All kids take a test at the end of Year 8 that determines their entry into a secondary school. Much like SAT scores, different schools have different minimum scores they will accept. It is my understanding that the best students are accepted into the four top secondary schools run by the government. The government runs other secondary schools, but the top four receive a bulk of the education budget.
Apparently, many students do not score well enough to gain acceptance to a government school or are accepted into a poor government school far away from their home (long travel to a poor school not being worth it to them). This is where the church schools come in, accepting students the government doesn’t.
Not all secondary schools have the same number of grades. As a baseline, they all have Years 9-12. However, to be called a college, a school must also offer Year 13. If a student plans to attend university, they must complete Year 13 and will choose a secondary school accordingly or transfer for Year 13. The top four government schools are all colleges as is the school where I teach.
At the end of Year 12, all students take a national exam called the Sāmoa Secondary School Certificate or the School C. The students must pass that exam to go on to Year 13 and it also certifies them as having successfully completed secondary school.
At the end of Year 13, all students take an international exam called the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate or the PSSC. There are six Pacific island nations in this international body. Passing this test qualifies students for University Preparatory Year, which appears to be something offered at a University to prepare the students. I am assuming there are more English and computer classes or something.
Classes in secondary schools are supposed to be taught in English. Both the School C and the PSSC are administered in English. Classes are usually taught in a mix of English and Sāmoan when the students don’t seem to understand or need clarification.
Corporal punishment has been illegal in Sāmoan schools for many years. However, anecdotal information from other Peace Corps says that students are still hit frequently. One Peace Corps volunteer said it took many months for students to stop flinching or shying away when he went to pat them on the back.
I will know more about the school system once I actually start to work in it.