EMPTY SEATS AT COOK ISLANDS SCHOOLS

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Opening attendance low at some schools

By Matariki Wilson RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 27, 2011) - Rarotonga schools opened their doors yesterday for the first day of school and while some schools had children flooding through the gates – other schools experienced low attendance.

At Avarua School, the biggest primary school on Rarotonga, a waiting list is being drawn up to cope with the growing numbers of students there.

Avarua principal Gelling Jack says that he predicts his school roll for 2011 will be between 520 and 540 students – the same roll for 2010.

"I don’t expect the roll to drop and in fact we have kids on a waiting list," says Jack.

He says that in some year classes the roll is up to 67 students which means the class will have to be split.

Jack is especially proud that in 2010 the school achieved its target of having no less than a 90 percent attendance.

"You know, kids here at Avarua just love coming to school."

But in Nikao, just 58 students turned out for the first day of school at Apii Nikao Maori.

Nikao principal Rairi Rairi expects the school roll to pick up next week saying that he had received a number of calls from parents who will actually be taking their kids to school next Monday.

Last year, Apii Nikao had 120 kids on the school roll and Rairi is optimistic that it will be the same again today although he has heard of more students that have moved with their families to New Zealand and others who have yet to come back to Rarotonga from the outer islands.

Rairi also says that they anticipate that their preschool and new entrant’s classes will be full of kids within the next few weeks when kids settle back into routine.

Next door at Avatea Primary School – a roll of over 300 students is expected for the 2011 year.

Miss Marsters from Avatea says that over 30 of their form two students are at college this year and the intake of kids at that age is lower.

She also says that a number of students are still on holiday overseas.

It is believed that the low number on the national school roll is a reflection of the Cook Islands population decline which has been falling gradually since 1997 with an estimated total of 1104 fewer children expected to start the 2011 school.

Education secretary Sharon Paio says any decline in population is "...obviously a concern to the Ministry of Education because it places further constraints on curriculum diversity."

The ministry’s 2011 projections are for an increase of two students in the northern group and a decrease of 57 students in the southern group.

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