As Vanuatu celebrates its 40 years of independence and looks to the future, a national conversation about the direction of the education of children and youth is gaining momentum.
To contribute to these discussions, the Baha’is of the country recently brought together representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Education, village chiefs, and different social actors to reflect together on the role of moral education in society.
Gregoire Nimbtik, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, expressed the sentiments of other participants, saying: “We wish to have a society where happiness is sustainable, where there is no disunity, where everyone lives in a peaceful environment, and where everyone cares for each other. The question is how can we build the capacity of our young ones and enable them to build this kind of society? Education has a vital role in this regard.”
This question has been at the heart of Baha’i educational efforts in Vanuatu for decades, including literacy programs, formal schools, and initiatives at the grassroots that develop the capacity of children and youth to serve society.
Henry Tamashiro, a member of the Baha’i community of Port Villa and one of the organizers of the event, says, “In discussions with village chiefs and community members about the challenges facing our country, we all arrive at one question: How can the moral character of the individual be elevated?
“Gatherings like this allow diverse segments of society to talk about a missing part of the educational system: what the traditional leaders call the education of the heart, educators call moral education, and faith communities refer to as spiritual education.”
Chief Ken Hivo of Freshwota, one of the largest localities in the Port Vila area, said at the meeting, “Moral education is of the utmost importance. Our present education system is often seen as no more than an instrument to prepare our children for employment and is focused on the education of the mind. But pure hearts are needed for an effectively functioning community. Spiritual principles need to guide a person. Societies that are governed solely by materialistic principles will only deteriorate further and further. But many of our social issues will disappear if spiritual principles also govern our communities.”
Andrea Hinge of the University of the South Pacific echoed this thought, stating: “This means having teachers who are not focused only on helping a child pass an exam, but also on teaching students about how to live with others in society.”
Representatives of the Baha’i community at the gathering explained that when children learn about the concept of selfless service early on, they are able to make meaningful contributions to social progress from a young age. Among the many examples provided were efforts of youth engaged in Baha’i educational initiatives who are managing conservation areas in the forests around their villages in order to preserve native species.
Looking to future gatherings, Mr. Tamashiro says that “This dialogue is opening a new door. Participants came to this meeting somewhat downhearted about the condition of society, but when they saw that they are not alone in their desire to address the challenges facing young people and that there is an effective path forward, everyone became very hopeful.”