In these circumstances it may seem doubtful that schools can have any positive role in ensuring the continued viability of Oceanic languages.
Education has been only one of the many new parameters recently introduced into the Pacific language ecology in the last 100 years. 1 Like other developments, its effects on the languages of the area have been largely uncontrolled and the debate as to what contribution education could make goes on unabated. The principal task of education has always been that of promoting certain social and economic developments rather than either preserving or supplanting the languages of an area, although the latter motive has been a powerful one from time to time and place to place.
Education in the Pacific area, as in most colonial and post-colonial settings in the third and fourth world, has been based on the premise that there exist major deficits, these having been variously identified as spiritual, economic, cultural and so forth at different periods. It was regarded as virtually axiomatic that the direction of knowledge flow had to be from the Western ‘developed’ world to the Pacific region. However, as this is not the place to survey the issue of colonization through education as a whole. I shall instead comment on the more restricted topics of language as a medium and language as a subject of educational programmes. The two cannot always be neatly separated, since Western languages, such as English, are increasingly becoming both the medium and the message. I am dealing with a vast area and I shall have to both be selective and resort to simplification and generalization.