Considering that it gained sovereignty 23 years ago, there is much work to be done regarding education in Palau. The Republic of Palau, which proclaimed independence from the United States in 1994 (after becoming a post-World War II trust territory), is comprised of 16 states. It lies 722 nautical miles east of Guam in the Pacific and consists of more than 200 islands spread out over 177 miles.

Teacher training greatly impacts education in Palau. In 2013, the Ministry of Education in Palau directed all teachers to take a practice teacher certification test from the Educational Testing Service called the Praxis I Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST). The test contributes to one of the initiatives in the Master Plan for Educational Improvement for 2006–16 established by the Ministry.

The test measured skills in reading, writing and mathematics to determine whether the teachers were qualified to teach. The results were unsatisfactory. The average scores were 29 percent in math, 43 percent in reading and 35 percent in writing. Only 62 percent of the teachers reported having earned a postsecondary degree, and teachers with seven or more years of experience scored lower than their peers. Not only did teachers with less experience score better, but they also reported higher English proficiency, levels of education and tended to teach upper elementary or high school students.

In 2015, 60 percent of elementary teachers claimed high school as their highest level of education. Compare that with Palauan high school teachers: 36 percent earned an associate’s degree and 50 percent earned a bachelor’s degree. While these figures are low, the 2015 figures are higher than those from 2014.

Despite these shortcomings, Palauan census records reveal astonishing improvements in student retention and college education. In 2015, not quite 21 percent of those 25 or older went beyond a high school education. By the time of this report, the percentage of those who attended one to three years of college had also greatly increased, to nearly 64 percent for those 25 or older. This means that college education in Palauan teachers has risen by 45 percent since the year 2000.

While there is much progress left to be made in the arena of Palauan education, it appears to be on the right track, particularly as the country has made its development a priority. Its last plan was not incredibly successful, but it now has a place from which to build. If Palau continues to utilize the PPST, develops additional training for teachers and accepts some of the more highly-educated citizens into its ranks, it is possible for Palau to continue to drastically improve its educational system.

Emma Tennyson

Photo: Flickr