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Part I Descriptive Section


Review Process

In 1990 the World Conference on Education For All (EFA) in Jomtiem established 6 broad target dimensions for education development in all countries from 1990 to 2000. These target dimensions can be summarised as improving : Early Childhood Care and Development; Access to Primary Education; Learning Achievement and Outcomes; Adult Literacy; Training in Essential Skills; and Education for Better Living. This report is a critical review of the progress made in the Cook Islands in regard to the 6 target dimensions.

The review process was initiated in April 1999 by the Ministry of Education’s Director of Planning and Finance volunteering to collate statistical data for the EFA 2000 Assessment. In May, the Director was requested to expand his role to produce the first draft of the country report. The draft was completed in June and analysed at a UNESCO sponsored EFA workshop in Fiji. In July, the Director was appointed as the National EFA Coordinator. Other government ministries and non-government organisations were requested to provide information on their basic education programmes and the information received was edited and incorporated into a revised draft report. The revised draft was analysed at a second UNESCO organised EFA workshop held in Fiji. At both workshops advice was provided by members of the Regional Technical Advisory Group.


The Cook Islands consists of 15 islands located in the South Pacific Ocean from 156 to 167 degrees west and from 8 to 23 degrees south. Its nearest neighbours are Samoa and Niue to the west and French Polynesia to the east. The total land area of the Cook Islands is only 236.7 square kilometres but its exclusive economic zone covers a substantial area of approximately 2 million square kilometres.

The Cook Islands can be divided into 3 regions; Rarotonga, the Southern Group and the Northern Group. The island of Rarotonga is treated separately because of its dominance in terms of population size, economic activity and government administration. Rarotonga is located in the southern part of the country. The Southern Group comprises 7 islands which are all located within 200 to 300 km from Rarotonga. The Northern Group consists of Palmerston island, located about 500 km from Rarotonga, and 6 other islands located between 1,000 to 1,400 km to the north of Rarotonga.

The Cook Islands is a self-governing country in free association with New Zealand. The resident population in 1998 was estimated at 16, 800 with the majority (about 95 %) being of Cook Islands Maori (Polynesian) descent. Cook Islanders have automatic rights to New Zealand citizenship. In 1996, 47, 019 New Zealand residents claimed to be Cook Islanders. In the same year, the Cook Islands faced an economic crisis that resulted in net out-migrations and population decreases in 1997 and 1998. Cook Islands Maori is the first language for most Cook Islanders but English is also frequently used, especially in secondary schools, businesses, and government administration.

The policy of free and compulsory basic education has long been endorsed and implemented by successive government administrations. The concept was first proposed over 100 years ago with free secular schools being opened in 1896. The public school system on Rarotonga and the outer islands began to expand from 1915 onwards and by 1928, 80 % of all 6 – 14 year old children were attending school. By 1936 this had improved to 90 – 95 % ("Polynesia Way", 1989). In the 1996 Census, 99% of Cook Islanders aged 15 years or older reported that they had attended school and 90% reported that they had completed primary school education.

There are 36 schools in the Cook Islands with, at least, one school on every permanently inhabited island. The total enrolment of 4,950 in 1998 is the lowest on record for more than 12 years and represents an 11% decrease since 1996. Rarotonga has 56 % of the total student population, the Southern Group 33% and the Northern Group11%. The majority of students (85 %) attend Government schools.

The Education Act 1986-87 defines a pre-school child as " a child between the ages of three and a half years and five years attending a pre-school institute". Preschool attendance is not compulsory. In 1998 there were 460 pupils enrolled in preschools.

The primary school level is defined in the Education Act as being Grades 1 to 6 inclusive. In 1998 there were 2,711 primary level students. Education in the Cook Islands is compulsory from the age of 5 to the end of the year in which a child turns 15. By this age, a student is expected to have completed Grade 10 (Form 4) level. Therefore basic education refers to Grades 1 to 10 (Form 4) inclusive.


The first initiative towards determining the direction for education in the Cook Islands for the 1990s was the review of Cook Islands education by a Ministerial Taskforce which culminated in the publication of "Polynesia Way" in July 1989. The "Polynesia Way" proposals were regarded "as a guide – not a blue print" for education development.

In 1990, the Minister of Education and the Assistant Minister of Education represented the Cook Islands at the Jomtiem World Conference on Education For All.

The Government then commissioned consultants from New Zealand to conduct a study of the Education and Training Sector in the Cook Islands and to produce a report for Cabinet. The "Education and Training Sector Study – Final Report" was accepted in principle by Cabinet in June 1992 and published in August 1992.

The Sector Study did not deliberately set out to determine the Cook Islands response to EFA goals. However many of the aims of the Education Sector Action Plan proposed in the "Education and Training Sector Study – Final Report" do address EFA target dimensions. The objectives and indicators of achievement for the six dimension targets in this report are derived from this Education Sector Action Plan.

1.1 Early Childhood Care and Development


To improve the efficiency , effectiveness, management, monitoring and sustainability of early childhood education in the Cook Islands.

Indicators of Achievement

90% early childhood education enrolment by 1996 and 100% by 2001

early childhood education curriculum framework by 1993

100 % of early childhood education teachers trained by 1996

1.2 Primary and Basic Education


The Education Act 1986-87 makes it compulsory for all children to attend school from the age of five to the end of the year in which the child turns fifteen. Therefore, there is the expectation that all children in the Cook Islands have access to, and complete, at least ten years of basic education. The Education Sector Action Plan (1992) aimed to reduce repetition and dropout rates and to improve funding, resources, syllabuses and teacher performance.

Indicators of Achievement

Minimum primary school repetition rates from 1993 onwards

Reduced secondary school repetition and drop-out rates from 1994

Increased secondary enrolment ratios from 1994

200 teachers in-serviced by 1995 and improved teacher performance

20 Principals/Managers in-serviced by 1994

45% of the education budget to be allocated to early childhood and primary school education by 1996 and 50% by 2001

National curriculum policy and syllabuses by 1994

12, 500 new books in primary schools, 1,100 new books in secondary schools and improved school library stocks by end of 1994

Special needs provision/units from 1993 onwards

1.3 Learning Achievement and Outcomes


To improve the quality of primary school graduates for entry into secondary schools in the Cook Islands and to improve the scale and quality of secondary school grade output appropriate for further education, locally and overseas, and the local labour market in the Cook Islands.

Indicators of Achievement

Higher primary school literacy and numeracy rates

Improved national primary school educational standards and improved secondary school student performance.

An improved testing and measurement system by end of 1994

1.4 Adult Literacy

No objectives were specifically set for adult literacy.

1.5 Training in Essential Skills


To improve the scale, quality and equity of output from the local and overseas training system appropriate for projected labour market requirements in the Cook Islands.

Indicators of Achievement

increased numbers of technical professionals and information technology qualified personnel from 1993

increased numbers of craft level graduates and hotel and tourism trained staff from 1993

increased numbers of small business trained staff and trained managers from 1993

coordination of human resource policy and planning across all sectors

1.6 Education for Better Living

The Education Sector Action Plan proposed a feasibility study on distance education.

This report is discussed in part 2.


2.1 Adjustment, Revitalisation and Selective Expansion

The Education Sector Action Plan, published in the "Education and Training Sector Study – Final Report" in August 1992, recommended three main strategies entitled Adjustment, Revitalisation and Selective Expansion.

Adjustment Strategies :

increased decentralisation of education system management to island councils, school committees and community groups

mobilising additional resources for education through user charges, cost sharing and encouragement of selective private training operations

containing unit costs through improved use of teachers, school reorganisation and increased distance education and part-time programmes

Revitalisation Strategies :

improving the quality and availability of textbooks and library books

improving teacher performance and morale through staff development opportunities and the provision of the basic resources necessary to do the job

strong commitment to maintaining and improving academic standards through strengthening examination systems

focusing schools on revitalisation through management training for principals and school committees

increased investment for maintenance and general operating costs through block grants and community financing

Selective Expansion Strategies :

increased access to secondary education up to NZSC level in the outer islands through correspondence courses

expansion of tertiary education, especially in labour market shortage areas, through increased traineeship programmes, on the job training, incentives for part-time university studies and professional development programmes

increased on the job training for professional and technical staff, especially teachers, focussing on management development

diversification of the secondary curriculum, including for adults wishing to upgrade numeracy, literacy and technical skills, through careful utilisation of existing school plant and that of major employers via work-experience programs

2.2 Programmes of Action

The Education Sector Action Plan (1992) proposed 5 programmes of action :

Ministry of Education Restructuring and Decentralisation Project (MERDP)

Early Childhood and Primary Education Improvement Project (ECPEIP)

Secondary Education Quality Revitalisation Project (SEQRP)

National Employment and Training Authority Project (NETAP)

Tertiary Education and Skills Training Project (TESTP)

2.2.1 Ministry of Education Restructuring and Decentralisation Project (MERDP)

The aim of MERDP was to improve the responsiveness of the education system through greater participation of the community. The programme planned to restructure the Ministry of Education to strengthen policy and planning, information gathering, quality assurance processes, central and community level management, and overall system monitoring.

2.2.2 Early Childhood and Primary Education Improvement Project (ECPEIP)

The aim of ECPEIP was to improve the quality of the output from primary schools through revitalising early childhood and primary education quality. This was to involve increased availability of textbooks, development of a national curriculum framework, teacher training, examinations development and principal's management training. Related policy measures included containment of unit cost through regulation of staffing ratios, reorganisation of schools into larger more cost effective units, expansion of correspondence programs and the phased introduction of user fees.

2.2.3 Secondary Education Quality Revitalisation Project (SEQRP)

The aim of SEQRP was to improve the scale and quality of the output from the secondary schools, consistent with further education requirements and local labour market needs. This was to involve increased availability of textbooks, teacher and principal training, examinations development, reducing the secondary cycle from 6 to 5 years and the phased introduction of user fees.

2.2.4 National Employment and Training Authority Project (NETAP)

The aim of NETAP was to make the human resource development system more responsive to local employment and labour requirements through the formation of a National Employment and Training Authority, initially within the Ministry of Education but eventually as a statutory body. NETA would coordinate employment/labour market information, determine overall training priorities, manage training finance and monitor training quality.

2.2.5 Tertiary Education and Skills Training Project (TESTP)

The aim of TESTP was to improve access, equity, scale and quality of tertiary level training, both locally and overseas. The main thrust would be to expand on-the-job traineeship and the breadth of university foundation programmes.

2.3 Implementation of the Education Sector Action Plan

The Education Sector Action Plan was planned to be implemented by the Ministry of Education through an ADB funded Technical Assistance Project and substantive Education Development Project with support from existing projects such as the Basic Education and Life Skills (BELS) programme and the Teacher Development and Support (TESP) project.

2.3.1 Institutional Strengthening of the Ministry of Education

The proposed Ministry of Education Restructuring and Decentralisation Project (MERDP) was implemented through an ADB funded Technical Assistance programme. The "Institutional Strengthening of the Ministry of Education" programme (TA No. 2165-COO) was implemented from mid-April 1995 to mid-August 1995.

2.3.2 The Education Development Project

The Memorandum of Understanding for the Education Development Project was signed in 1992 and implementation initiated in 1995. The project is still in progress and is on target to be completed in mid 2000. Funding is provided through a loan from the Asian Development Bank. The total cost is estimated at $US 3.37 million of which $US 2.27 million is the foreign exchange cost (loan) and $US 1.10 million the local currency cost.

The project combines most of the aspects of The Early Childhood and Primary Education Improvement Project (ECPEIP) and the Secondary Education Quality Revitalisation Project (SEQRP). However the project does not involve any aspects of either the proposed National Employment and Training Authority Project (NETAP) nor the proposed Tertiary Education and Skills Training Project (TESTP). This is because the responsibility for human resource development, in country training and tertiary scholarships was transferred from the Ministry of Education to the Public Service Commission in 1995.

The 9 components of the project are :

Teacher Upgrading and Supervision

Testing and Measurement

Curriculum Materials Writing and Production

Instructional Materials

Language of Education Policy

Distance Education

Special Education

School Rehabilitation

Early Childhood Education Planning


No formal structure or committee was established specifically for EFA policy and management. However there is a formal system for overall education policy and implementation based on the Education Act 1986-87 and on performance agreements between the Minister and Secretary of Education.

The Education Act assigns responsibility for education policy in the Cook Islands to the Minister of Education. Policy advice is provided to the Minister by the Secretary of Education, the quantity and quality of which, is specified in a performance agreement and in the annual government budget. The Secretary is assisted in preparing policy advice by the Ministry’s Senior Management Team and the Directorate of Planning and Finance. Policy development involves consultation with major stakeholders which include the Cook Islands Teachers Institute, School Committees, the Ministry of Outer Islands Development and the core government agencies.

Policies and plans involving the Education Development Project are decided by the Project Coordinating Committee that consists of members from the Ministry of Education, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the Ministry of Outer Islands Development.


The Ministry of Education provides policy advice, curriculum development, teacher development and quality audits for all schools in the Cook Islands. The Ministry also manages the government schools on Rarotonga which account for 44% of the total student enrolment (1998). These schools are government funded. School fees are requested but are not compulsory.

The Ministry of Outer Islands Development manages the government schools in the outer islands which account for 42% of the total student enrolment (1998). These schools are government funded. School fees are requested but are not compulsory. The intent is that Outer Island Councils (local governments) will gradually assume management of outer island schools. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Outer Islands Development cooperate closely in defining and implementing national education strategies and plans. The two Ministries have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further strengthen their cooperation. Government, church and private school Principals and School Committees are consulted in regard to policy and planning issues.

The Catholic Church, Seventh Day Adventist Church and Assembly of God Church manage schools on Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu and Mauke accounting for 12% of the 1998 student enrolment. There are 2 private (non-religious) schools on Rarotonga accounting for 3% of the 1998 student enrolment. Government provides approximately 25% of the operating costs of non-government schools on Rarotonga.

Post secondary and nonformal education programs are planned and implemented by a wide range of government and non-government agencies. The Public Service Commission is responsible for human resource development, the management of overseas tertiary scholarships, apprenticeships / trade training, and the provision of training opportunities to meet the needs of government agencies, the private sector and the community. Most ministries, and in particular Health, Marine Resources, Agriculture, Police, Culture, Tourism, and Internal Affairs, conduct training courses and public awareness programs related to their areas of responsibility. Ministries often work together and with community groups in coordinated efforts to promote various issues. Cooperation and coordination between Non-Government Organisations is promoted and facilitated by the Cook Island Association of Non-Government Organisations (CIANGO). NGOs have been established for a wide range of interests including the environment, health, sports, culture, arts, children, women’s issues and community service. Private businesses frequently donate resources and funds to schools and some businesses have programs for ongoing staff education and training.

Other agencies that co-operate with Government in respect to education development in the Cook Islands include NZODA, AusAID, UNESCO and the ADB. The ADB has been a major partner in advancing education in the Cook Islands through its funding of the Institutional Strengthening of the Ministry of Education Programme and the Education Development Project. NZODA funds the long running Teacher Development and Support Project (TESP). TESP is the major project for strengthening senior secondary school education. It also contributes indirectly towards developments in primary and junior secondary school curricula, resources, teachers, assessment and management. NZODA funds the Inclusive Education Programme which is upgrading teachers’ skills and qualifications in classroom teaching techniques. Both NZODA and AusAID provide scholarships for Cook Islanders to study at overseas tertiary institutions.

The Basic Education and Life Skills (BELS) programme is funded by UNDP, UNICEF and AusAID. The Education Systems Planning and Management (ESPAM) module complemented the ADB Technical Assistance initiatives for institutional strengthening. The Primary and Literacy Education (PALE) module and the Curriculum Innovations for Life Skills (CILS) module complemented the Education Development Project initiatives to improve Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary education.


5.1 Public Funding

Financial Year (1) Total Govt expenditure


$ NZ 000

Education expenditure


$ NZ 000

Education expenditure as % of total Govt expenditure GDP at current market prices (4)

$ NZ 000

Education expenditure as a % of GDP


61,686 (2)

7,732 (2)

12.5% (3)


5.8% (3)











































(1) Year ended 31 March up to 1990 and year ended 30 June after 1990

(2) 15 month period (3) Data corrected from 15 months to 12 months

(4) Year ending 31 December i.e. ending halfway through the stated financial year

Base Year 1990 Comparisons


Total govt exp

Govt exp on educ











































Source : "Cook Islands Annual Statistical Bulletin June 1999",Cook Islands Statistics Office, Ministry of Finance and Economic Management

Both GDP and public expenditure on education increased during the earlier years of the decade. In 1995 GDP began to decline and the following year the Cook Islands faced an economic crisis. An economic reform program was initiated which included significantly decreased expenditure by the government.

From 1990 to 1997 the average annual allocation to education was $7, 377, 000 or 12.4 % of total public expenditure. Expenditure on education reached its peak in 1993/94 in terms of both actual expenditure and percentage of GDP, the latter having increased from 5.8% in 1990/91 to 7.2%. The lowest point was in 1996/97 when education expenditure was only 3.2% of GDP and 10.5% of total public expenditure.

It is unclear as to whether the data on education expenditure has been determined by the same method each year or whether the method used, consistently captures expenditure on post secondary education that was transferred from the Ministry of Education in 1995.

5.2 Private Funding

No reliable data is available on the total private funding of education in the Cook Islands.

Fundraising data from 1997 was received from 14 schools representing just over half of the total school population. If the data from this sample is representative of fundraising throughout all schools a total of $ 285, 392 would have been raised.

Fundraising Data


Data Extrapolation










































Source : 1998 Education Management Information System, Ministry of Education

Private schools educate 15% of the students in the Cook Islands with Government funding approximately 25% of the estimated costs of these schools. The Ministry of Education tentatively estimates that the additional cost to Government, if it were to totally fund all private schools, could approach $NZ 500, 000 per annum.

The Ministry also tentatively estimates the private costs of uniforms, stationery, study aids, voluntary fees/donations and transport at between $NZ 100 to $NZ 500 per state primary or secondary student per annum. The average cost is estimated to be around $NZ 200 which would approximate to $NZ 800, 000 private costs per annum for parents of state school students.

5.3 Foreign Aid

The "Cook Islands Government Budget Policy Statement 1999/2000" reports that the actual total foreign aid for the Cook Islands in 1998/99 was $NZ 10,950,000. This equates to an average of $NZ 652 per person. The major donors were New Zealand ($NZ 5,989,000) , the Asian Development Bank ($NZ 2,549,000) and Australia ($NZ 1,500,000).

The estimated approved aid funding for the Ministry of Education in 1998/99 was $NZ 1,027,762 with the main sources being New Zealand (NZODA) and the ADB. In the 1999/2000 financial year the Ministry of Education predicts that aid assistance will total $NZ 2, 194, 356. This comprises predictions of $ 600, 000 for the NZODA TESP project, $ 1, 574, 356 for the ADB (loan) Education Development Project and $20, 000 for the BELS programme (UNDP/UNICEF/AusAID). This equates to $ NZ 460 per enrolled student (preschool, primary and secondary).

5.4 New Investments

The Education Development Project is funded both locally and by a loan from the ADB in the ratio of 1 : 2 . From 1995 to 2000 the project is expected to result in $US 983, 000 being invested in preschool, primary and secondary school resources, furniture and building renovations. This represents an investment of about $US 200 per student. The breakdown of the investment is : $US 686,000 for school rehabilitation; $US 717,000 for new textbooks, library books and resources; and $US 225, 300 for school furniture and equipment.

5.5 Recurrent Expenditure

Recurrent expenditure on education decreased significantly as a result of the economic crisis in 1996. The Ministry of Education was forced to make cost savings and in 1996/1997 these included :

phasing out of the Rarotonga school bus service

closing the Teachers Training College

reducing expenditure on school resources

reducing school ancillary staff by 54 % and Ministry administration staff by 29 %

reducing the number of teachers by 17 % and reducing teachers' salaries by 15 %

There have been increases in recurrent expenditure in each year since 1996. Teachers' salaries were increased by 15% in July 1997. In February 1998, Phase 1 of a new teachers salary scale was implemented resulting in the minimum salary of teachers being increased by up to 100% and the average salary of teachers being increased by over 8 %. The Teachers Training College was reopened in February 1999 and increased expenditure on school resources is planned for 1999/2000.

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