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Official Country Name: Independent State of Western Samoa
Region: Oceania
Population: 179,466
Language(s): Samoan (Polynesian), English
Literacy Rate: 97%

The Independent State of Samoa, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, comprises nine islands that are volcanic in origin. The capital is Apia and is located on Upolu. The government is described as being a constitutional monarchy, and Samoan and English are the official languages. As of July 2000, approximately 179,466 people were in the country, and the literacy rate was 97 percent.

In 1900 Samoa was appropriated by Germany. During World War I, the armed forces of New Zealand occupied the country. After the war, Samoa remained under the control of New Zealand for the next 41 years. In 1961 the people voted for independence, and the United Nations General Assembly voted to terminate the trusteeship. Western Samoa became independent on January 1, 1962.

In 1995, the government formalized its education plan, which ensures a policy framework and strategy for educational development across the area. The documents include segments on early childhood education, primary education, secondary education, teacher education, special needs education, department and school management, as well as postsecondary education and training.

The Samoan educational system is patterned after that of New Zealand. In 1994, school attendance was made mandatory for all children from 5 to 14 years of age or until completion of the eighth grade. There are 139 primary schools, 21 junior secondary schools, and 4 senior secondary schools that are administered by the Director of Education and four assistant directors. The Department of Education is headquartered in Malifa.

Twenty-two educational districts are attended to by 23 field administrators. The people are responsible for supervising staff performance, staffing of schools, and transferring of teachers. They also oversee school administration and educational programs. Families and the government share the responsibility of school financing. The government is liable for the salaries of teaching and administrative personnel, while the village or district owns the school buildings and equipment.

There are 38 nongovernmental schools that are run by their own directors and school boards. These schools are largely self-financed, but some funds do come from the government. The villages that own them run the primary and junior secondary schools. School committees, which are called Komiti fa'atino oAoga, are the school managers. The committee consists of the principal, inspector, pastor (pulenu'u), and villagers.

There are 157 schools located throughout the country. Primary school enrollment is approximately 36,000 students. Forty-eight percent of the students are female; however, their attendance is irregular. Some of the schools are overcrowded and in a state of disrepair.

During the first six years, students are taught in Samoan, with English being introduced orally during the third year. In the seventh and eighth years, English is the language of instruction.

After eight years of school, students take a national examination. The rationale behind the exam is the need to rank students for selection into secondary schools.

Throughout the secondary education system, the mode of instruction is English. Samoan can be taken as a separate course. The secondary program is five years in duration and is divided into a three-year junior secondary program, which is followed by a two-year senior secondary program. Entry into the senior secondary program is highly selective.

Progress through the system is tied to three examinations. The tests are administered locally, utilizing trained examiners with assistance provided by the South Pacific Board of Educational Assessment team. Students in their thirteenth year are given the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate Examination. Performance in this test is instrumental in determining the students' academic future; the most successful gain entry into the university preparatory year.

The National University of Samoa (Le Iunivesite Aoao O Samoa) was created in 1984 with 45 students who were actually in the university preparatory year. The first degree, a Bachelor's in Education, was offered in 1987. In 2001, the university offers bachelors degrees in Samoan studies, English, history, sociology, geography, education, and commerce. The institution also offers certificates and diplomas in various disciplines, and there is one graduate program in teaching.

Tuition at the university is very reasonable. Students who are citizens of Samoa are charged $60 per course for degree programs, while international students pay $150.

It appears that Samoan education is in the midst of a growth period. Since 1995 they have established minimum standards for buildings, furniture, restrooms, equipment, and water supplies. The system is also enforcing established teacher-learner ratios. Additionally, there is a program to facilitate the development and distribution of curriculum materials to grades one through eight, and a pre-service and in-service teacher training program focusing on literacy and bilingual teaching methods has been developed. However, some of the school facilities are still in poor condition and inadequately equipped, and many of the teachers are under-trained.


Chandra, Subhas. Catholic Education in Western Samoa: A Review. SUVA, Institute of Education University of the South Pacific, 1990.

Howe, K.R. Where the Waves Fall: A New South Sea Islands History, from the First Settlement to Colonial Rule. Hawaii, 1984.

Johnson, R.T. Observations of Western Samoan Culture and Education. Unpublished manuscript. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Bureau of Educational Research, 1962.

National University of Samoa, 2001. Available from http://www.nus.edu.ws/general/history.html.

—Morgan Peterson

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