Education in TuvaluThe South Pacific nation of Tuvalu is comprised of only 11,000 citizens. Tuvalu’s small population and its remote location require a specialized economy. Tuvaluan citizens work in tourism, agriculture, an increasingly respected internet domain and a prevalent maritime industry. However, education in Tuvalu is seeing a rising failure rate compared to Australia and other neighboring countries.

Primary Education

Tuvaluan children attend primary school starting at age seven. Nearly a sixth of Tuvalu attends one of the 11 primary schools across the small country. Despite the high percentage of Tuvaluans in primary school, there is a relatively small teacher-to-student ratio — nearly 1:18 — and the country enjoys a 99 percent literacy rate.

Education in Tuvalu is compulsory for seven years and is free for its students. The accessibility of primary education is an incredible advantage for its citizens and paves the way for further education.

Secondary Education

While not compulsory, Tuvalu offers a strong secondary education system. Secondary schools such as the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute strive to integrate Tuvaluans into their seafaring industry. For students who don’t excel academically, Tuvalu has created vocational schools that help train students with technical skills for other jobs throughout the country.

On the far end of the spectrum, Tuvalu provides Community Training Centres for students who are unable to pass entry exams for secondary schools. Education in Tuvalu, therefore, allows training for every citizen. Despite this, failure rates are rising, putting a strain on the national economy.

Increasing Failure Rates

While the population has grown in Tuvalu, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has decreased. Since 2012, Tuvalu’s GDP has shrunk from an all-time high of nearly $40 million by nine percent. This may be explained, in part, by the increasing failure rates in Tuvaluan schools. In recent years, 40 percent of students applying for secondary education have failed their entrance examinations.

This discrepancy makes it clear that while students are required to go to primary school, a large portion of students are not taking advantage of the accessibility of secondary education in Tuvalu. Options at that point are scant; failing students are either pushed out of the educational system or must retake higher levels of primary school in order to achieve the required results. 

What Can be Done

Education in Tuvalu allows for easily accessible training. However, the increasing failure rates from primary schools are mirrored by a decreasing GDP. Educators are being brought in from neighboring countries, and Tuvaluans are experiencing the consequences of a decreasing economy.

Due to Tuvalu’s small population and specialized economy, options are limited for the 40 percent of failing students. Tuvalu would benefit from legislation and organizations that strive to raise pass rates among its students. It is vital that the country’s pass rates and GDP rise along with an increasing population.  

– Eric Paulsen

Photo: Flickr

Tuvalu is one of the smallest and most remote countries on Earth. The total land area of the country is approximately 26 square kilometers, or comparatively 0.1 times the size of Washington, DC. Located in Oceania, the country is an island group consisting of nine coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean with a population of 10,782.

Education System Restructure: Late 1990s

Prior to the restructuring of the education system in 1998, communities operated early childhood education and  had no support from the government. Preschools were operated under a voluntary basis and teachers were poorly appointed and often untrained. Tuvalu also did not have the proper infrastructure to support schools.

When education in Tuvalu was restructured, the following five strategies were put in place: the government would provide financial assistance to all preschools; formal training would be offered to preschool teachers; new salaries would be granted to preschool teachers; funds for building preschool classrooms were secured by the government; and preschool education linked with the primary section would be provided for three year olds.

Tuvalu’s education system at the primary level was also restructured and revamped. Goals and targets contained in the Tuvalu National Education Policy Document included compulsory education for all Tuvaluan children between the ages of six and 15, redesigning and strengthening the administration of the education system, access to education and training for all, development of a national curriculum, as well as improvements to school buildings, teacher training and programs for students with special needs.

Many other improvements and goals were to be met following the restructuring of the system. Children were not the only focus of the reform—education for survival with reference to community life skills was also made available. The skills that adults were offered included secretarial skills (typing, computing, office skills, etc.), carpentry, pluming, engineering and home economics.

Additionally, strategies were put in place to improve the overall quality of life and standards of living. Basic housing, clothing, water, food and nutrition, access to health and education as well as the ability to participate in community life and cultural pursuits strengthened the communities of Tuvalu.

Tuvalu Today

Many of the strategies and Millennium Development Goals have improved conditions in Tuvalu. For example, Tuvalu’s youth literacy rate (ages 15-24) rose from 95 percent in 1991 to 98.6 percent in 2007. The percentage of cohorts reaching grade five also rose dramatically from 72.7 percent in 2000 to 91.2 percent in 2004.

According to the IMF, although cases of extreme poverty are rare, poverty in Tuvalu has risen in the last few years despite improvements in education. Given Tuvalu’s limited land area, poor soil and geographic isolation, it is difficult to create large private-sector employment opportunities domestically. Therefore, citizens of Tuvalu will need to better utilize overseas job opportunities, including seafarer employment and the temporary labor migration scheme in New Zealand.

Vocational training will need to be strengthened in order to enhance the competitiveness of Tuvaluans for these important sources of foreign exchange earnings and to reduce poverty.

– Eastin Shipman

Sources: International Council for Open and Distance Education, UNESCO 1, UNESCO 2, UNESCO 3, CIA Factbook,