'An education system characterised by equity' : a critical evaluation of educational change in Samoa, 1995-2005 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The problem investigated in this thesis arose from my professional practice as a consultant with regard to educational reforms in a number of countries, including Samoa. This created an initial interest in why different policy options were chosen by different countries in response to similar problems. Observation of the implementation of reforms in various contexts also created questions as to why the implementation of reforms often seemed to lead to new formulations of the original arrangements, resulting in development but little change.
A prior review of evaluations of educational reform programmes showed that many educational evaluations are confined to matters of technical advice inputs, resource management and the achievement of milestones. This study however, considers other factors relevant to the successful achievement of an educational reform programme situated within a particular social, political and historical context.
In particular, this thesis reports on a critical evaluation of the development, between the mid-1980s and 1994, of a policy aimed at producing an education system “characterised by equity” (Department of Education, 1995) in Samoa and then on the results of the implementation of that policy between 1995-2005. The study focused first on the differences in the performance of student groups based in the national Year 8 secondary school selection examination and in their subsequent access to secondary schooling and to the achievement outcomes in Year 12 over the period between 1994 and 2008. Information was gathered through analysis of national examination results databases. Additional information was gathered through interviews and questionnaires from senior educational system managers and from the principals of a sample of four secondary schools. Questionnaires, aimed at gathering socio-economic data, were administered to 2000 students and their families from Years 9, 11, 12 and 13 at the sample schools. The evidence showed little change in the patterns of achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. The system had expanded but the patterns of inequity remained unchanged.
The reasons for the selection of the reform options that resulted in the maintenance of disparities through the 1995-2005 programme were found in the history, culture and political setting of Samoa.
Because of the small size and ethnic and cultural homogeneity of the population, the evaluation was based on the theories of Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s concepts of field practice and habitus showed how the policy options included in the reform programme were influenced by an underlying habitus that generated the desire for change but also constrained the achievement of the stated aim of a “system characterised by equity”.
The research showed how the historical background to the patterns of advantage within the system and the structure and patterns of advantage that resulted from the reforms continued beyond the reform.