Kiribati’s economic prospects are hampered by low skill levels.
Kiribati achieves almost universal access to primary education. In Kiribati schooling is free up to Junior Secondary level and attendance is compulsory however enforcement is difficult.
The Kiribati Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport runs approximately 115 schools educating more than 24,000 children.
However, many problems exist within the education sector and only around one third of children finish secondary school.
The Kiribati Government provides “free” primary and lower secondary education. The Government covers the cost of school fees but there are many other fees that the family must cover to educate their children such as the cost of uniforms and school supplies.
Senior Secondary School education has further problems such as high drop out rates, gender disparities and education quality issues.
Senior Secondary School church based schools generally do not provide financial support to poor students (with the exception of some limited help).
Access to tertiary education is difficult.
Pre-school and Primary Schooling
Pre-school and primary schooling is provided throughout Kiribati.
The Kiribati Government provides free compulsory education for children up to 12 years of age (until the end of Class six). It further provides free education until the end of Junior Secondary School (Form 3).
Junior Secondary Schools
Junior secondary schools are present on most islands.
Senior Secondary Schools
The three main reasons for the low senior secondary school participation rate is :
- Children failing to pass the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination (Form 3/Year 9)
- Insufficient places in senior secondary schools
There are few senior secondary schools and they are mainly on South Tarawa.
For children on Outer Islands this generally means that to continue their education they need to relocate to South Tarawa for senior secondary school. This has two main negative impacts – the children have to leave their home and family (stay with relatives or board) and they may choose to not return back to their original locality after schooling increasing the population in South Tarawa.
Students going to senior secondary school pay fees. This is a huge burden for the child and family and often makes it impossible for the child to continue their education.
Due to the limited places at senior secondary schools and tertiary education institutions many students are repeating an educational year. This adds burden to the education system as well as the family.
The Kiribati Government provides financial assistance as scholarships to the best-performing students. However, these scholarships mainly benefit those who are better off and those living in South Tarawa.
Protestant and Catholic churches are the main providers of senior secondary education in Kiribati. Church schools educate approximately three quarters of senior secondary school students while Government schools educate around a quarter. Generally, church based schools did not offer financial support to students.
Tertiary education opportunities in Kiribati are limited.
The Maritime Training Centre and the Fisheries Training Centre provide training for seamen.
The Kiribati Institute of Technology offers vocational training.
The University of the South Pacific offers a one-year foundation course. However, this is a transition course to allow the student to continue studying at the university’s main campuses in Fiji and Vanuatu.
In addition there is the Kiribati Teacher’s College, the Kiribati School of Nursing and the Kiribati Police Academy.
A major problem with tertiary education is that it may not provide skills demanded by employers in Kiribati or the wider region. Even after being educated there is a lack of public/private sector jobs and opportunities for self-employment.
Problems in the Education Sector
Many children leave school early and do not continue their education into senior secondary school.
Teaching quality may need improvement as many teachers for not having the minimum training required.
Inadequate English skills prevent I-Kiribati from obtaining jobs overseas. This is a major disadvantage compared to other Pacific Islanders. This is partly due to the fact that many teachers tend to teach in the Kiribati language even though the secondary school curriculum is in English.
The curriculum may not provide skills demanded by employers in Kiribati or the wider region.
The teaching environment and school infrastructure quality are inadequate (such as many buildings in need of repair).
Many schools have an inadequate water supply and the lack of working toilets poses a health hazard to the students.
Vandalism or theft of school property is a major issue. There is a lack of a sense of ownership/responsibility for school facilities by the community as Island Councils tend to feel that the repairs are the responsibility of Kiribati Government. This diverts resources from education to asset management and maintenance.
Primary and junior secondary schools do not charge school fees however they are not without cost to parents.
Parents have to cover additional costs such as special events, school supplies and uniforms.
Often families of children attending junior secondary school may have to pay travel costs because junior secondary schools are further away from their village.
These additional costs can be a large burden on poor families and may result in children not attending school.
Outer island schools are generally disadvantaged because they often have poorer facilities and less qualified teachers.
Due to remoteness it is more difficult for the Ministry of Education to supervise these schools.
Fewer rural students qualify to enter secondary school than in urban schools. This is partly due to outer island children having less fluency in English.