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By Craig DeSilva

MELBOURNE, Australia (January 13, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat/PIDP/CPIS)---New Zealand’s new Education Minister, Trevor Mallard, said the education record of Pacific Island students in the country is "appalling," and has proposed changes in both the early childhood and tertiary school systems.

Mallard said a greater effort is needed to remove barriers to early childhood education that prevent Maoris and Pacific Islanders from achieving academic excellence.

"Frankly it’s a disgrace," Mallard said in an interview with Radio Australia. "The drop out rates are much higher, the examination pass rates much lower, and the numbers who go on to tertiary education are much lower proportionately."

Mallard said the country’s Samoan, Tongan and Cook Islands populations are the largest Pacific Island groups that are lagging behind the rest of the country in education.

He said the socio-economic problems plaguing Maori and Pacific Islanders in the country are partly to blame.

"We used to have in New Zealand a good, stable state housing system," Mallard said. "People put down roots and developed relationships with local schools. That was abolished eight years ago."

He said communities have become more transient and the relationships between parents and lower income schools have deteriorated.

Mallard is proposing native or first language childhood centers in the country’s early education system.

"Having available first language childhood centers is a good approach," he said. "We’re more likely to succeed if we can involve parents and grandparents who are much more comfortable in the native languages in the village childhood process."

The minister has called for a report of the country’s preschool facilities.

He is also moving to make tuition loans in tertiary education more attractive for students by offering interest free loans instead of one that charges compound interest.

"It’s going to be a major challenge that I’m sure will take a generation to fulfill," Mallard said.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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