Education: back to school in Vanuatu

Young people in rural Vanuatu are getting a second chance at an education thanks to Oxfam and its partner Vanuatu Rural Development Training Centres Association (VRDTCA).

Fenny Tom, 15. Photo: Jane Ussher/Oxfam.
Fenny Tom, 15, is studying health care at a rural training centre. She wants to become a nurse.

For many young people in Vanuatu, their education is cut short at the end of primary school because the fees are too expensive for their families, and places in secondary schools are restricted.

Resources in Vanuatu’s education budget are stretched, trying to cope with a population bulge of under 24-year-olds who make up 64 per cent of the population. Kathy Solomon, Director of the Vanuatu Rural Development Training Centres Association, says a tough national examination at the end of primary school deliberately squeezes many of the young people out of formal education.

“Every child, when they go to school, would like to continue their education. When children cannot continue, the parents weep for their children because that is all they feel they can give their kids,” Kathy says.

Learning practical skills

Students dig up yams in Napil Rural Training Centre vegetable patch. Photo: Jane Ussher/Oxfam.
Students dig up yams in Napil Rural Training Centre vegetable patch.

Even if the young people do make the grade to enter secondary school, for the 80 per cent of Vanuatu’s population who live a rural subsistence lifestyle, the school fees are simply too expensive.

The choices for these young people are then often limited to helping with domestic chores or working the small family farm. Many drift to urban centres adding to the growing youth unemployment.

Oxfam has worked with the training association since 2003 to help offer young people a second chance at an education. There are now 50 rural training centres throughout Vanuatu where students learn practical vocational skills including health and sanitation, home economics, small business management, legal rights, agriculture, mechanics and carpentry.

The training centres accept in kind payment with kava, pigs or cows for school fees, because most of the families struggle to pay.

Fenny Tom, 15, is in her first of two years at Napil training centre, on Tanna Island. She tells us: “I’m happy to be here at the training centre, and I’m especially interested in taking the health care courses. I want to work as a nurse at the hospital so I can help my neighbours when they’re sick.”

Jobs for graduates

Julienne Nebiko, 26. Photo: Jane Ussher/Oxfam.
Julienne Nebiko, 26, now works full time at the hospital. She is now able to provide for her two young children.

Down in Tanna’s main town, Lenakel, the handful of shops, restaurants and services employ a number of graduates from the six training centres on the island.

Mechanic Charlie Misa, 25, a graduate from Lorakau training centre, is famous on the island for his ability to fix trucks that are well worn on the rough roads. Inside the main grocery store and Renald Rata, 25, is proudly stacking shelves. Just above the town at Tanna Hospital, we meet Julienne Nebiko, 26, the drug dispenser.

Julienne left secondary school at 16 and said her parents wanted her to attend Lorakau training centre “so I could go on with my future”. She works full time at the hospital and said she is now able to provide for her two young children.

At least 4000 students, some as young as 10 years old, are pushed out of formal education each year in Vanuatu. The network of small rural training centres are catching more than 500 of those young people every year and giving them new opportunities to learn.

Kathy says: “Every single parent is expecting something special from their kids. But when they don’t get it from the formal system, they see rural training centres as a second chance for their children.”

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Find out more

  • Meet 19-year old Kency Philip studying at the Pektel RTC in northwest Malekula. He's learning new skills to help build a better future for himslef and to make a contribution to his family and community.
  • Built to last
    Oxfam is supporting the design and construction of rural infrastructure, including classrooms, water supply services and toilets. Design and construction of the infrastructure is undertaken by students trained at the Vanuatu Rural Development Training Centres.
  • Safe water and sanitation
    Oxfam is working with the Vanuatu Rural Development and Training Centre Association (VRDTCA) to improve access to safe water and sanitation in rural communities.