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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 501-503

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Distance Education in the South Pacific:
Nets and Voyages

Distance Education in the South Pacific: Nets and Voyages, edited by Richard Guy, Toshio Kosuge, and Rieko Hayakawa. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, The University of the South Pacific, in association with Pacific Islands Nations Fund, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, 2000.ISBN982-02-0143-8; 315 pages, maps, figures, tables, photographs, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$10.00.

Distance Education in the South Pacific: Nets and Voyages is a comprehensive description of distance education practices in the South Pacific (Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia) in historical, geographic, economic, political, and technological contexts.

This book is a gem. The authors' distinctive styles and backgrounds reflect the great diversity of the region. Each of the seven chapters is a polished facet. Themes introduced in one essay are elaborated and extended in others, combining to both define specifics and encompass the larger issues. It has application beyond the limits of the region.

The volume came out of a conference of educators at the University of Hawai'i held in 1995 to consider how distance education could be used collaboratively in the Pacific. Distance education provides an opportunity for Island nations, particularly those with scarce natural resources, to strengthen their political and economic bases, through developing the skills and knowledge of their people in this information age.

Guy sets the stage by giving the background history of the South Pacific. Much of the variation in current educational practices is due to legacies of suzerain countries, whether British, New Zealand, French, Indonesian, or American. However, institutions such as the University of the South Pacific and University of Papua New Guinea advanced in response to regional needs. Collaborations in educational programs are important for developing a sense of regionality and addressing the complex issues of Pacific Island identity.

Matthewson, through research and poetry, relates the history of distance education in the region and particularly at the University of South Pacific. Supported and governed by twelve nation states, the University of the South Pacific is one of few universities in the world that is truly regional. It functions ina vast area,reachingsmall islands with hundreds of languages. It is also remarkable because distance-learning classes use the same faculty, "without prejudice" (63), and at the same pay, as for conventional courses.

The University of the South Pacific supports a centralized model of distance education including administration, curriculum development, and [End Page 501] course delivery. Other institutions with successful distance programs include Solomon Islands College of Higher Education,PacificTheological College, Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Fiji School of Nursing, and Commonwealth Youth Program.

Guy presents a comprehensive review of distance education in Papua New Guinea. He details the history and operations of University of Papua New Guinea's Department of Extension Studies, College of Distance Education, the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education, Pacific Adventist College, and the University of Technology. Successes are many, including improved quality of courses and learning outcomes, study centers and residential schools, telephone counseling, and local tutoring. Although distance-education enrollments are high, funding is low. The result is overworked staff, poor student service, high dropout rates, and a system working far below its potential in a country where educational opportunities are greatly needed.

Wickham reviews the use of radio and television, while Okamura and Higa explore the digital interactive technologies. The technological differences lead to geographic differences: radio and television are used primarily in the southern islands; digital technologies are used in the western islands, more under US influence.

Radio has an established record in Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. As broadcasting is privatized and public funding cut, the future of educational broadcasting is bleak. Wickham recommends cost-effectiveness studies for radio broadcasts. Television, now ubiquitous in the Pacific, is seldom used for education. Satellite communication links, specifically PEACESAT, devoted to education and public service in the region, is being used. Beginning with voice teleconferencing services, PEACESAT has expanded to include email, fax, and other digital communication capabilities.

Okamura and Higa highlight...


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