Educational Television in American Samoa
ETV from 1962 – 1978
Research report compiled by: Kathy Gordon Cox
Educational Research / Cultural Heritage
American Samoa Historic Preservation Office
Pago Pago, American Samoa
This is a small contribution towards the initial establishment of a time line of events and personnel around the years that Educational television was trialed in American Samoa. In this compilation, the primary source material is the Governor’s Reports from the years that television was introduced until it no longer represented the means of educational delivery on the island. As these reports do not include many of the names of individuals who contributed, it is more the ‘official record’ or at least it is the record that the people in power at the time wished recorded. The additional participants, who comprised the ‘real’ story with their voices, will need to be compiled from different sources and by a different researcher.
I dedicate this effort to the E-TV team and to my mother, KC Gordon, a constant inspiration.
In 1962 when Governor H. Rex Lee first dreamed of introducing a Territory-wide educational system using television and experts as the means of instruction, no one knew what the end result would be of what came to be known as ‘the bold experiment’. The enthusiasm and belief in the project shines through the normally dry, dull language of Government reports and passes on the enthusiasm and hope for the project. Phrases full of promise such as… the most far-reaching program ever designed for the use of this medium and … American Samoa’s educational TV system planned as the core of a program to lift all levels of education simultaneously throughout the islands…’, reflect the general design of the coming success of an educational project which was to be the first of its kind in the ‘under developed world’ as well as anywhere else in the world. The idea of using television as the total medium of instruction across the Curriculum was new.
In under a decade, however, and, despite measured and anecdotal success and favorable attitudinal surveys concerning the merits of E-TV, including an overwhelming endorsement by the President of the United States and the First Lady, things were changing. Politics had changed from Democrat to Republican, the Space Race had changed in America’s favour – Apollo 10 and others had landed in Pago after trips to the moon; the devastating hurricane of 1966 had created the beginning of the end of thatched roof traditional fales and building methods and the new ‘hurricane houses’ made from concrete block bricks had small windows and dark interiors; President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife ‘Lady Bird’ had come and gone, opening the new LBJ Hospital and expressing deep admiration for the television project they visited (Oct. 1966). Johnson recording American Samoa as a ‘symbol and showcase’, then, from his address to assembled dignitaries, stating, ‘You have recognized that education is the tidal force of our century driving all else ahead of it, and … the pilot program of education that you have started may point the way to learning breakthroughs throughout the Pacific Islands and South-East Asia…It is truly a remarkable experiment’. [The full text of this speech as it relates to E-TV appears later in this document].
The First Lady declared her loyalties to a school but said that had she not done so, she most definitely would have liked to take E-TV as her special project. One can’t help wondering if it might have made a difference.
After this intense period in the 60’s, 1970 sees Educational Consultants brought in from Hawaii. They, along with Haydon, appear to think everything requires changing. By 1973, we read from the new Governor, John M. Haydon’s report that,– ‘In the area of Instructional Television there was a new emphasis, but not a de-emphasis, (italics author’s) during the Fiscal year.’ [The fact that ‘not a de-emphasis’ is stated might indicate to some that that is exactly what was being set in motion].
By 1975, ‘96 per cent of the students surveyed reacted favorable to the televised oral English telecasts’. This amazing result seems to have been dismissed, ignored in this year KVZK television is being treated as and referred to as its own entity rather than linked as strongly to education, although, at this stage, it was at least still part of the Department of Education.
‘…Television KVZK, which produced a greater number and variety of local programs during the year, also began a new era in public television through a program cooperative established by the Public Broadcasting Service stations.’
The year 1976 could be said to be the final take over of TV by the Government. It would be safe to say that the death knell for the educational television project at least as Governor Lee had envisioned it, occurred in 1976. A new division was created called Division of Instructional Development and the Division of Instructional Television was placed under and within it. The television station KVZK ‘was officially separated from the Department of Education and an Office of Television Operations was created, directly under the governor’s Office’.
The report adds… ‘several instructional television series developed by Instruction Development will be used in Micronesia in the near future, and various materials for teaching English as a second language developed by the DID are being asked for and used in other Pacific education systems. [The DID was formed that minute, so it hardly seems that they would be responsible for the materials in ESL that are being requested by other Pacific systems – this is where credit and all power is removed from E-TV – their influence, however was to remain, as you will read later].
By 1977 it seems the Division of Instructional Development had finally worked out what was vitally and really important for students in education … ‘In previous years, almost all students …sat on the floor and used locally-made floor desks. By the end of the fiscal year, nearly every student in the Elementary Division was provided a desk’.
1978 – saw no mention of television as a means of instruction nor as a division any longer. Lee is back as Governor this year for a short seven months and uses Samoan law to return the Department of Education to its proper status. However, it seems too late for T.V. even though the testing that some wanted so desperately in the early days (too early) of teaching was now showing fruit. The text below, which is from this Governor’s report, is about the Seniors from the graduating classes of 1977 and 1978. If one does the math, it is easily ascertained that these very students spent all their formative years with E-TV as their main means of instruction.
‘More Seniors are capable of Doing College Work’ [capitals not the researcher’s] is the heading within the report. The subsequent TOEFL scores and number of successful candidates were the students who must have done their English learning in the E-TV system throughout their primary school years and most of their High School ones. Their results are a testimony to the hard-work and expertise of the teams who participated in this ‘bold new experiment’ and to the wonderful effectiveness of that work.
It’s a pity the government administrators failed to understand and sustain the theory, the pedagogy and the vision of so many who worked on this innovative, ingenious, progressive and pioneering project.