Dr Paul Beumelburg: working with communities to improve education in the Marshall Islands

Dr Paul Beumelburg had more than 30 years’ education experience across New Zealand and the Pacific when he took on the role of adviser to the Ministry of Education in the Marshall Islands, as part of the Australian Government funded PACTAM2 program.

A former science teacher and school principal, Paul provides technical assistance to improve the quality of education in the island nation, by supporting the implementation of the Asian Development Bank and DFAT-funded project Improving the Quality of Basic Education (IQBE).

Prior to moving to the Marshall Islands, Paul completed his PhD in international development, with a focus on Pacific indigenous education. His thesis explored ‘education as sustainable development’ and involved months of research on the island of Mangaia in the Cook Islands.

He believes that collaborating with local communities is key to improving the quality of education in schools. “For development to work it must be sustainable,” he says.

Paul draws on the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), a development approach that believes it is important to provide technical assistance in context. “Technical assistance is about empowering counterparts to find local solutions to local issues. It is about learning, iterating and adapting collaboratively with staff to greatly increase the long-term chances of real and positive change,” he says.

The IQBE project is now underway with more than 250 teachers being trained to use a new student-centred Quality Pedagogical Framework in classrooms. Twenty school principals are also undertaking a Graduate Certificate in School Leadership through the University of the South Pacific with plans to put a further 60 through the course. And cultural responsiveness teaching resources are being developed for use in the classroom.

Other achievements of Paul’s role include the approval of a development grant to develop a Marshall Islands education sector plan, with recruitment of international consultants already taking place.

Paul has worked with senior education leaders in the area of strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation so that there is more of a focus on educational initiatives to improve student outcomes.

He says that while there have been challenges making progress in a country with resource and infrastructure constraints, by working together with his local counterparts, change has been possible. He has great respect for the Marshallese culture and their approach to working together and sharing resources with one another.

“With a very small welcoming community it’s very easy to meet a diverse mix of people,” he says.

He also enjoys the beauty of living on a Pacific island. “Geographically, atolls are spectacularly different. You are surrounded by either the sea or the lagoon. There is easy access to snorkeling, fishing, yachting and tennis. With it always being hot it’s possible to lead an outdoor life all year round.”

He encourages anyone considering applying for a PACTAM2 role to give it a go:

“You’ll not regret living in a completely new culture. The experience is very rewarding.”