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Tough job to fix epidemic of school dropouts


The author of this article believes that the Queen’s urges to reduce the high school dropouts’ rates seemed to fall on deaf ears. Though it may seem to be a tough job to do, I believe that it is much like “Mamalu a mohuku”. To mitigate this epidemic, we must do, at least, I suggest starting with the following 10 steps.

First, the Prime Minister needs to leave the Minister of Education post to somebody who is highly qualified to run the Ministry of Education. The creation of the CEO for Education and Training signifies a creation of a company within the government. In orther words, they are expanding the government in the name of educating our children. Educating our children is not a CEO Job with mere salary but filled with so much demand that stretches from Nukuʻalofa to Fuaʻamotu International Airport. The Minister of Education should not be held by a politician because they will not be focused on the task at hand- which is reducing the dropouts rates and increasing the graduation rates. The parliament should make that a new rule that you cannot hold two positions at one time. Duplication of mediocrity is the enemy of success.

Second, pay the Minister of Education better and have the Minister, together with the parliament, evaluate the mechanisms of allocating financial resources to education so that they can cut wasteful spending and ineffective educational policies that have been “sucking” much of the needed money that should have been used to pay our teachers better.

Third, professional developments of various kinds for all teachers should be a weekly event. For example, school might be dismissed earlier than normal on Mondays, thus, allowing teachers to get together in their districts for professional development which including but not limited to sharing of what works and what’s not, and how to mitigate those problems. Please remember, we should prepare all our teachers to teach our children for a changing world so that they “teach so well that social economics will no longer be an issue” (Dr. Martin Luther King).

Fourth, summon all religious leaders from all churches in the Kingdom to educate them on the problem and what they can do. For the most part, our children sometimes are more excited to listen to their church leaders than parents. Additionally, church leaders should be asked to form educational forum by calling or appointing an educated person as an education specialist to form a group of qualified tutors to help out our children for at least one time a week. The education specialist reports regularly to his or her church leader and the church leader can report what they do and what kinds of help they may need when they meet on a monthly basis with the Minister of Education and his or her staff. This is a service that is much needed in Tonga which should not involve money but an outward expression of love for the Savior by serving His children in need. Thus, it mitigates the issues related to educational resources of the parents, especially those that did not have a good education.

Fifth, the Minister of Education needs to visit school districts in the Kingdom and listen to the “practitioners” who are the teachers. Teachers are at the forefront of this fight against this epidemic. Get to know them, inspire them, lead them, and let them know that you support them. Lastly, see what the teachers need, apart from their salary needs, that will be helpful to them in doing their duties and responsibilities.

Sixth, a school should be organized in Tonga [Vahe Loto, Vahe Hihifo, and Vahe Hahake] and the same for the other islands in Tonga to help those who dropped out of high school to drop right back in. This can be done in the same high school buildings available but after regular high school time to avoid building costs while maximizing the available resources. Teachers who will be approved and invited to participate need to be paid extra [but not overtime] from their regular pay during the regular school time. This will be an extra income to those teachers who will meet the qualifications that needs to be clearly and explicitly outlined before they participate.

Seventh, the government [parliament] should re-allocate part of the monies that are gone into buying cigarettes, beers, and whisky to bulk-up the educational budget. The future of our children is much more important than those needs.

Eighth, the framework for the education in Tonga needs to be re-worked. At the very least, it needs to add parental involvement as part of the solution. Now, we all know that not all parental involvements are created equal. That is, not all parents know how to properly involve in their children’s education and not all parents participate in parental involvement effectively. As such, educational leaders should be working together with all ‘Ofisa Kolo (town officers), nobles, and people’s representatives to the parliament to conduct at least two meetings a year with all parents in the village so that parents are trained on effective parental involvements. This training should be done in the Tongan language [with English translation available] so that all parents know what are being discussed and allow them time to ask questions that they have been dying to ask. This is like “Engaging the Parents to Empower their Children” kind of a thing. This is an important part of the solution to the dropouts’ epidemic and cannot be ignored but it should be embraced. Second, we need to re-work the Mission of the Ministry of Education as shown below.

To Provide and sustain Lifelong Relevant and Quality Education for the Development of Tonga, and her people - Catherwood & Levine (2004). Tonga Education Framework 2004-2019

This is the mission statement that was developed for education in Tonga. Perhaps, it should just be simple as this: Provide High Quality Education to All Tongan Students.

Development of a mission statement is an act that all teachers should participate in. Policy-makers should talk to teachers in all Tonga to get their invaluable inputs so that they can formulate a united mission. As such, everyone feels that they participate in and will be much easier to be embraced, believed in, adopt, and work towards achieving them with a full purpose of heart. There is nothing that Tongans cannot do or accomplish with the Tongan Moʻunga ki he Loto as a motto. Third, all high schools should conduct parents-teacher conferences two times a term to further connect teachers with parents where ideas on how to help their children are freely shared.

Ninth, a special school should be created to accommodate those students who want hands-on skills only and are clearly identified that they cannot function well in a regular high school curriculum. This is an opportunity to teach skills that cannot be taught in regular high schools such as mechanics, computer skills and repairs, woodworks, and creating websites, etc. to name just a few. Do not underestimate the skills of our youths.

Tenth, and final thought but the list of thoughts I outlined here should not be considered exhaustive. All children need to be encouraged to read. School libraries should have regular programs to invite the youth and encourage the youth to read at school. Teach them how to read for contents and other techniques associated with effective reading. The same emphasis should also be done to the learning and mastering the Tongan language as well. Additionally, the churches should also be trained to develop reading programs that can be used to encourage children to read. The reading for the school assignments can also be used for to meet the requirements for the church reading programs. At the end of the school year, churches should have some kind of activities to celebrate those who participate in reading programs. This is a program that is working well in the U.S. and can be duplicated in Tonga as well. Finally, the Ministry of Education in Tonga needs to be run by a highly qualified person, much like Dr. ‘Ana Taufeʻulungaki. The Prime Minister needs to let go of the position of being a Minister of Education and focuses on his duty as the Prime Minister of Tonga in which I support wholeheartedly. Self-dividing is a companionship for in-effectivity which together they breed mediocrity in educating our children. Additionally, the King should also call [tapu ange mo ‘ene ‘Afió Tupou VI] on his highly-educated subjects everywhere to help mitigate this epidemic in our native land, of which we love so dearly, because the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education cannot do this job alone. Individually, you can do something, but in Unity, we can do a lot more, much more.

Fakaʻapaʻapa atu
‘Afa K. Palu
Educational Researcher