Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prize Giving


“Prize Giving” marks the end of the school year. This event is part graduation ceremony, recognition of top students from all levels, business meeting, church service, fundraiser, party for parents, and church service. The speeches of praise from school officers and a major address by some old fart are things the audience and students endure to get to the program part that really counts; praise, candy, and prizes.

The last weeks of school are spent on rehearsals, cleaning up the school grounds, and a series of tests, which determines the student’s class rank and whether the student moves to the next academic level. For students at the thirteenth and last level, there is an additional series of tests to determine who goes on to college, which college, and scholarships, much like SAT exams.

The prize for the top student at last level is a trophy. Prizes for top students at the other levels are Holy Bibles and notebooks. Lower primary levels may also get a small toy or backpack in addition to their Bible. When the student’s name is read, the parents, relatives, and friends rush to the front with Saran wrapped candy necklaces for the student and school officials. Some parents make quite a spectacle of the occasion. Some officials so loaded down with candy hunch under the weight. Students never speak; sometimes blush as their parents go crazy.

What some Americans find unusual, others disgusting, while others admirable is the pervasiveness of the church throughout the ceremony and indeed the curriculum. Samoa is a theocratic country. The lines between church and state are indistinguishable. From speeches, awards, and music religion is the dominant theme.

Every society uses the education of its youth to instill what it thinks is important. The subject material is always an ever-changing mosaic of competing interests. As one watches these bright, idealistic young people accept their prizes; one wonders how their education serves them in the future. Questions arise about our own society’s vocationally oriented system. The questions remain for the youth to answer. In the meantime there is candy to consume, or if I were back in the U.S., a dinner at Perkins.

District Secondary School, Mata ae Vavae

Head table

First in Class, my host “brother Sefo with his mother, Parents Dancing for Dollars, kind of like a Samoan bake sale; Principle’s last words to remaining students.

Iva Primary School Ceremony held in church revival meeting tent Host family girl, Faapisa, and 5th level prizewinner dancing for dollars Host family girl, Manuli, and 7th level prizewinner dancing for dollars

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