Elizabeth Cassity

Elizabeth Cassity, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Council for Educational Research and Honorary Lecturer, University of Sydney

A few years ago a colleague and I began working on developing a critical understanding of how the notion of partnership is constructed in various education contexts, particularly in the Pacific. We believed it was critical to explore how the notion of partnership is enacted and worked out at global, regional, national and local levels because of the extent to which education development in the Pacific is externally financed. A glance at any map of the Pacific reveals a vast region of small island states. This vastness is a reminder of an interdependent and interconnected ecosystem of diverse humans, nature and planet - Ubuntu - as the ethos captured in this year's conference theme (CIES 2015). Pacific education research embodies the spirit and challenge of exploring Ubuntu.

Our project in Pacific research partnerships in education recognizes that Pacific governments are faced with myriad challenges in attempting to fulfill service delivery and to support their education systems, while at the same time attempting to manage commitments to global and regional education agreements. Research in the region explores how geopolitical changes and global shifts in development discourses influence education development in the Pacific (Coxon & Taufe'ulungaki, 2003; Sanga and Taufe'ulungaki, 2005; Coxon & Munce, 2008; Cassity, 2010; Coxon & Cassity, 2011; McCormick, 2014). From an international perspective, the movement of people and ideas within and across regions and geographical and political constructs in complex (Chisholm & Steiner-Khamsi, 2009). A key theme articulated in the research is the tension between local, national and global education agendas.

With this tension in mind, development programs for specifically defined populations such as 'the poor', 'the disempowered', or 'the underdeveloped' are implemented all over the world. Such programs suggest an understanding of local needs and the contexts in the ways in which they operate, but they continue to be based on a set of universalized norms and hegemonic meanings of poverty, disempowerment and tradition (Sharma and Gupta, 2006). In terms of context and voice, what and whose local knowledge is validated? Who is framing policy and who is making decisions? These questions are critical for education in the Pacific. Context is crucial in building different policy responses generated from communities themselves.

While there are a growing number of new international development actors (for example, Peoples' Republic of China and Brazil) providing support to education in the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand have a historically established role as major bilateral donors to education in the Pacific (Coxon & Munce, 2008; Coxon & Cassity, 2011). How the Australia and New Zealand governments have sought to influence Pacific education through their official aid programs over the past decade has undoubtedly been shaped by the concurrent international focus on aid effectiveness, in particular the rhetoric and action around partnerships - between aid donors (now known as development partners), with recipient governments (now known as partner governments), and between state and non-state actors (civil society and/or private sector partners) (Coxon & Cassity, 2011). At issue, then, is interrogating the controlled practices of international organizations maintaining order over research and policy decisions (Mosse, 2006).

The Post-2015 agenda identifies a range of themes critical to the Pacific region. These themes include conflict and fragility, education, growth and employment, inequalities and population dynamics. The geographical vastness of individual Pacific countries themselves presents the challenge of spatial poverty traps (Bird, Higgins & Harris, 2010). Geographically remote areas are far from economic and political centers, are poorly linked in terms of markets and communication and often have low levels of public and private investment. For schools in the Pacific this means fewer teachers, inadequate access to resources to support infrastructure and professional learning programs for teachers, and targeted support for early childhood or special needs education.

The practical aspect of our research follows two purposes. The first purpose is to establish a research network with key actors and researchers in Pacific education. Practically speaking, research ideas are formed in an environment of active discussion through a sustainable caucus, established through the Pacific Education Caucus. The second purpose is to form a partnership that is developed around a postcolonial research agenda in education. Broadly outlined, a postcolonial framework enables researchers to explore complex relationships in education and address the historical contexts that have influenced those relationships.

Pacific scholar Epeli Hau'ofa reframed the conceptual idea of the Pacific to 'A New Oceania', which broadly focuses on what can be learned from differing historical experiences of colonization and decolonization, and the strength in recognizing difference as well as maintaining a regional identity. Hau'ofa (2000) discusses a vibrant and expanded Oceania as a world of social networks that crisscross the ocean all the way from Australia and New Zealand in the southwest, to the United States and Canada in the northeast. Hau'ofa's description of geographical vastness and spatiality, underlines the spirit of Ubuntu that considers a multiplicity of epistemologies and ideologies.

In this endeavor of imagining humanist education globally, Orlando Fals Borda reminds us to try to remedy the grave injustices that our research uncovers through participatory action research. Fals Borda's oft-quoted perspectives on engaged inquiry and knowledge building are still worth reflecting on, particularly in recognition of Ubuntu:

Do not monopolise your knowledge nor impose arrogantly your techniques, but respect and combine your skills with the knowledge of the researched or grassroots communities, taking them as full partners and co-researchers. Do not trust elitist versions of history and science which respond to dominant interests, but be receptive to counter-narratives and try to recapture them. Do not depend solely on your culture to interpret facts, but recover local values, traits, beliefs, and arts for action by and with the research organisations. Do not improve your own ponderous scientific style for communicating results, but diffuse and share what you have learned together with the people, in a manner that is wholly understandable and even literary and pleasant, for science should not be necessarily a mystery not a monopoly of experts and intellectuals (Fals Borda 1995).

Fals Borda recognizes the necessity to pursue equity in research. Rethinking the idea of partnership, exploring the possibilities for equal and transparent discourse in the Pacific region versus the inequalities of partnership inherent in the socio-economic realities of donor aid policies, present opportunities for research and practice.

What are some critical education issues in the Pacific emerging in 2015? Assessment, curriculum reform, literacy and numeracy skills, teacher training and professional learning, youth training and skills aligned with labor markets, producing better data from education management information systems, and access to quality education. Urban populations in the Pacific are rapidly expanding and young people need new opportunities to develop new skills, to cope with climate change and to create sustainable livelihoods. The tyranny of geography, resource costs and service delivery are constant challenges in accounting for Pacific education. At the same time, these issues are not new locally, regionally or globally.

Ubuntu, however, accords a pathway for partnership and collaboration, one that fundamentally considers an alternative to a global agenda, and one that considers complexity. It reaffirms the need to challenge assumptions and to consider the possibilities for a globally humanist approach to education.


This essay is embedded in my work with Eve Coxon (University of Auckland) and Alexandra McCormick (University of Sydney) on partnerships in Pacific education research and the establishment of the Pacific Education Caucus.


Bird, K., Higgins, K. and Harris, D. (2010). Spatial poverty traps: An overview. ODI Working Paper 321, CPRC Working Paper 121. London: Overseas Development Institute.

Cassity, E.A. (2010). New partnerships and education policy in Asia and the Pacific. International Journal of Educational Development 30(5): 508-517.

Chisholm, L. & Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2009). South-South cooperation in education development. New York: Teachers College Press.

Coxon, E. & Cassity, E.A. (2011). Editorial. Education in the Pacific: Rethinking partnerships. International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives 10(2): 1-6.

Coxon, E. & Munce, K. (2008). The global education agenda and the delivery of aid to Pacific education. Comparative Education 44(2): 147-166.

Coxon, E. & Taufe'ulungaki, A. (2003). Global/Local intersections: Researching the delivery of aid to Pacific Education. Auckland: University of Auckland.

Fals Borda, O. (1995). "Research for social justice: Some North-South convergences." Plenary Address to the Southern Sociological Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, April 8.

Hau'ofa, E. (2000). The Ocean in Us. In D. Hanlon and G.M White (Eds), Voyaging through the contemporary Pacific. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

McCormick, A. (2014). Who are the custodians of Pacific 'post-2015' education futures? Policy discourses, Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals. International Journal of Educational Development 39: 163-172.

Mosse, D. (2006). Cultivating development: An ethnography of aid policy and practice. Oxford: Taylor & Francis, Inc.

Sanga, K. & Taufe'ulungaki, A. (2005). International aid impacts on Pacific education. Wellington: He Parekereke, Victoria University.

Sharma, A. & Gupta, A. (2006). The anthropology of the nation state: A reader. Malden, MA & Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.