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VOA Asia Weekly: Technology Helps Bridge Pacific Island Education Gaps

VOA Asia Weekly: Technology Helps Bridge Pacific Island Education Gaps
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Indian PM Modi's party fails to win outright majority. Pakistan's PM visits China. U.S conducts first precision-guiding bombing drill with South Korea in 7 years. Singapore's Chinatown remains a vibrant hub.

Technology overcomes learning gaps in the Pacific Islands.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly.

I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington.

That story is coming up, but first, making headlines:

For the first time since 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party failed to win an outright majority in the national election. Modi declared victory Tuesday night. The BJP was forced to form a coalition government with the National Democratic Alliance in order to secure the 272 seats needed to win a majority. The BJP won just 240 on its own.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is visiting China this week. Islamabad hopes to finalize more than $10 billion worth of projects for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in meetings with Chinese officials. To get more money, experts say Pakistan will first have to address the billions of dollars it owes to Chinese companies.

Hong Kong police arrested four and detained five others on Tuesday as authorities sought to stamp out commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in mainland China.

The United States flew a long-range B-1B bomber over the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday for its first precision-guided bombing drill with South Korea in seven years. It also comes one day after Seoul said it was resuming all military activities along the border with the North, in response to Pyongyang's launch of hundreds of balloons carrying trash across the border.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday that construction of the first phase of his country's ambitious new capital in Nusantara on the island of Borneo is 80 percent complete. Widodo also said he will have an office there once clean water is available in July.

High school students who identify as Pacific Islanders have one of the highest dropout rates in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. VOA’s Jessica Stone introduces us to an immigrant teacher in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who is aiming to change that.

“Let me know if you need any help with using your pod…”

30-year-old Riya Nathrani has yearned to teach since she was a young girl, newly arrived from India to CNMI, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific.

“I would line up my dolls every day after school and pretend that I was teaching a class of students.”

These days, her classroom is full of other teachers trying to learn how to overcome the barriers of educating students in the Marianas – where 38% of the population lives in poverty – and tropical storms can cancel school for months at a time, even postponing the 2023 graduation ceremony at Marianas High School.

“They're not really thinking about education at that time. And then when we finally do get back to school, we have this huge educational gap with where we left off a few months ago and where they're expected to be by the end of the year.”

Nathrani believes technology can help close that gap. Even before the pandemic standardized online learning for grade schools nationwide, she traveled the Marianas, training teachers to develop compelling online courses, implementing distance education to supplement staff shortages on the remote islands, and teaching students to build spreadsheets, create graphics and write resumes.

“If Dr. Nathrani never became a teacher, she never taught, I don’t know how I would, or how me and my peers would adapt to the ongoing society that we have and the development of technology.”

Mozunder will enter college in the fall and is considering a career in education. For Nathrani, that choice is the definition of her own success.

“Just because we're from a small island, it doesn't mean that their opportunities are limited. It's all about working hard and it's about being able to see yourself achieving that dream.”

Dreams for her students, which are now tied to her own.

Jessica Stone, VOA News.

Finally, Singapore’s Chinatown dates back to 1822, when Britain’s Sir Stamford Raffles designated a settlement for the many new Chinese immigrant arrivals.

Ethnic Chinese now make up three quarters of the population, but the historic district remains a focal point.

Today, Chinatown is a hub for Singapore’s many visitors.

It’s also home to many family-run businesses, like Tong Heng, which has been serving pastries since the 1930s.

To watch more “Chinatown: Past, Present, and Future” stories, visit

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.