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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, July 19) - The majority of freshmen students at the University of Guam are ill-prepared for college studies as shown by their lack of familiarity with their home region and their own island’s history, a study conducted by an anthropology associate professor at UOG revealed.

The study conducted last fall by Prof. Gary M. Heathcote also showed that students of UOG who graduated from off-island high schools did better in geography than their counterparts who graduated from local high schools.

Heathcote, who described his discovery as "appalling," found that only 24 percent of recent high school graduates could identify the CNMI on the map "and non-Chamorros did better than Chamorros."

Only 17 percent of Chamorro students were able to point to the CNMI on the map, but 34 percent were able to successfully locate Hawaii, according to Heathcote’s report titled "Predictors of Student Outcomes in AN101."

Heathcote’s report was based on knowledge and background check on 192 freshmen students of Introduction to Anthropology.

The study found that while even most off-island educated UOG students didn’t know much about Pacific geography, they knew significantly more than recent graduates of George Washington High School, who according to Heathcote "lead the way in local geographic futility."

"Off-island graduates averaged 3.62 correctly identified places out of 10 on the Pacific map, while GW graduates averaged a mere 1.38 correct answers. Recent graduates from Southern High also knew, on average, less than two places on the Pacific map, averaging 1.69 correct identifications," the report said.

The study found that only 15 percent of recent high school graduates knew what century Guam was "discovered" by Magellan and only 20 percent knew the year in which Pearl Harbor was bombed and Guam invaded by the Japanese military.

More sobering results

Results of pre-test questions pertaining to the Mariana Islands are, nevertheless, "more sobering," according to Heathcote.

For example, he said, 26 percent of recent high school graduates attending UOG could not name even one island in the Marianas archipelago.

"All but one among this geographically-challenged 26 percent was educated on island, with non-Chamorro graduates from Simon Sanchez and John F. Kennedy being the least geographically aware subset," Heahtcote said.

General results of the students’ tests, Heathcote said, spoke to the need for remediation and program enhancements in Guam’s public and private high schools.

The fact that off-island high school graduates outperformed the locally educated students in the geography department led Heathcote to believe that "poor knowledge of Pacific geography" may be attributed to possible flaws in Guam’s school system.

"I cannot escape the conclusion that the generally dismal Pacific map knowledge performance of recent high school graduates enrolled at UOG is an indictment of Guam’s primary and secondary school curricula which — it would appear — continues to place most emphasis on teaching about areas outside of the Marianas, Micronesia and the Pacific in general," Heathcote said.

Heathcote said his recent study indicated a further decline in Guam students’ familiarity with the region’s geography in almost a decade. A 1996 study found it "shocking" that less than 66 percent of the Chamorro students could successfully locate their home island of Guam or Saipan, yet were able to locate Hawaii and Japan with average accuracy rates of 83 percent and 82 percent respectively.


"‘Shocking’ has transformed to ‘appalling,’" Heathcote said. "It should be investigated if this is a reflection of progressive (regressive) de-emphasis on regional studies within Guam’s school systems."

Heathcote observed that Guam’s education system has failed to provide a balance between global and regional studies.

"I think that Guam’s students are currently being failed by school systems that at once emphasize the outside, give short shrift to the inside and are not providing enough students with both the basic literacy skills and culturally affirmative curricula that are needed to reflect — at a profound level — on who they are and what they should want for themselves, their family, their people, the greater community of Guam and the world in general," he said.

High school students, for example, currently required by the Department of Education to take single courses in Chamorro and Guam history.

"Ideally, transdisciplinary courses in regional studies should be offered throughout all four years of high school," Heathcote said. "Such courses should cover literature and the arts, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, geography, economics, political development, and health and environmental issues, and focus on Guam, the CNMI, Micronesia, other Pacific islands, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Asian Pacific Rim. At the very least, such a course should be required for every graduating senior from Guam’s high schools."

"I suggest that it is critical to the very process of engagement — of drawing students into a general love of learning process — that schools affirm the value, worth and dignity of their students’ ethnic identities by teaching them more than they do about themselves and their near neighbors," he added.

He recommended that the government provide greater funding for, and promotion of, the development of school textbooks authored by qualified local and regional academics and intellectuals.

July 19, 2004

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