Why investing in our teachers is investing in the future

Saturday December 07, 2019 Written by Published in Weekend
Renall Vogel with his children Teina, Malea and Moana at Apii Takitumu. His wife Sabine and son Kimiora are in Germany. KATRINA TANIRAU 19120532 Renall Vogel with his children Teina, Malea and Moana at Apii Takitumu. His wife Sabine and son Kimiora are in Germany. KATRINA TANIRAU 19120532

Education leaders believe power will be returned to the people of the Cook Islands if more locals study here and stay here to work – but right now, tertiary study in Cook Islands is unattainable for many. 

Renall Vogel has travelled the world: Europe, South America, Africa ...

That travel opened his eyes to the value that is put on education in other countries. “Children in Africa walk great distances to attend school every day. Kids there love school and they love to learn,” he says.

He and his Sabine, whom he met in Germany, have four children: Teina, Malea, Moana and Kimiora. The older children are at Apii Takitumu; Vogel is chairperson of their school board.

“Here in our homes, I feel like there is not enough importance placed on education. Kids are kind of just left to do what they want. It’s not teachers who teach attitude or how to point the middle finger.

“When I was growing up here, you were raised by the whole village. There were so many aunties and uncles who cared about your education and your future and you were disciplined accordingly if you played up.

“It’s not the job of a teacher to discipline our children. Everything starts at home.”

He has learned the importance of education – and now, age 38, he wants to play his part. He wants to train as a teacher.

And as far as the statistics go, Vogel is exactly the sort of role model teacher that schools in this country are crying out for: local, Maori, male, committed.

Vogel has put up his hand to enrol in a new two-year teaching degree, to be offered at USP here in Cook Islands. But there’s a catch ...

Dr Debi Futter-Puati took the job as the University of the South Pacific Cook Islands’ Campus director because she believes in the power of education, especially when it comes to her aspirations for the people of her adopted homeland and that of her husband and children – the Cook Islands.

Futter-Puati wants to work with the Cook Islands Government and the Ministry of Education and other training providers to find ways to train a workforce who pay it back through service, especially when it comes to one of the professions closest to her heart: teaching.

She wholeheartedly believes this would stop the exodus of Cook Islanders leaving the islands to pursue study in other countries, subsequently usually gaining employment and many never returning home to share their skills.

It’s no secret that there is a big shortage of skilled and qualified workers in the Cook Islands, meaning employers have little choice but to bring in people from other countries to fill vacant positions. This is especially true of teaching.

Local teachers are few and far between and some have been pulled out of retirement to plug gaps that can’t be filled by anyone else.

Teachers of Cook Islands descent all too often leave to study education in New Zealand, and do not return.

Of course, the lure of a bigger salary is enticing compared to the starting salary of an entry level secondary school teacher in the Cook Islands – but there are also opportunities for professional development and to support their families.

“You can understand why they go,” Futter-Puati says. “But leaving to live and study in another country is hard, it’s a whole new way of life for them a lot of time without a support network that they would have here at home.”

Now, there is an alternative.

USP has announced its two-year Bachelor of Education degree starting next year, and there is no shortage of local people who want to sign up.

Already, 38 Cook Islanders have expressed an interest in studying towards the two-year qualification.

They are everyday people with full time jobs, who want to teach to make a difference.

One of these is Renall Vogel.

He lives by the philosophy that “no child should be left behind” and his biggest motivator is to mould the young minds of boys, many of whom he says have lost their way.

Vogel left Rarotonga in 1997 to attend Bible College in New Zealand. After five years, he moved to Germany. If he can join the teaching profession, he will help address a real shortage in male, Maori teachers – the very role models needed by those boys he wants to mentor.

According to statistics compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an average of 20 per cent of teachers around the world are male.

In Germany, Vogel says, this figure sits as low as two per cent.

Apii Takitumu principal Carly Ave applauds Vogel’s desire to become a teacher: to have a local Maori man wanting to become a teacher is great for the profession in Cook Islands, she argues.

But Futter-Puati fears USP’s new degree course may not fly because local families simply can’t afford the study fees – even though they are significantly lower than the fees at universities in New Zealand like Waikato and Auckland.

If the Cook Islands Government were to establish a student loan scheme like that offered in New Zealand, Futter-Puati says this would alleviate a lot of the financial pressure.

The Cook Islands Government currently provides five domestic scholarships every year for students completing study here either at USP or through an overseas provider.

“The proposed tuition fees alone for the Bachelor of Education are $17,510 per student. This compares to $30,046 at the University of Auckland and $28,915 at the University of Waikato,” Futter-Puati says.

“Of course the difficulty is that in the Cooks we do not have a student loan scheme for students to apply for, to fund the degree like they would be able to access if they went to university in New Zealand, and only five in-country scholarships available.” 

Full Scholarship means all study fees and textbook costs are paid provided the degree is the equivalent of at least three to four papers per semester. Living costs equivalent of minimum wage for 35 hours is also included.

A Study Grant is payment of tuition upfront with an additional contribution of $200 per semester towards study costs. Students are responsible for the purchase of textbooks, consumable resources and payment of Student Association Fees.

There are a number of criteria that have to be met before the scholarships or grants are accepted including a student’s academic ability in their chosen field and a strong linkage to labour market need and opportunity.

Futter-Puati would like to see Cook Islands leadership commit to placing value on education by funding it so it’s accessible to regular people.

“We are emerging as a developed and prosperous country, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we invested in education so our people study here and stay here?”

Vogel is hoping to be one of the lucky ones who receives a scholarship. He doesn’t really have a financial back-up plan if he’s not.

“I have to work to look after my wife and kids, but I want to make a difference and grassroots – that’s where my passion is,” Vogel says.

“Economically we as a country are doing well. I think it would be a fantastic thing for our Government to invest in the education of our people.”

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