Opening Address by the Minister of Education and Training, Dr. 'Ana Maui Taufe'ulungaki at the Opening of the 20th Consultation Meeting of Pacific Heads of Education Systems (PHES), Wednesday, 23rd October, 2013, 9.00am, at the Fa'onelua Convention Center, Nuku'alofa.
Are we there yet?
The Hon. Samiu Vaipulu, Acting Prime Minister and Ministers of the Crown
Your Excellencies, Mr. Wang Donghua, the Ambassador of People’s Republic of China to Tongaā;
Dr. Kazuchika Hamuro, the Japanese Ambassador;
Mr. Brett Aldam, the Australian High Commissioner; and
Mr. Mark Talbot, the New Zealand High Commissioner
Mr. Filipe Jitoko, Acting Director, Strategies and Coordination, PIFS
Heads of Pacific Education Systems
Representatives of donor and development partners
Rev. Dr. Siotame Havea, Principal of Siaʻatoutai Theological College and Members of the Clergy
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like first of all to acknowledge God’s presence in our midst.
I would also like to thank the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat for choosing Tonga to host the 20th Consultation Meeting of the Pacific Heads of Education Systems and for inviting me to participate in the opening ceremony. ‘Emeli Moala Pouvalu, Tonga’s Chief Executive Officer has already extended the Government’s and Ministry’s welcome to you all. But I would also like to add my own personal welcome and that of the children of Tonga to all delegates from the Pacific, and to donors and development partners, who are in Tonga for the first time, and a warm welcome back to those of you who have been here many times before, and are probably wishing you were in some more exotic part of the Pacific. It is my hope that you will enjoy the next few days and for first timers, that you will have time to see something of Tonga before your departure.
It is indeed heart-warming to see so many friends and familiar faces.
I would like to raise one or two issues that may be of some use to your discussions during the next two days, as you reflect on the status of Pacific education today, the journey it had taken to arrive at this stage, the challenges it faced and addressed along the way, the success stories we are proud to tell and to share, and the key lessons we have learned.
I recall some years ago, I was asked by the University of the South Pacific, where I was a Fellow of the Institute of the Education at the time, to prepare a background paper on Pacific Education for the first Forum Education Ministers Meeting, which was hosted by New Zealand, and was held at Auckland. The title of that paper was “Where to now? Today I am naming this presentation, ‘Are we there yet?’
That meeting started the ball rolling on the major reforms that have been on-going in the Pacific in the last decade or so. The PRIDE Project was the signature project of that reform process. The Pacific Education Development Framework 2009-2015 followed and many other allied programmes and activities, which are in this week’s agenda.
Taking Tonga, as an example, I may be permitted to say that Pacific Education has come a long way since that first meeting.
Tonga has embarked on an ambitious educational reform programme in the last decade, which began with the development and adoption of its Sector Review of Education, the development of its first Strategic Policy Framework and the implementation of the Tonga Education Support Programme, funded by NZAP and administered by the World Bank, with AusAid joining in the later. It was a total system overhaul. TESP I is now completed and reviewed and we have now begun TESP II.
The reform programme has only been possible through donors and development partners’ assistance, which has come through budget support, specific programme funding, technical assistance, training, and the provisions of teaching and learning resources and materials, and teaching and learning enabling environments.
Specifically Tonga has undertaken these programmes and activities:
• It has developed enabling pieces of legislations, policies to guide and direct reform programmes and activities, and regulations to facilitate implementation and compliance.
• It developed Strategic Development Plans, Corporate Plans and Annual Management Plans, the latest being the Tonga Education Lakalaka Policy Framework for 2012-2017. The focus is on achieving excellence, universal access, equity, relevance, and sustainability, in response to our national needs but at the same time meeting Tonga’s regional and international commitments, such as to the Pacific Education Development Framework, EFA and MD Goals.
• Tonga’s current reform activities focus on three priority areas: students’ competencies, teachers’ competencies, and teaching and learning standards.
• With regards to students’ competencies, we are reforming the curriculum, starting with the development of a Curriculum Policy Framework, from the ECE level to post-secondary education. So far we have completed the curricula for classes 1 to 8 in the four core subjects of Tongan and English and Maths and Science and in the 3 support areas of Tongan Society and Culture, Movement and Fitness and Creative Technology. In these subjects we have developed syllabuses, teachers’ guides and resources books, and pupils workbooks. We are now reviewing and writing the materials for Forms 3 to 7, ensuring that different pathways are available to cater for the different talents and aspirations of our students. We are in the middle of developing the policies for ECE and its curriculum, and we launched in the early part of the year the National TVET Policy Framework, as well as completed the Tonga and Regional Labour Market Review. Together these documents are assisting us to review and re-structure the higher education and post-basic education sector.
• Much of the new curriculum reform focuses on basic literacy and numeracy and mother-tongue education. Included are also development and publications of mother-tongue reading books, and the implementation of the national language policy.
• We are expanding educational outcomes to ensure that clear pathways to TVET are included and supported, beginning from the primary level, with the introduction of Creative Technology. Formal education must have clear linkages to the world of work and the development of the labour skills needed for sustainable development and nation building.
• We are also developing new ICT policies and planning for how best to utilise the technology, capitalising on the new optic fibre connection, with its greater bandwidth, which is faster and affordable, to increase access, and equitability for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. At the same time we are collaborating with the Ministry of Police and others to develop policies and mechanisms to afford safety and security for our students from cyber-crimes.
• We are also expanding support for inclusive education and students with special needs to ensure that all children benefit from development.
• The curriculum reform is outcomes based. So allied to the curricula reform, we are also reforming educational assessment, measurement, and evaluation, which include the establishment of minimal service standards, development of standardised tests, and re-thinking and establishment of internal and external assessments, indicators, and benchmarks. These include staff appraisals, which are linked to performance as well as professional development purposes.
• We are also reforming our national examinations systems and in 2012 we assumed responsibility for the Forms 6 and 7 examinations.
You will probably realise by now that staff development is a key feature of our reform process. In relation, therefore, to teacher competencies, Tonga has put in place extensive staff development programmes, which include key features such as Leadership and research. They also include reforms at pre-service and in-service training programmes. The Tonga Institute of Education offers teachers’ certificate and diploma programmes in ECE, primary and secondary education and in the future tertiary teaching qualifications.
We are currently providing training for all untrained teachers, both school leavers and graduates with no teaching qualifications, to be completed by 2015. We have put a moratorium on new entrees to the teachers’ college for two years partly because we have an oversupply of teachers and secondly to allow us to plan for the introduction of degree programmes by 2015. Thus at the same time, we are reforming the curriculum for teacher training, we are also upgrading the qualifications of the teacher trainers to at least masters’ level. We want to make sure that every teacher has acquired the attributes of the Faiako Ma’a Tonga, or Teacher for Tonga.
Our professional staff development Team and field officers make the rounds of schools throughout the year to provide support to schools and teachers and to teach new skills and knowledge.
In terms of teaching and learning standards, we are upgrading and maintaining facilities, as well as providing quality teaching and learning resources. With the assistance of donors, which include China and Japan, we are improving the teaching and learning environment by providing grants to schools, registering school assets, building and maintaining school facilities, providing clean water and sanitation, and renewing and replacing educational resources and equipment.
• We are collaborating with parents, ex-students, kava clubs, non-government and private education systems, communities, businesses and the private sector to improve awareness and develop real partnerships, to facilitate meaningful engagements in the education process.
• A great deal of work is also going into the health and safety of our students. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other non-government organisations, we have developed and are implementing a national food policy, have adopted the Give me Five nutrition programme from NZ, continue with the dental programme funded by Japan to promote healthy teeth, and have almost completed with the Ministry of Health the screening for undetected rheumatic fever and the impact of the disease on the hearts of children.
• Included also are programmes aimed at peace-building and elimination of violence in our communities.
• Cutting across these is the reform of educational administration and management, and the restructuring of education, and some of those programmes and activities, such as Leadership Pacific, have been mentioned already.
• We are also reforming the management of educational information to ensure that data collected are accurate, timely, and provide key information for decision-making and policy direction.
These lists are by no means exhaustive. They are simply examples of work that Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training is currently undertaking as part and parcel of the on-going reforms in education. Similar reforms are also on-going in other parts of the Pacific.
Just this Monday, the Tonga Parliament passed the Education Act 2013, which will replace the 1974 Education Act. The provisions of the new Act include the administration, management and control of education, the new compulsory school age of 4 to 18 years of age, registration of teachers, provisions for ECE, Special Needs and Inclusive Education, Higher Education, Curriculum and Examinations, EMIS, ICT, TVET, Staff Development, and Health and Safety.
These provisions legitimise the reforms and programmes currently undertaken by the Ministry or are being planned for the future.
So for Tonga, we can say that we have been very busy since that first Forum Ministers Meeting in Auckland. But busy towards what purposes? The questions that the donors, development partners, parents, communities, the Tonga Government and the Ministry of Education are all asking are:
• Have we really moved forward?
• Do we have concrete evidence that we have made significant progress?
• Have we significantly improved in terms of students’ achievements, especially in basic literacy and numeracy?
The honest answer is that despite all the investments and the various initiatives, programmes and interventions, and despite all the assistance and support we have received from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, the World Bank, and regional organisations and institutions such as the Institute of Education, the University of the South Pacific, SPBEA, SPC, and the Forum, we still cannot give an unequivocal ‘yes’.
From where I am standing, where I am answerable to all these stakeholders, I cannot say to any of them with confidence that Tongan education has made significant progress, because the data we have indicate that we have not moved very far. The TEGRA instrument to measure early grade reading that we developed with the assistance of the World Bank show that something like 70% by Class 3 are still unable to master the reading skills expected at that level. The same figures show up in our own standardised tests for Classes 4 and 6 in literacy and numeracy. Most worrying of all is the fact that we appear to be regressing instead of improving.
Of course, we can happily tick the boxes in our various plans but I am not seeing the results where I would like to see the real differences, that is, in the performance and achievements of students in classrooms.
That is the missing link. We do not know enough of what is going on in our Tongan classrooms; about the interactions of the student and the teacher and the teaching and learning processes that occur in the classroom. That is why Tonga is now collaborating with the World Bank on PEARL, which you will hear about later on in the week, to ensure that our young students come to the formal schooling process ready to learn; with Cognition, NZ for systems improvement, precisely to identify and address the missing elements in student/teacher classroom interactions.
These two programmes, I believe, will provide solid foundations on which to base concrete and evidence-based sustainable and practical interventions that can significantly improve students’ outcomes.
The biggest challenge that Tonga is facing today in education, is not limited funding or ill-trained human resources, but poor attitude and lack of professional commitment. If we can raise teachers’ and staffs’ morale, and ethical behaviours, to add to these two initiatives, I believe we could make real differences in the educational outcomes of students in Tonga.
I wish you the very best in your discussions this week and I hope to see some very creative and innovative strategies and solutions to take Pacific Education to the next level.