Ms. Gardenia Aisek from Tonoas, Chuuk
graduated from Sino Memorial Elementary School
continued and graduated from Chuuk High School
1983 - Acquired a Master's Degree in Business Administration
from San Diego National University.
1985 - 1990 - Taught at COM
1990 - 1998 - Worked at Northern Marianas as the Director of Business & Hospitality
1998 - 2007 - Returned to Chuuk and worked for her family Business (Blue Lagoon Resort) as the Accountant & Manager
2008 - Ran her own business
2009 - Taught at COM
2010 - Present - Executive Director for Dept. of Education
By: Lucille Sain
Edited by: Mae-Stephanie Aisek
TFB: The Fourth Branch (Lucille Sain)
GA: Gardenia Aisek
TFB: Nanowas annim, my name is Lucille Sain and I'm with the Fourth Branch. We are here with Ms. Gardenia Aisek, the Executive Director of the Department of Education, Chuuk State. Before we begin, we would like to remind all readers that our questions are from you, the viewers/readers. Before we proceed to these questions, we wouuld like to ask Ms. Aisek to please introduce herself and give us a brief background information.
GA: … Itei Gardenia Aisek. Ngang, fin Tonoas.  I graduated from a school in, California. It’s a small University, National University San Diego, California with my Master’s degree in Business Administration. I started working with the college of Micronesia in 1985 and after that… as a business instructor. After that, I moved to Saipan and worked at the Northern Marianas College as business instructor. Later on, I became the department chair for the business education department. And later on, I became the director of the school of Business and hospitality at the college. And then I moved back to Chuuk in 1998. I worked at the... in the private sector for over 10 years and after that I am now in the department of education.
TFB: Thank you for your brief background information. So we’ll just get right into the questions about education if you don’t mind.
GA: go ahead.
TFB: So our first question is, what is the department of education?
GA: Well, I guess the department of education is one of the departments under the executive branch.
TFB: What are the basic functions?
GA: I guess by law, the department of education is [supposed] to provide education to the children in Chuuk state. I think the, there is a compulsory law mandating the system to provide elementary education to all children and in addition to that, the department of education provides secondary education for high school kids.
TFB: Interesting you mentioned being mandated by the law. So are you familiar with the “no child left behind” law in the U.S.?
TFB: So is that something similar? Is it on state level or is it on national level that they mandated the elementary?
GA: I think it’s by constitution that we have to provide education for our children. Yes, and it is elementary is compulsory. We are required to all children, you know, must receive elementary education, at least. Secondary education is not mandated but it is offered.
TFB: I see. That’s interesting to know. So State-wise, do we have any law that would enforce our FSM constitutional law on education?
GA: Well, there is Chuuk State’s Constitution also, and there is an enabling law.
It is provided that Chuuk state will provide education for the children.
TFB: So what is Chuuk’s educational status in your view?
GA: I don’t quite understand. What do you mean when you ask Educational status, As far as…
TFB: How do you think its fairing? Based on students’ performance, where do you think they are? Is it up to level? What do you think our status is right now?
GA: Well, Chuuk Sate has a lot of educational issues. It’s very challenging. According to test scores, Chuuk has the lowest. Most of the students in the 6th, 8th and 10th grades perform very low. But on the other hand, there are some schools, a few schools that the test scores show that kids are doing better. There are some private schools, as compared to the public schools, that are doing much better. But there are some public schools that are doing well too, in Chuuk. Not all the schools in Chuuk are doing [badly]. There are some that are up there. So based on that information, as far as the test scores [are] concerned, our students are not doing as well as other students in the other states. There’s probably truth to that, because once the tests are evaluated they come out with the results. That’s one of the major issues in Chuuk, student’s performance. Performance in schools is very low. And there are factors contributed to that result, and I think one of those factors is teachers. The teachers’ commitment, dedication is probably not much. And I think that’s the main issue. The teacher’s performances themselves, attendance [is poor]. There are other factors of course, facilities, materials,  supplies, parents’ involvement, leadership at the schools, leadership in Chuuk State, maybe. But there are a lot of factors that contribute to, the performance … I don’t want to say poor performance, but the performance of the students.
TFB: You mentioned about unsatisfactory, not poor, but unsatisfactory test scores (laughs).
TFB: …the tests, where do they come from? Is it from the national or from the U.S.?
GA: Yes, it’s from the national. They call it the national standard test. And that test is administered to… it used to be 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th grades. Now it’s only 6th, 8th and 10. You know, throughout the FSM. And so  for us in Chuuk, the department of education administers... they send us the test and we administer the test in the schools. And then, the tests are sent back to Pohnpei for assessment and they come out with the results.
LS: I’m just more curious about it because it was mentioned by one of the principals that one of the problems is that English is not taught at the elementary schools and then the tests that they take are in English.
TFB: … so, I wanted to find out more information if this came from JEMCO and the national adopted it because JEMCO or some certain educational system mandated it.
GA: Well yes, that is the national department of education and I think that’s … the national department of education issues the test and I think that is - in chuuk state, we have the JET test which is the Junior High School Entrance Test. All 8th graders take that test before they  get into Junior High School or the High Schools. But the NST is used to determine the student’s performance throughout the FSM.
TFB: In regards to the issues that you mentioned earlier that you face, such as lack of materials and facilities and lack of teacher’s commitment, what is your department doing to resolve those issues?
GA: The people problems are not easy to deal with. It’s easy to purchase materials and send to the schools. But if people are dishonest, if people don’t care, if people don’t show up to school, those are more difficult issues because we are dealing with people. And, I don’t know, for me the bottom line is, it’s the people that are the problem. I believe if the teachers come to school everyday, if they do their job everyday, I think the students will do well. We have limited resources. We have 90-some schools. We have to fix all the schools and it’s not enough, we don’t have enough money to fix all the schools in one year. So we have to do some schools. [And every year we repair schools]. You know that’s just a given, we have to repair schools. And you know, the furniture in the schools are not… they’re…I don’t know … I came in and it’s really bad. So, we are working towards improving things but there are so many things that need to be improved, so many things. And I think the key thing is we need to improve people first before the others can be [improved]. Because I think that if the principals will make sure they take the initiative and the responsibility to provide. If they care enough, they will make sure their schools are good. And there are some principals that are good. They work with whatever limited resources they have, they make the best of it. But there are those that just… like to be given, they ask and ask and ask and yet nothing seems to improve.
TFB: So you mentioned, in regards to people, that they are the toughest to work with and have to make changes with. What are the steps that you’ve taken to resolve such problem?
GA: It’s very hard. We’re … schools are so spread out. We cannot visit schools on a daily basis. We rely on the principals a lot. A lot of times principals submit time sheets with everybody receiving 80 hours and yet when you go down-town you see the teachers walking around. And so, when that happens, we review their time sheets, we make sure if we see employees or teachers are on Weno, not at the schools, then we deduct their hours or we don’t give them hours for those times. But you know it’s, you don’t do that everyday…
TFB: hard to monitor?
GA: Yes, monitoring is not easy. So we rely on the principals all the time and if the principals are dishonest, then that’s what we have… it’s not good. We are encouraging employees to take responsibility. We, at the central office we now require employees to time-in and time-out. And at first they… of course nobody likes that. But we decided as part of the reform, we want employees to be responsible and accountable for whatever they do. And so we now have them to sign in, sign out, everyday. But that’s here. At the schools our media office takes roll calls. They actually call the schools and take attendance. Which is not good, to me, we don’t have to do that. We have to have trust in our teachers and our principals at those schools way, way out there. We do that because people don’t do that to begin with. That’s part of the reasons why the OIA people or the JEMCO people are looking at us and thinking that we are not doing the right things because of those issues.
TFB: In regards to that, have you come to terminating people?
GA: Last March, JEMCO released a resolution not to pay for those teachers who are not pursuing their degrees. The national department of education requires all teachers to be certified. Meaning they have to have a degree and they have to pass the NSTT, the National Standard Test for Teachers. So those are the two certification requirements by the national department of education. There are still a lot of Chuukese teachers that have not earned their degrees and that have not passed that test. And So, JEMCO issued the resolution, saying that it will no longer, or, OIA will no longer fund teachers who are not pursuing their degrees. And because of that resolution, we couldn’t pick [them up]… there were 117 teachers. I think there are more, but only 117 came to the office or their records show that they have not been enrolled in a degree plan at the College of Micronesia or have not pursued a degree plan. So we were forced to do that because there is no source of funding to pay for their salaries. If Chuuk State  picked them up, then they would continue to be teachers. But they didn’t have the funds either to pay for their salaries. So we were forced to lay them off. Because, you know, we can’t pay them. We can’t pay for their salaries  it’s unfortunate. And as a result of that, the schools are affected, a lot of schools are affected because there [are] no more teachers. So we need teachers.
TFB: So that basically dealt with teachers.
GA: Yes that’s just for teachers.
TFB: But not staff as well?
GA: Well, when I first came on board  there was a task force which included national government, OIA and Chuuk State to reduce the number of staffing at the central office based on the audit reports. The central office [had] too many employees. So there were a lot of employees doing the same thing. So they refused to pay those employees so we were forced also to let some of those go. What we did with many of those central office employees [was] we transfered them to the classrooms. So we transferred people from [the] central office into the classrooms and we also terminated those that were considered nonessential positions. You know, they were duplicating positions.
TFB: Earlier you mentioned about parents not being involved in their children’s education. What is education doing to address that issue?
GA: I’m glad to let you know that there are many nonprofit organizations working with parents now. PRELL did training to get parents involved. And the Women’s council, there are many women groups involved on different islands, in the different schools. So I think more and more parents are realizing that they are a part of the learning process, it’s not just the people from the [Department of] Education, it’s not [just] the classroom teachers, it’s everybody. It’s from home to the schools and back home. So I think more and more parents are aware and they now understand, they now understand that they have a role to play in the education process.
TFB: That’s interesting to know. I think that’s quite a change…
TFB: …because I’ve witnessed scenarios where parents ask “why do we need to go to PTA’s?"
TFB: There are those and there are those that just say, “I don’t care”.
GA: Yes, but I think they have that  attitude or that mentality thinking that because, “you’re a teacher, you’re responsible to teach my kid”. But that doesn’t mean that [the parents] have to teach the children, it means that they should be interested in what their kids are learning. They should at least ask their kids, “let me see if you have homework”, to make sure [their kids are] doing it. And make sure they are going to school. It doesn’t mean that they have to stand in front of their kids and teach them (laughs).
TFB: (laughs) On a different note, we’ve noticed that knowing our cultures and tradition is becoming very valuable where the world recognizes us through that. Is there a curriculum in Chuuk’s schools, on cultural and traditional teachings?
GA: I think there are schools that are doing that. There are some schools in the outer islands, especially the northwest region that are teaching navigation. I think a school on Udot [is] also teaching kids about the culture . So, there are schools that are doing that but [so] far the only thing I know is the Chuukese language is part of the curriculum. But with regards to other aspects of our culture, there really is no curriculum. However, we recognize that we do need to educate our children. We do need to preserve our culture, we need to establish [it in] our curriculum. So, that’s part of the reform. One of our goals is to, “expand curricular program offerings to include career and technical education, cultural and life skills, character development and military preparation.” So we are now making it a part of the reform to look at our curriculum and incorporate the cultural, life skills and character development. Children now-a-days don’t understand what respect means. So we need to teach the kids. So yeah, we’re working on that.
TFB: I’m sorry, you mentioned something that caught my attention. Military. So that’s going to be incorporated into our curriculum? How?
GA: Well, it’s a preparation program. And I think that’s really meant for helping students with their Math, English and Physical Education. I think the idea with that one, or where that came from [is] when the military personnel came to FSM to recruit. The Chuukese students are not able to pass the test as compared to the other kids from the other states. It is because  their English and Math skills are very poor. So we want to help kids with their language and math skills to help them pass the military exam, if they wish to pursue a career in the military. At least we have an option for them.
TFB: That’s very interesting. Can you tell us your vision for the future of the Department of Education or Education as a whole in our islands?
GA: My vision. I am a… I tend to be an ambitious person. And it’s because I do believe in the Chuukese child. I do believe that we are just as good as anybody else in the world. And so, I want to see the Chuukese child as a capable, competent, productive and a contributing citizen of Chuuk in any area, whatever area you choose to be in. I would like to see that child succeed when they go to college. If you choose to stay home and be a housewife or be a fisherman, farmer, you can be successful in whatever area of life you choose to be. So that’s what I want to see the Chuukese child to be.
TFB: So what are you doing to achieve those objectives?
GA: Well, we have to reform. We have to change. A lot of things have to change in education. To see these kids and set goals for them, we have to provide means and resources to enable that child to be a productive citizen and to be a competent person, to contribute to the economy, to our state. We have to provide for them. So for me, I believe we have to change. Times change and we have to move with the time, we have to change. Women can be involved, youth can be involved, anybody who has a heart and anybody who cares enough to see the Chuukese child [be a productive person] can be involved. And even you yourself… you can talk to the kids encourage them, talk to the leaders, “we need to change; we need to come up with policies to help education”, because education is key to everything.
TFB: In regards to the policies, does Education have a role to make a proposal to give to our representatives or legislation as a resolution for them to pass?
GA: Yes, we can. Right now we need to establish policies. This reform plan for example, has been submitted to JEMCO and they approved it but it’s going to change a lot of things in education and we cannot really move forward without [legislature passing some of these changes]. For example just the organization structure for the department of education. Law created the department of education with four divisions, elementary, secondary, curriculum and instruction and special services. With the reform plan, it’s going to change the structure. We cannot do that without amending that law. So we are working to have that amendment done by legislature. Otherwise, we are not going to be able to get some of these things done in the reform plan.
TFB: I have been involved with the youth and they give us all these policies, plans and along with those, they give us strategic goals in order to achieve those plans. Do they do the same thing with those?
GA: Well, we have 5 goals. Of course the FSM has the STP (Strategic Development Plan) for all sectors including education. So what we’re doing in Chuuk is to support the FSM’s development plans. And I think one of those goals is to provide quality education. And so, part of what we’re doing is to improve the quality, make the quality better. So we follow whatever the plan is for the FSM.
TFB: Thank you very much. Those are all the questions that were submitted to us through our website. If you would like to add anything else for our readers please be my guest.
GA: I hope I was able to give you some information that is helpful to what you are doing. As I said, you can be involved. The youth, you are the future of our nation. And, you might think that “Oh, what I’m going to say is not going to… nobody is going to listen to me,” but I think the youth is, really the voice. You can go out and you can make things happen. You can make things change in Chuuk. And we need to recognize that. I keep saying, “We need to bring in the youth” because we know the value of education.
TFB: Yes, we are trying. There needs to be change.
GA: And it can happen… it can happen.