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American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is located just southeast of Samoa—a sovereign state that was once known as Western Samoa. The territory consists of several small island groups and a coral atoll, including the Mauna Islands, Swain’s Island, Rose Atoll and Tutuila, the territory’s largest and most populous island. A component of the Samoa Islands chain, American Samoa is located north of Tonga and west of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean. According to the 2010 census, the last available data for the territory, American Samoa has 55,519 permanent residents, all occupying a total land area of just over 76 square miles, an area that is smaller than most American cities.
Nearly 90 percent of American Samoa’s population occupies the island of Tutuila, and ethnically, while there are a few visible minority groups consisting mainly of Asians and Caucasians, over ninety percent of the population is comprised of native Samoans. The official and most widely spoken language of the territory is Samoan, a mix of Polynesian languages that is very similar to Hawaiian. Other languages that can occasionally be heard on the islands include Tongan, English, and an array of languages derived from various groups of the Pacific Islands. Christianity is the predominant religion in American Samoa, with approximately 50 percent of the population practicing the Christian Congregationalist faith, followed closely by Roman Catholicism and a number of Protestant denominations.
American Samoa has a very rich culture that is very similar to that of neighboring Western Samoa. This includes an interesting mix of music, dance and traditions, along with Polynesian cuisine that consists mainly of seafood, vegetables and a mix of delicious spices. The territory is a sightseer’s paradise, with miles upon miles of pristine coastline, interesting architecture, art galleries and museums. Sports are a favorite pastime of the American Samoan people, especially American-style football in which many natives, due to their size and speed, particularly excel. In fact, an almost astonishing percentage of American Samoan natives later go on to play football collegiately in the United States, and some even get drafted to play professionally as members of the National Football League.
Education in American Samoa
As you might expect, the education system in American Samoa is modeled after the system in the United States and is overseen by the Department of Education, which consists of a Director of Education and a number of educational specialists. According to the department’s website, the focus of education in American Samoa is “education for export,” as the majority of young people relocate to the United States once they complete their formal education to pursue additional educational and employment opportunities.
Education in American Samoa is compulsory and free for students between the ages of 6 and 16. According to the latest statistics, nearly 15,000 students are enrolled in the territory’s public education system, and a few thousand more attend one of its private or parochial schools. In its entirety, the system is comprised of 90 early childhood education facilities—preschools designed to help three and four-year-old students prepare for entry into primary school—23 comprehensive elementary schools; and 6 high schools. Elementary education begins at age five with kindergarten, followed by grades one through eight, where students receive 8 years of instruction in mathematics, science, technology and the humanities. High schools, consisting of grades 9-12, teach an advanced academic curriculum, as well as a vocational track aimed at preparing students to enter careers on the island that are important to the American Samoan economy.
While post secondary education is available in American Samoa, the opportunities are very limited, and consist of one community college and a vocational-technical school. At the community college, students can pursue an associate’s degree consisting of a variety of general education courses, while at the vocational-technical institution students gain the vocational and technical skills needed for entry and mid-level placement in a variety of career positions.
American Samoan students wishing to pursue an advanced academic degree, including degrees at the Bachelor, Master and Doctorate level, typically attend institutions on the U.S. mainland, in Hawaii or via distance learning programs offered by U.S. colleges and universities.