Tonga 2: The Prize Giving

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

17 November 2017

The Queen Salote Memorial Hall is a huge facility on the main road close to the centre of Nukualofa in Tonga. When looking into the hall on the day before the MIT CITVS Graduation we were of the sound opinion that the hall would be too large, a view that was dispelled immediately we arrived the next morning. With a half hour to go before the start, the hall was packed, the only empty seats were those still be filled by the graduating students. Seven hundred graduates and over a thousand supporters

In they filed, four abreast to the exuberant music of the Tupou College Brass Band – a superb musical group that played some classics from the brass band repertoire with skill and volume! I should have mentioned that this was the “junior” band – young boys who at an early age had the mature skills of the best.

The metrics for the graduation were somewhat eye-watering. The nine schools in which MIT delivered the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills in 2017 were collectively graduating 659 students (which included 80 female students). Some completed the certificate over two years while others completed it in one year. (A further 423 students completed Year 1 this year and will graduate next year when they complete the second year.)

Over a 3.5-hour ceremony, 30 degrees outside, families clapped each recipient who walked up on to the stage, bowed respectively to the presenter accepted their certificate, took two steps back and bowed a second time. A wonderful sense of pride and achievement filled the hall as lei were draped around the necks of the successful by the proud family members.

I am told that for many this was the first recognition of achievement that they would have received. They are students who, for a variety of reasons were not on track to have success in the conventional secondary school programme. Their futures had looked a little bleak but now their world has expanded.

Pathways into postsecondary education and training were opened up to them. Their Level 2 Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills was their passport into further education and training one of the different tertiary providers that exist in Tonga. The largest of these is the government-owned Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST) which has been a partner with MIT for these developments.

Over the past two years there has been a 50% increase in enrolments in the range of Level 3 programmes that TIST offers and this can be attributed directly to the MIT programme. Those who have an incomplete understanding of the situation in Tonga have raised the issue of training people when there are no jobs. They are wrong, there are jobs and there is a shortage of skilled and trained people to fill those positions. But it is also a miscomprehension about developing countries and the structure of their economies. Alongside the formal economies in which certified and qualified tradespeople operate, there is a further group of what is becoming known as “Community Tradespeople”. This group operates outside of the formal structures to undertake a whole range of work for which payment is managed a little less formally. It is a wholly good outcome that more educated and trained people are able to enter the community tradespeople environment which supplements the world of formal employment.

First, the CITVS qualification was developed to provide three pathways:A smooth pathway into further education and training in trades. That has been achieved and is already operating well for a significantly large group of students.

Secondly, a re-engagement with education for students who decide to returning to the conventional school programme with confidence, skills and purpose. That is clearly happening for a group who now see a future for themselves more clearly and understand its connection with schooling.

Thirdly, a third group, for a variety of reasons, will finish their formal education at this point and return to live in their village with family. But this group will now have skills and will not be a burden on their wider families and the community.

MIT worked with TIST to have the CITVS accredited on the Tongan Qualifications Framework and TIST is the owner of the qualification which is absolutely the equivalent of a NZ Level 2 qualification – so a fourth pathway that will be less travelled opens up, study in New Zealand.

To finish, a story. At the beginning of this year 46 school leavers turned up at TIST ready to start their programme. They were in correct uniform, had the requisite boos and equipment and were keen to get started. The only problem was that they had not enrolled! They had simply assumed that since they had a Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills they were able to take the next step without such a formality.

That has to be the epitome of a seamless pathway!

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