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The education policy of the Presbyterian church of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) 1948 - 1980

Lake, Barry Martin (1985) The education policy of the Presbyterian church of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) 1948 - 1980. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Presbyterian Mission began its work in the New Hebrides in 1848. From this point onwards the work gradually spread throughout the islands. Evangelization, medical care and education formed the three-fold basis upon which the Mission pursued its tasks. This approach was not unusual; the Christian Church had long directed its efforts towards these ends wherever its missionaries had ventured. What was unusual in the case of the New Hebrides was the length of time which the Missions had to carry the work of education, and to a lesser degree medical care.

In the absence of any formal government to begin with, and later the lack of resolve of the Condominium Administration, the Missions were left with no alternative but to press on with their own educational structures. The Presbyterians carried the greater portion of this burden.

From the outset, "education" meant teaching in the vernacular in order to enable the native people to read the Bible - translation of which formed a major undertaking for the early missionaries. This concept survived for close to one hundred years. The system prevailed throughout at the village level. The only other educational enterprise which existed during the period was the Tangoa Training Institute. Begun in 1895, it became the focal point for the training of teacher-catechists. That the Institute perpetuated a low standard of education throughout the islands was early recognized. Yet the situation persisted.

During the early decades of the twentieth century it became apparent that a number of New Hebrideans were seeking a form of education which had not to date been offered; something more in keeping with the capacity to enter secular areas of employment. The Church was reluctant to enter such a field. Industrial training was often mooted but never seriously contemplated. A number of Presbyterian leaders did, however, perceive the inadequacy of the form of education being offered. Something was needed to broaden the horizons beyond the narrow limits of a religious education. It was abundantly obvious that the government would not fulfil the requirements. The Church, knowing full well that by nature the task did not belong to it, took up the challenge for the sake of the people it served.

The 1940's witnessed extensive efforts in the educational field. The Tangoa Institute was upgraded and this strengthened the teaching at the village level. District schools began to be established and were added to in the 1950's. The Presbyterian hospital became the training centre for medical workers. Educational work among women received considerable attention. In 1953 the Presbyterians opened Onesua High School. The concept of education for nationhood began to be the goal.

The 1950's were years in which the Presbyterian Church attempted to gain a substantial commitment from the British Government to education. Progress was slow, but in the meantime the French Government was establishing its own schools. It was realized by leaders of the Church that the Mission schools were far from adequate. Eventually the British Administration did begin to respond. In 1957 the Bay Report on education was commissioned. A British Education Officer was appointed in 1959. There followed the setting up of the British Education Advisory Committee.
These moves opened a new era in the field of education. The Presbyterians, for their part, appointed an Education Secretary to centralize procedures and to Iiaise with the British Education Officer.

With the establishment of the Kawenu Teachers College in 1962, under the sponsorship of the British, the end of the Tangoa Training Institute was in sight. The British Secondary School (BSS), which opened in Vila in 1966, had a strong academic emphasis. It became necesary for Onesua High School to adapt its procedures in order to fit in with the requirements of the BSS. At this time the British were financially committed to Presbyterian schools through grants-in-aid. But there was already a plan for the withdrawal of the Presbyterian Church from the primary sector; this took place in 1971.

Having released this considerable area of work, the Church found that it was now possible to enter upon some new initiatives in education. But aside from setting up a number of new educational institutions in the 1970's, the Presbyterian Church found that part of its role touched upon the political sphere. Christian Education during this time took on distinct political overtones as the struggle for the independence of the New Hebrides intensified.

When independence came on 30 July 1980, the Presbyterian Church could look back on one hundred and thirty years of educational endeavour. Having begun with fairly narrow objectives in education, the succeeding years were to bring a remarkable diversity of operations. The legacy of this work was perhaps best reflected in the struggle for independence and its ultimate success, for many of the New Hebridean leaders at that time had been educated in Presbyterian schools. Nationhood had been one of the goals of the educational efforts. But the Church had not lost its initial aim of evangelization. In fact, the early work of missionaries and teacher-catechists had laid the foundation for a widespread commitment to Christianity. Later educational work never neglected its primary objective. The success of the endeavour is perhaps best seen in the close relationship which the ni-Vanuatu (New Hebrideans) themselves see between Church and State. On the negative side, the Church had become part of the process of division among the people. At no po!nt was there any attempt to collaborate with the French in educational matters. In fact, just the opposite was the case. Hence anti-French sentiments were sown with the teaching through the medium of English. This divisive structure, the legacy of the Condominium Government, and to some extent the Church, is today perhaps no more in need of remedy than in the field of education.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Smart, Don
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