Saturday, April 21, 2007

School Days

I will come clean right now- if I lived in the Cook Islands, I'd probably spend a lot of time playing traunt and going to the beach. Apparently a lot of the kids agree with me as it's a big problem there, but that didn't stop a bunch from staring at us curiously when we visited Avarea School...

The school goes from pre-school to Form II (8th grade), and there are about 500 students. They were all rather sweet and adorable in the way little kids tend to be, particularly when they're excited about "the Americans" visiting them, and they gave us leis they'd made themselves and a venerable banquet of food. (I got a few leis in the Cooks and always felt bad as they're gorgeous but you have to throw them out pretty soon.

The kids also did a performance of native dance for us while we were there and let me tell you, they were great! All Cook Islanders are required to learn at least some native dancing in school as a way to encourage pride in who they are, and it definetely works. These kids were some of the most confident people you'd ever meet- none of them shied away from meeting a bunch of random strangers, and were excited to come say hello and show us around.

By the way, there's an interesting thing I noticed about the artwork all the kids did, which you can see on the walls in the picture above. You know how back home kids always scribble something in crayon on a piece of paper in art class and it all has a similar feel? I used to think it was just the "standard little kid" style to drawing but was excited to note that the drawings displayed throughout the school were completely different- they were in bright colors and usually focused on a flower or a bird specifically, even the ones done by boys. This excited me in the sort of way you get excited when a preconcieved notion gets shattered that you didn't even realize you had.

For the record, once you graduate high school from the Cook Islands (assuming you don't go abroad for high school), most students who want to go end up getting scholarships for abroad. Most students end up in New Zealand or Australia, but the Mormon students go to Brigham Young University in Hawaii or Utah and the more technical studies are often in Japan. China is increasingly becoming a factor too in scholarships since they want to increase their Pacific influence- Russia did the same thing during the Cold War, we were told, but Moscow winters never agrees with people who spent their lives in the tropics so no one stayed there long anyway.

If you do stay in the Cook Islands for whatever reason, though, you can enroll at the University of the Southern Pacific's Cook Islands branch, which is part of the USP system based in Fiji. Your classes would mainly be via link to Fiji (USP was the first university to use satellite links in the world), and you would graduate with maybe three other students in your year.

After graduation, it should be noted, a lot of Cook Islanders don't come back home because there's very little opportunity for them. It's gotten to the point where 80,000 Cook Island natives live abroad (compare to the 15,000 who live in the Cooks themselves), meaning most citizens don't actually live there. It's an interesting situation, to say the least.