Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Reading Group Summary: March, 23rd, 2021

Article Discussed: Coxon, E. (2002). From Patronage to Profiteering? New Zealand’s educational relationship with the small states of Oceania. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 34(1), 57-75.

Lucas Watt

Education provision in Samoa has historically been heavily influenced by foreign nations. Coxon (2002) clearly articulates how education in Samoa has been influenced in four distinct periods of colonization, decolonization, post-colonialism, and re-colonization. Many of these trends could generally be extended to other neighboring Pacific nations.

In the period of colonization, education was used as a form of social control generating loyalty to the British empire. New Zealand had a large role in this mission of educational control as many Pacific nations were annexed to New Zealand as an arm of the British Empire in the 1800s. This role continued even after New Zealand received their own independence in 1907. In the period of greater decolonization in the Pacific, starting in the 1960s, the mission of prior colonial nations like New Zealand changed towards producing an education system that would help Pacific nations transition to self governance. In the period of post-colonization, identified by Coxon as the mid 1970s, politicians were concerned with the lack of economic growth of Pacific nations as well as emerging social tensions brought upon by rural-urban migration and unemployment. In this period, there was a heavy focus on localizing education in ways that would assist Pacific students in developing skills and knowledge appropriate for local context. The dialogue and collaboration between New Zealand and Pacific countries like Samoa in designing education systems was at its peak in this period.

This all changed in the 1990s as global ideology shifted towards an emphasis on economic sustainability and growth in the global south. For Pacific countries, this meant decreases in aid funding to the public sector including education. In addition to this, the goals of Pacific education were further reoriented towards producing economically productive and efficient subjects, or human capital. Pacific education systems were aggressively reoriented to produce more productive economic subjects by the World Bank/IMF and New Zealand through side conditions attached to their loans and aid. Coxon (2002) describes this as a period of re-colonization, as the autonomy of Pacific nations to decide how their nations were governed, was undermined. As this article was written in 2002, many in the reading group were curious about New Zealand’s current role in Pacific education, and its general orientation.

This article can certainly be read alongside other articles we have discussed concerning neo-liberal forms of economic development in the Pacific (see Greg’s summary of Storey and Murray, 2001; as well as the article written by Tayloraye and myself which discusses the mechanisms the World Bank uses to restructure Pacific economies and society)

Roxane de Waegh

Whenever reading an article, whether it is relevant to my specific research topic or not, I try to draw parallels and seek patterns between historical events and the complexities of our contemporary society.  When describing the post-colonialism era, Cox (2002) raises three fundamental concerns which led to a move towards localised curricula in the South Pacific:

  1. Educators throughout the south pacific were concerned that the modernized educational structures only addressed the needs of the minority, and thus proposed a shift to education more relevant to the needs of the majority of students who would return to village life.
  2. Politicians and bureaucrats were concerned about the social tensions consequent on urban unemployment as increasing numbers of rural dwellers moved to urban areas in pursuit of educational and employment opportunities, and also about educations failure to deliver the promised economic growth despite the large amounts of resources expended.
  3. Concerns from New Zealand about the effects of the world-wide economic recession on the New Zealand economy, which meant a reduced need for migrant labour thus contributing to a shift of emphasis in educational aid policy; preparation for life in New Zealand was no longer perceived as a desirable objective for island schools.

If we focus on the first point and link it back to a paper we read a few weeks ago titled ‘’COVID19 and restorying economic development in Oceania’’ by Tarcisius Kabutaulaka (2020), we see the same concern of the 1970s resurface in today’s geopolitical climate. Kabutaulaka (2020) argues:

‘Most Pacific Island Societies have totems that connect particular tribes or clans to animals and plants…these relations dictate how we relate and treat the natural environment….yet they are marginalized or totally ignored in school curriculums and in the push for economic development…these person-to-nature relations should be mainstreamed in the educational system…educational is fundamental in changing ideas and mindset about economic development. Curriculms need to be reviewed in order to teach alternative value systems that have sustained Pacific Islanders for thousands of years…’

If we focus on the second point, and link it to a modern paper by Juswanto and Ali (2016), which describes the subsistence sector of Pacific Islands over the last ten years, we can see similar social tensions existing between urban unemployment and increasing numbers of rural dwellers. According to Justwanto and Ali (2016) the subsistence sector is not accounted for in the economic data, partly because of a growing population and limited land, but also partly because of a system that values and rewards participation in the cash economy. According to Kabutaulaka (2020), this is exacerbated by education systems that train people for jobs in the cash economy that many times do not materialize.

Finally, if we look at the third point, we can identify a parallel between historical events and our current situation. Even though the world-wide economic depression of the 1970s, as described by Cox (2002) will not compare to the economic recession we will endure for the foreseeable future, both recessions seem to have similar outcomes in the context of localisation.

In 2020 the economies of the Pacific Islands became more integrated into the global economy than ever before. Commodity exports from Pacific Island countries have increased by approximately 169% (Juswanto and Ali, 2016:6). Perhaps, the IMF and World Bank perceive this level of economic integration as a positive indicator of growth and development. Yet, the global disruption of COVID19 has exposed vulnerabilities of global interconnections that even they cannot ignore.

In many Pacific countries, rural villages were portrayed as safe-havens, and people were encouraged to return to their rural homes and practice subsistence agriculture. The islands’ relative isolation from large populations, major migration routes, and centers of global trade have always been portrayed as economic vulnerabilities. However, remoteness, self-reliance, and local knowledge of subsistence skills have now become the strengths of Pacific Island Countries and Territories. The pandemic has given Pacific Islanders an opportunity to reflect and make fundamental changes not only on the way they do things but also on the ideas that inform their actions (Kabutaulaka, 2020). This heightened awareness and desire to localise development and education has resulted from a combination of geopolitical and socio-economic issues, just as they had in the past. If history indeed repeats itself, we can only hope that this push for localisation will last longer than a decade and that it is not replaced by some post-pandemic-neo-liberal ideology.

TransOcean is a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project 

The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 802223


  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

  • roxanedewaegh

    My name is Roxane de Waegh and I am a PhD student at the Faculty of Culture and Society at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. I am originally from Belgium, but grew up a bit all over the world, including Congo, Senegal, Singapore, Chile, Argentina, Japan, USA, and Canada. The ocean, the concept of remoteness, and the complexity of connectivity have always fascinated me. After working as a marine biologist for nearly 6 years with various environmental NGOs in remote coastal communities, including Myanmar, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste, I have come back to the academic world, hoping to deepen my understanding of the intrinsic paradoxical nature of integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) in marginalised coastal communities.

One response to “Reading Group Summary: March, 23rd, 2021”

  1. […] productive forms of human capital as opposed to balanced and locally appropriate capital (here), all to the effect of disadvantaging local populations. In this sense I am in total agreement with […]

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