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From 'primitive mentality' to 'clash of cultures': stereotypes and indigenous underachievement in New Caledonian schools

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The archipelago located in the South Pacific known as New Caledonia is part of the 'confetti' of the French colonial empire. Violent uprisings in the 1980s revealed that the impact of colonization had a long-lasting traumatic effect on the aboriginal Melanesian people: the Kanaks. As indigenous school failure became visible, educational claims became a key issue of Kanak sovereignist struggles. Over the last 30 years the question of inequalities in New Caledonian schools has almost always been attributed to cultural factors. Rooted in a philosophical and anthropological tradition that postulates a radical Kanak otherness, contemporary analysis of failure in school seems incapable of overcoming this stereotype. This paper examines possible reorientations for a revival of educational sociology in the New Caledonian context. L'archipel du Pacifique Sud connu sous le nom de Nouvelle-Caledonie fait partie des Ā«confettisĀ» de l'Empire colonial francais. Au cours des annees 1980, des affrontements violents ont revele que le choc de la colonisation avait constitue un traumatisme durable pour la population melanesienne originelle: les Kanak. Alors que devenait visible l'echec scolaire autochtone, les revendications educatives sont devenues un element-clef des luttes souverainistes kanak. Depuis trente ans, l'interrogation sur les inegalites scolaires en Nouvelle-Caledonie a presque toujours incrimine des determinants culturels. Enracines dans une tradition philosophique et anthropologique qui postule une alterite radicale des kanak, les explications contemporaines de l'echec scolaire semblent incapables de depasser ce stereotype. Cet article presente de possibles reorientations pour un renouveau de la sociologie de l'education dans le contexte neo-caledonien.
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Keywords: French Pacific; Kanak; New Caledonia; Oceania; cultural identity; cultural pattern; indigenous education; school change; social change; sociology of education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Departement des Sciences de l'Education, Universite Paris 5, 75 006 Paris, France

Publication date: 01 June 2009

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