Supporting Pacific Island Communities Through Place-Based Education

Reposted from REL Pacific by Darienne Dey on November 23, 2020

Supporting Pacific Island Communities through Place-Based Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented schools and education systems with challenges, but it also has presented educators and education leaders in Pacific island communities with additional opportunities to further personalize students' learning by engaging them and their families in learning that relates to their specific geographic location. Place-based education (PBE) takes advantage of students' learning settings, which now may be outside of the physical classroom or in modified classroom settings. PBE uses students' local environments and communities to apply lessons learned from their school's curriculum, seeks to further develop students' connections to and appreciation for the natural environment, and aims to build or strengthen students' relationships with their communities. 1 2 3

PBE strategies can be adapted and implemented using a variety of available technologies and infrastructures. Many Pacific island community members rely primarily on mobile phones to connect to the internet at public Wi-fi hubs or on growing 4G networks, enabling mobile device applications to serve as means for delivering and exchanging education-related content that is locale-specific.4 The integration of these strategies may further augment and support distance learning for students in Pacific island locations while focusing on their communities' unique environmental challenges (and potential solutions), drawing upon learning strategies grounded in indigenous knowledge, and using the communication media currently available to and used within Pacific island communities.

PBE and Pacific Environments

Place-based education is most applicable when it relates students' learning to their surrounding environment. American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Guam, Hawai'i, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) lie completely within the tropics, have large ocean-to-landmass ratios, and are home to a great deal of unique bioecological diversity. Residents of these locations are accustomed to naturally occurring weather cycles and occasionally extreme meteorological (and/or geological, in the cases of CNMI, Guam, and Hawai'i) activity, but anthropogenically induced climate changes have heightened these locations' environmental vulnerability.5 As potential future decision-making citizens of their communities, students who develop an understanding of their surrounding environment will be better equipped to mitigate climatic issues by finding solutions that may benefit their own communities and other communities within and outside of the Pacific islands region.6 7 8

One such place-based education strategy involves educators engaging their students in citizen science—public participation in scientific research—to deepen students' environmental awareness, build students' research skills, and provide a means for students to contribute to regional scientific knowledge bases.9 10 11 Citizen science focuses on natural surroundings, and smart phone apps are one way that educators and students can log observations and learn about research. The following are free apps that, once downloaded, can be used with or without cellular or Wi-Fi reception.

  • iNaturalist—A joint initiative of the California Academic of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
  • GLOBE Observer—A partnership between the U.S. Government and other nations.
  • Citizen Science Water Level—A project from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Although many Pacific island communities have become increasingly dependent on imported food products, PBE also provides an opportunity for educators and students to research and celebrate their communities' previous and current successes with local food production. Gardening can strengthen students' understanding about personal nutrition and environmental relationships and cycles while also instilling them with the skills and confidence to support their households and communities in returning to being more self-sustaining.12 13 The following are resources that can guide students in growing edible plants and sharing their gardening experiences and knowledge gained with others:


PBE and Pacific Indigenous Knowledge

Learning strategies that are grounded in Indigenous knowledge and cultural values can empower Indigenous educators and students while also encouraging healthy and helpful dialogue about relationships between and within local communities.14 15 Indigenous community members comprise the largest ethnic group within the overall populations of Guam, RMI, FSM, Palau, and American Samoa; in Hawai'i and CNMI, Indigenous populations are smaller, but nevertheless the Hawaiian and Chamorro languages (respectively) are recognized as official languages.16 17 Educators can use PBE strategies to encourage students to familiarize themselves with the human history of places, the relationships between and within current local communities, and students' own relationships with these communities. Educators might integrate the concept of mindfulness or use intercultural pedagogy to facilitate these explorations.18 19 PBE strategies that are based in Indigenous cultures have been adapted for mainstream use by educators in Hawai'i 20 21 and research on Indigenous education in Guam, Micronesia 22 23 24 25 the Marshall Islands,26 and American Samoa 27 highlight resources that educators can draw on when adapting their curricula to be place-based. The following are online sources that feature Indigenous language and cultural content in online formats from Pacific island communities.


The world has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it has united much of the world community in a common challenge to find solutions to benefit the global community, it has also provided opportunities for stakeholders to look within their own communities for solutions. At the writing of this blog, the only nations that remain COVID-19-free are Pacific island nations.28 There is much the world stands to learn from these communities, while Pacific educators can continue to shape their communities' students using PBE to incorporate local resources, Indigenous knowledge, and modern technology to reaffirm their agency in their communities' futures.

To learn more about other advantages of place-based education, see this previous post from Regional Education Laboratory Pacific.



1 Liebtag, E. (2018). Leveraging the power of place: A new commitment to personalizing learning. Childhood Education, 94(2), 37–42.

2 Sobel, D. (2004). Place-based education: Connecting classrooms and communities. Green Writers Press.

3 Smith, G. A., and Sobel, D. (2010). Place- and community-based education in schools. Routledge.

4 Labell, C. Place-based learning and mobile technology. Journal of Extension, 49(6).

5 Jolly, M. (2019, November). Engendering the anthropocene in Oceania: Fatalism, resilience, resistance. Cultural Studies Review, 25(2), 172–195.

6 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2020). Draft 2020–2040 NOAA Education Strategic Plan.

7 McNamara, K.E., Clissold, R., Westoby, R., Piggott-McKellar, A.E., Kumar, R., Clarke, T., Namoumou, F., Areki, F., Joseph, E., Warrick, O., & Nunn, P.D. (2020, June). As assessment of community-based adaptation initiatives in the Pacific islands. Nature Climate Change, 10, 628–639.

8 Caulfield, C. (2020, July 27). How do I teach my kids about climate change? Honolulu Civil Beat.

9 Chawla, L., and White, A. (2018). Place-based education and citizen science: Resources for learning beyond the classroom. NAMTA Journal, 43(3), 4–22.

10 Lukyanenko, R., Wiggins, A., and Rosser, H.K. (2019). Citizen science: An information quality research frontier. Information Systems Frontiers (2019).

11 Howley, A., Howley, M., Camper, C., & Perko, H. (2011). Place-based education at Island Community School. Journal of Environmental Education, 42(4), 216–236.

12 Walter, P. (2013). Theorising community gardens as pedagogical sites in the food movement. Environmental Education Research, 19(4), 521–539.

13 Hunter, D., Monville-Oro, E., Burgos, B., Roel, C. N., Calub, B.M., Gonsalves, J., & Lauridsen, N. (2020). Agrobiodiversity, school gardens and healthy diets: Promoting biodiversity, food and sustainable nutrition. Biodiversity International.

14 Sianturi, M., Chiang, C., and Au Hurit, A. (2018). Impact of a place-based education curriculum on Indigenous teacher and students. International Journal of Instruction, 11(1), 311–328.

15 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Ocean Service. (2019). Guidance and best practices for engaging and incorporating traditional ecological knowledge in decision-making. https://www.

16 HI Const. art. XV, § 4.

17 CNMI Const. art. XXII, § 3.

18 Deringer, S. A. (2017). Mindful place-based education: Mapping the literature. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(4), 333–348.

19 Reid, R. E. (2019). Intercultural learning and place-based pedagogy: Is there a connection? New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 157, 77–90.

20 Hawai'i State Department of Education. (2015). Nā Hopena A'o (HĀ). TeachingAndLearning/StudentLearning/HawaiianEducation/Pages/HA.aspx

21 Sang, K., & Worchel, J. (2017). A place-based process for reimagining learning in the Hawaiian context. Voices in Urban Education, 46, 26–32.

22 Indalecio, A. R. (1999). Policies and practices of Chamorro cultural narratives in the community and schools of Guam (Publication No. 9960254). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Arizona]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

23 Metzgar, E. H. (1991). Traditional education in Micronesia: A case study of Lamotrek Atoll with comparative analysis of the literature on the Trukic continuum (Publication No. 9206683). [Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

24 Fox, M. J. (1999). Decision-making and consensus on Woleai Atoll: Decolonizing education in Yap State, Micronesia (Publication No. 9951184). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

25 Cholymay, M. (2013). Way finding: Envisioning a culturally responsive educational system for Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia (Publication No. 3572416). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

26 Nimmer, N .E. (2017). Documenting a Marshallese indigenous learning framework (Publication No. 10757762). [Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

27 Sofa'i, E. F. (1984). The history of education in American Samoa (Publication No. 8427794). [Doctoral dissertation, Brigham Young University]. Proquest Dissertations Publishing.

28 Pasley, J. (2020, September 21). Isolation and closed borders: Here's how ten Pacific Island nations are COVID-19-free, and the costs that come with it. Business Insider.

  • Indigenous Knowledge, Place-Based Learning, Pacific
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
  • cultural education
  • outdoor education, experiential education
  • education for sustainability