Let’s have a Review, I love music!

It was interesting to read in Ed Insider this week that the Ministry of Education had finally got around to trying to give meaning to the relatively flaccid rounds of consultation in 2018 about NCEA which all the mark of a search for change when it was the pattern, in Charles Payne’s terms of a reform searching for a change to make. 

I wonder if NZQA has been involved in this. I wonder if the outcomes of the Bali Haque soul searching that went on back in 2018 are substantial. I wonder too if those consultations undertaken three years ago, still stand. And was that consultation credible?

I have made no secret of the fact that over the thirty years I have been close to NCEA and know that it has served its purpose of giving credit when a student’s work has shown evidence of competence in this credit-based system that replaced the mad criterion-referenced that rewarded those going to university but did nothing but damage to the rest. Credit can now be given when it is due.

W. Edwards Deming was adamant that “If it was not necessary to make a change, it was necessary not to change.” A pause to reflect on NCEA and the need for change might conclude that it does not require wholesale change.

Some educators and members of the public have not realised that the worm has turned. Thousands of students have shown what a system that gives credit where credit is earned can do. And its use is spread well across the sector. That it is a usefully flexible assessment regime was demonstrated by the Minister in his decision to allocate additional credits during Covid-19. To note that learners can demonstrate learning at a Level should be enough to allocate additional credits especially at Level 1 and Level 2. I wonder about Level 3 which is the launching pad for serious employment-related learning – it is at that point that vested interest of employers cuts in.

We are given reasons why the review is to take place – some comments.

Accessibility: “Well-proven” would not be an exaggeration for the extent NCEA is accepted and accessed by students. 

Status: There is a case for a review of NCEA regarding Matauranga Maori and NCEA both in terms of standards and ensuring that the courses are available. This should not be an issue as there are providers who attend to issues of access.

Literacy / Numeracy: There is no issue with this provided students are equipped with something to be literate and numerate about. Why is it that students leave school to undertake a programme that has applied learning, managed transition, and clear pathways, having struggled with Literacy and Numeracy when it is studied for obvious reason, perform well when the literacy and numeracy standards are embedded in another curriculum? Study of material presented for no obvious reason is pointless, as experience has sadly demonstrated.

Fewer larger standards: Some people get excited about the size of standards. In truth it is less of an issue in terms of size but, more importantly, each standard should have a coherence and integrity and encompass a skill, or skills, that make sense and leads to a sound demonstration of learning.

Simplifying the Structure of NCEA: Complexity and gobbledygook are entirely the outcomes that of a system that is low in trust of teachers, that believes that a standards-based assessment regime must have some of the tricks, the smoke, and the mirrors of the previous examination system. NCEA is inherently simple, that is both its efficacy and its appeal. It is time that this was realised and appreciated. Yes, it could be even further simplified but that does not mean the talking in tongues that went on previously.

Clearer pathways to work:  Hallelujah!!! At last, a desire to comment NCEA to the real world of work and employment. Well, this need not wait for great soul searching and the development of theories and plans. It is already well and truly embedded in Trades Academies known both formally and formerly known as Secondary/Tertiary Programmes. Yes, its really true, right now in 10,250 students are engaged in NCEA in 2021. In the period such offerings have existed (2011 to 2020) approximately 45,000 unique students have had substantial success and high progression rate to employment and/or further education and training.

Keeping NCEA Level 1 optional: This is good news. When the steps on the ladder start with a large step upward the chance of reaching the second step is diminished. Many students need the encouragement, the taste of success and affirmation of their ability. 

Minister Hopkins provided a wonderful example of the flexibility of NCEA during the Covid-19 lockdowns when he created additional credits which rewarded resilience credits for students recognising that students had through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, demonstrated additional learning. The world did not come to an end.

The system is stuck in a rut!

It seems that the automatic reflex response to any issue related to schooling in New Zealand is “We don’t have the resources!”

Absenteeism, truancy, declining levels of achievement in Mathematics (sometimes called Numeracy) / Reading and Writing (sometimes called Literacy) and unease about digital and social media skills, and so on. You name it, except for meals at school (which schools should rightly sheet home to the Ministry of Education as one of its responsibilities) the response to criticism is a quick “We don’t have the resources! When a longer response is needed usually from the senior folk in the system

Prolong the explanation which when boiled down amounts to “We don’t have the resources!”

Well, the good news is that the resources are there – they are called school funding and are provided so that schools can provide the activities that will lead to satisfactory and acceptable or better outcomes in reading and writing and mathematics, assist students development of personal and social skills at an age appropriate level and, address the key features of the History of Aotearoa New Zealand although that appears to be controversial even before we know how it is going to be tackled in six months’ time.

As Albert Einstein (and others) have said over time, “to continue to do things which have failed over time is a sign of madness.” I don’t accept the description of “school failure” as “madness” because it masks a much more invidious but benign thing that is the cause of failure and that is ineffectiveness. This is irritating and frustrating for all and is not what teachers signed up for. On the other hand, it is over to teachers to be to change the way schools work, to create a curriculum that is inclusive and to inject a spirit of optimism into a sector that increasingly shows despair. Charles Payne looks around the US education system and simply sees his mantra being played out – “so much reform, so little change!”

Teacher-led reform could I believe produce solutions to the “issues” that are so daunting because the solutions are largely out of their hands. Sheet the solutions home to those who can and must respond.

Truancy belongs to the Ministry of Education – they are the guardians of the education laws in New Zealand and the flagrant abuse of the law in this area beggars belief. For too long teachers have had to have their programmes disrupted by sporadic attention to absences which is against the law and emphasizes the view that if you are not at school there is a likelihood that you are not learning or worse. Up to this point answers to this crisis have not been found while the pile of NEETs simply continues to grow. We need some priority here.

Teachers could help and will help if they are able to place the skills and knowledge on the things they can influence and central to this is a curriculum that attracts students, provides them with skills and interest and a view of the future, a line of sight to what with the help of teachers they are able to achieve. If teachers are distracted from this by needing to do the work of others then the community will just have to put up with it. If students do not get the benefits of knowing how to do sums, to read and write, to work harmoniously with others, and to a willingness to bring energy to going to school they will face a bleak future. So will parents, and the nation, come to that!

Earning your Crust

New Zealand has been slow to consider in any serious way the issue of school lunches and meals. We have been slow to recognise the opportunities that school lunches must compensate for health and nutrition issues for those who for one reason or another would benefit from a good feed at least once a day. And lunch is when, supposedly, all young people are at school and when the provision of a hot meal, of nutritional value and served in warm pleasant facilities would be of value.

The United States recognises children from families as being “eligible for a school lunch/meal”. In fact, eligibility for a school meal is a key measure, and they know with some precision who those students are. Household incomes below 130% of the poverty level make the cut! Families eligible for SNAP or TANF (both cash assistance schemes) are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. I have been in US schools and seen this in operation – it works well and makes a difference. And the meals are served in fit for purpose facilities.

In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time – it is available but not compulsory. If a child qualifies for school meals, they remain are eligible until they go right through their primary and/or secondary – an extension being brought in next year.

Australian kids are much like Kiwi kids and they either bring their lunches from home, or they get food from a canteen or tuck shop. In Australia parents ordering can do the ordering for their kids or give them money to buy sandwiches or snacks. In both countries the provision of lunches in low-income schools has been slow to make an appearance. But it is now happening.

In New Zealand and in Australia there is another category of student, those who go without, those who experience hunger, or who rely on food choices that do not provide the nutritional boost that a better food choice would.

While the descriptions of the burgeoning and relatively new provision of meals in NZ school are heartening when the result is a healthy and nutritional contribution, they also can sometimes disappoint when the enthusiasm to deliver seems to have out stripped the resources available. There are also questions to be asked about the quality – surely the reported lunches consisting of two pretzels and a muffin are not true! And the stories of cold meals served up late are a worry.

The responsibility for the quality of meals in schools should be spelt out clearly and be subject to a set of clear nutritional values approved by either or both Ministries of Education and Health. There should be professional supervisors who oversee the preparation and delivery of the meals. There would be people in the community who would welcome employment in such a role. I recall the great work done by the Dinner Ladies in the school my sone attended in a village in Essex, UK years ago. The provision of food for school students is the responsibility of the government rather rely exclusively on volunteers.

School meals are too important to be a project for students – let’s mobilise the communities to contribute this critical area.

Let’s be honest! The School Bus is pointed in the wrong direction!

There has been much eloquence as a succession of school leaders sought to explain the grotesque level of absenteeism in the schooling sector. But it is hard to explain the inexplicable to parents and taxpayers and those who employ young people.

It beggars belief that these levels of wilful disobedience and disregard for the law have grown to such proportions. I can only conclude that the answer lies in what happens at school.

If students found school to be engaging, if they engaged with the programmes rather than disengaging, if they saw pathways opening up to future careers, if they could respect their parents…. And so on….. but there is a crying need for things to be different.

Over the past 50 or so years, some bad decisions have been made. In the 1990s there was a high escalation in the numbers of students staying in the secondary school. From having about 12.5% of the cohort staying in secondary school for 5 years, the number in a decade exploded to 65.0%. But the development of appropriate programmes lagged. Staying longer in school did not promote better results! More is more, not better.

From about the same time, secondary schools progressively turned their backs on Vocational and Technical subjects to concentrate on the academic pathway which was good for some and disastrous for many. Consider the success of trades academies where secondary students step outside the school to engage in vocational and technical education. The programmes speak for themselves – when the hands are brought into use the brain engages to great effect. But it goes deeper than this. 

Research tells a rather sad story. Now, in my view, the students who are finding success in the trade’s academies are probably a little over-enthusiastic about that experience in the tertiary environment and a little understated in their reflections when comparing their school experience. Students tell me that in the trades academy they always know why they are learning that skill or grappling with this piece of knowledge. By contrast and for many, schooling is one for no obvious reason. 

Students want to have reassurance about the pathways that they are encountering – they know that the line of sight to a career and a job matters. But the Vocational Pathways tool which promised much seems to have been somewhat side-lined.

New Zealand was slow to engage with the issues of NEETs – those in the 15-24 years old who are not in education, employment or training crept up and were well and truly established before the phenomenon demanded a response (which came in 2007). They have proved to be remarkably resistant to a lasting solution.

And this is largely the same reason that truancy initiatives have largely failed, why disengagement still haunts the statistics of student outcomes, and why 13 years of schooling seems to be insufficient for too many.

Granted that change in schools is damnably difficult. Given that Charles Payne was right to conclude that when it comes to education it is a sad and sorry picture of “So much reform: So little change.”

Must making a difference be beyond us? 

Graduating to a best laid plan!

One of the difficult impositions that Covid-19 foisted on Tertiary institutions was the extent to which the Government quite properly restricted the size of gatherings and this impinged on the graduation ceremonies that are traditionally held around May each year.

IT was entirely reasonable for students to be aggrieved and to feel that they were being deprived of the recognition that comes with walking across the stage and for that magic moment, being the centre of attention for family and friends and those who had taught them.

I could understand the strength of feeling that went with this. While technically the successful completion of the programme and the confirmation of this on academic records, the real deal of walking across the stage, the actual “capping” and the applause are not easily forgotten. The delayed ceremonies when they are held are very special and in no way diminished – the special efforts of all concerned are sincerely meant.

My renown expertise from a technical point of view is well known, after all who else has spent an hour, in the early days of the lock-down last year, grappling with the ZOOM platform and becoming increasing challenged and frustrated but to no effect! Later I spoke to a colleague who had been at the meeting that I was so frustrated and by not being able to get into ZOOM for the meeting. He quietly smiled and said “No wonder, we were all on TEAMS!”

Well, another technical frustration occurred last week with a phone that simply gave up the ghost. The help of the Technical Lead at the retail store quickly had things under way so that the data could be transferred to a new phone. Alas, the old phone by now was exhausted and close to death. A trip across town sorted that out and the Technical Lead guy then could successfully complete the job!

While this was happening, I chatted to the Technical Lead and asked the question of him. I am always seeking to find out where they had been trained. It turned out that he had trained at Manukau Institute of Technology. I told him that I had just retired from MIT and the very next week those who missed their graduation because of Covid were having their graduation. A big smile preceded his saying “I shall be there, I am graduating at that ceremony.” Hands were shaken, great pleasure was expressed. Congratulations Paramvir Singh, Graduate from the School of Digital Technology at MIT. Capped this week – finally capped.

Is it a case of Don’t Mention the War?

Another ANZAC Day – for some a chance to remember, for others a holiday. Much talk about values seemed to accompany the commentary and comment from across the board.

I was interested in this because there seems to me to much more talk about unspecified values and their importance that actually grasping the issue of just what those values are, what they require of us and their connection to the palette of values that makes us to be New Zealand.

This is an important issue in terms of the forthcoming New Zealand Curriculum for History of New Zealand. What shape and force will ANZAC have in that curriculum? Will it be a sequenced set of understandings of “the ANZAC values” as it has grown over the years or simply a story about a time long ago, in lands far away, for reasons somewhat remote and for the somewhat unfathomable phenomenon of huge numbers of New Zealand citizens to end up in foreign countries facing dangers that often resulted in death?

And what articulation will there be in the new history curriculum between the ANZAC portion of our history and those other critical issues in our history – a set of issues related to the history of Maori and land, health, language, and parity of esteem for instance? Remember at this point that the NZ History curriculum will be across all ages in the schooling system. The Government characterised the development in this way:

The first step is to collaboratively develop a New Zealand’s histories update to the National Curriculum with historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, the sector, students, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand’s histories are taught.

Quite a large and potentially challenging task I would have thought. And this curriculum has been promised for 2022!

I have just read Tom Scott’s recent book “Searching for Charlie: In Pursuit of the Real Charles Upham VC and Bar.” It is a challenging book in that I learnt much that I did not know or understood.  It left me wondering how a truthful set of lessons could be fashioned out of events which were at best frightening. 

I wrote two weeks ago that we Baby Boomers grew up in the shadow of World War II. But this did not impact too much on what we understood of this critical part of our history. At secondary school we turned out in School Cadet uniforms to march in the Hamilton ANZAC Parade to hear speeches about sacrifice and values before we marched away at the end of the ceremony not too much the wiser. My twin brother and I drew the “lucky lottery marble” that determined whether at the age of 18-years we went or not into 12 weeks of National Service followed by three years of territorial duties – we went. Again, while we learnt things it was more in the nature of “Today we have the naming of parts” as we took a Bren gun apart.” I followed this with five years of service in the 3RNZIR Band because I liked music!

One might have thought that we would be well equipped to contribute to the discussion when it came to the impacts of these experiences on the NZ History. Not so, the learning we did consisted of being in an audience of 900 National Servicemen for what was styled as “Reason Why Lectures.” Knowing that at the time the Viet Niamh war was in progress will tell you what that learning consisted of. And the anecdotes of the NCO’s needed to be taken with some salt. I wholeheartedly support the view that New Zealand should be teaching more of its history by I also know that what history and who teaches it could see several more ANZAC Days pass by before it becomes a reality.

Not quite Seventy-Six Trombones nor an audience with the Queen

It is a little recalled fact that the first Royal visitor to New Zealand was the Duke of Edinburgh. Not the recently deceased Duke Prince Phillip but Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, who happened to be the Captain of a British vessel, the HMS Galatea, that called in to Wellington.

The death of Prince Phillip recalls the extent to which we baby boomers lived in the shadow of World War II and in the sunshine of the Royal Family which, in the fifties and sixties, New Zealand basked in.

The first visit of Queen Elizabeth II and her Consort Prince occurred in the summer of 1953/1954. Each school child in New Zealand was given a splendid concertina brochure that opened to show on one side a a procession of royal horses and soldiers, sketches of important sights of London. While on the other side the text focused on the coronation which had occurred some months previously. The headings made clear what this was about – The Queen, Our Royal Family, The Queen is Crowned.

But in the rather simple life that was led back then, the gifting highlight just had to be the medal we each received. It was the size of a real medal, was the weight of a real medal, it had a purple ribbon and a ribbon bar – we knew it was dinkum.

In Hamilton (1954 remember) the royal entourage hung about for several days and my brother and I were dragged about by Mum to catch fleeting glimpses of the Queen as she was driven past in large shiny cars, walking away through entrances – “Yes, that was the Queen under the hat with the blue feather!” All in all, a a set of recollections of those Royal Hats, the blurred windows of large shiny cars and, of course, those two gloved and waving hands. Our mother accompanied all this with her mantra: “This is History”.

Things were managed much better in 1963 when once again the Queen and Consort were in New Zealand. It was summertime, stinking hot, but that didn’t stop all the students from schools in Hamilton being transported to Seddon Park (now known as a venue for cricket), arranged in rows, primary in the front, secondary capped and uniformed, all in preparation for  the Queen and Consort to be driven on the back of a Land Rover, up and down, up and down the rows so that the children both primary and secondary could become a little more acquainted with our beloved monarch.

I recall that it was a really hot Hamilton afternoon. I recall too that the royal entourage was delayed, probably inspecting yet another dairy factory. My brother and I were in the Fairfield College Brass Band which had the privilege of playing for the assembled guests and our honoured visitors (both futile expectations as turned out). But with no shelter, sitting up alter for the imminent arrival which when at last the Guests arrived and the Brass Band had struck up (not quite Horse Guards Parade) the event proceeded with squealing, shouted messages from the delighted children. It was over seemingly to us at the time, largely before it had started. But there was a sequel that delighted us.

Several days later a Letter to the Editor of the Waikato Times appeared detailing the excellent contribution to the Seddon Park Royal Event by the Fairfield College Brass Band under difficult circumstances – great heat, competing with the noise from an audience of youngsters that had gone to Seddon Park to see the Queen not to listen to a Brass Band. Sitting out in the noon-day sun, the delay and so on. It was a great thing for this citizen to have done, the school was chuffed when it was read out at a subsequent assembly and the members of the band subsequently blew a little harder at the tribute from this anonymous citizen.

But this raises the question for me.  What knowledge and how much attention will be paid in the history of New Zealand to be rolled out in school and the Monarch which, as our Governor General has recently pointed out, is the Treaty Partner with Māori albeit a function that is the responsibility of the NZ Government or, as it is usually put, the Crown?

Oh, and the letter to the Times? Some years later I found out that the anonymous letter (as was the order of the day back then), was written by our Mum!

Nulla mensa sine impensa

Imagine my surprise while idly soaking up a rather interesting programme on television about the English monarchy when I learned that King Charles II’s motto was Dum Spiro Spero – While I breathe, I hope.  Shakespeare is said to have written the very same motto on his first published manuscripts.

It has been the motto of Fairfield College, Hamilton, since its founding in the late fifties. Not that it served an obvious purpose, for it was seldom used but it was always featured on the rather pleasant Crest that accompanied it. Nowadays the Fairfield’s crest has three mottos, to use the technical term, reflecting its multicultural commitment.

Now when my brother and I were at Fairfield College, the notion that we would have hope if we had breath seemed quite reasonable and on a bad day quite reassuring. But it was not that we did not have experience with mottos, no, not at all, for we had been to primary school and to intermediate school.

We had breezed our way through primary school not really engaging with the motto of Frankton Primary School, “To thine own self be true.” This was largely because the notion that we would tell lies to ourselves took some understanding and, anyway, it was never actually mentioned. However, some years later, good old Polonius popped up in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when giving advice to his son Laertes to suggest that it was a good thing to do.

But the ability to grapple with a good motto came along when we attended Maeroa Intermediate School in Hamilton, a new school opened in 1956, which was determined to take part in the habit of reflecting the well proven habits of motto-making and our origins of such clarion call to be virtuous.

Each day we would cycle to school wearing caps that bore the crest and the motto – “I shall not cease from mental fight.” This is as you Dear Reader, will know that this a line from William Blake’s rousing song, Jerusalem.  This relatively modern school explains that we have a proud tradition built up over the past fifty-six years and our motto, ‘I will not cease from mental fight’ represents our belief in developing students who will be life-long learners.”  This is one explanation, but William Blake might not have had the weapons and tools of modern education in mind – a device, sports, teachers working hard and students engaged. No, he had different ideas of how it would be done: the bow of burning gold, the arrows of desire, the sword that is wide awake in his hand and above all, The Chariot of Fire! But be at rest, the crests on our caps showed each of these critical elements, the tools required to affect a better, more pleasant world replacing the dark satanic mills, a green and pleasant world, something like Jerusalem and England would be green and pleasant again.

No wonder we sang our little heads off with gusto when we sang Jerusalem at the last assembly each year. At last, a motto with gravitas.

Vocational Education is no joke!

The first of April each year is a time that is most characterised as the pulling-the-leg time, of large-scale and small-scale deception and tricks and the fabrication of ideas and possibilities that might just be true, then again, on second thoughts it might just be a leg pull.

Last year, on 1 April a significant development in the New Zealand vocational and technical education sector that was too wide-sweeping to be a joke took place – all 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics formed an alliance to operate under a common brand and for all intents and purposes become instantiations of a mega-polytechnic.

There would be no pulling rabbits out of hats although it is rumoured that there Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns in some quarters. There also was the careful tip-toeing around certain words – a*********** and m*****. There was to be no repeat of the frenzy that was triggered in Australia as new universities were created through, shall we say “getting together”? And technical colleges grew in stature under the TAFE banner. A famous description was spawned as a warning about what might happen. To cut a long story short, a commentator in describing the determination to avoid actual m***** told of the story going around “in uppity circles Institution A was spoken as if it were a certain ‘Biblical Character’ for accepting the local college. As we know from Revelations (17:3), that person sat upon a scarlet beast having seven heads and ten horns – not a bad description of the academic structure in many a combined institution.”

 So Pukenga, who we know to be a “skilful, versatile intellectual, skilled” body by dint of its name (which reflects those characteristics) has provided the steady-as-it-goes to reach its first birthday calmly. One cannot help but think that the increases in enrolments was a helpful gift born out of the misery of a pandemic. But calmness is only a state that you reach but not one that you cannot sustains forever.

Change must come. First, key unified and strategic actions must be around provision and increased positive outcomes for priority groups, Maori, Pasifika, Migrants, those who are still being left behind. Secondly there is also an opportunity to increase the involvement of Pukenga institutions in Secondary / Tertiary programmes – networks are in place at a national scale, the success and progression levels of school students to polytechnics from these programmes cannot be ignored.

But thirdly and most of all, Pukenga must persuade the institutions as to the need for recognisable and nation-wide marketing, the nation-wide availability of the key programmes that mark out the polytechnic territory and above all, one system for enrolment that is smooth quick and easy.

Finally I look forward to cracking open a Pukenga Easter egg next year, 2022 and see a VET system that is characterised by managed pathways to employment that are seamlessness in their programme delivery and students zipping over the transitions that remain potholes in the road to success.

Changing the Kingdom: Where there is a will and a way

It was a hot sultry day in February 2014 when I and my colleague met with a group of school leaders in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga. Brought together by Rev. Feleti Atiola, Leader of the Wesleyan Church School System, they had asked us to meet to discuss what could be done from a curriculum perspective to increase the successful outcomes of many of their students, the ones that the Rev. Feleti called “those who had been left behind”.

Disengagement was the issue with many alienated from the curriculum offer to them. What could be done?

Winding the film back to 2013: the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) was keen to offer support to NZ agencies that would cooperate with them to offer appropriate support with aid programmes in Pacific countries. MIT was keen as MIT already a presence of a general nature in the South Pacific countries and this seemed to be an opportunity for the progress MIT had made with secondary/tertiary programmes. Was there a role for such a programme in the Pacific?

The short answer was a resounding interest from the Education leaders in Tonga. We had previously conducted seminars about that success in MIT and there seemed to an appetite to explore a development of some sort. The MFAT Partner Project was an opportunity to bid for resources to engage our Pacific colleagues in a secondary/tertiary style programme.

The issues were that too many students were not completing their schooling (early school leavers), many were not proceeding to any training after their schooling but instead were headed towards a NEETs-style of inactivity and perhaps a little mischief,

The bones of a proposal were put to the group. We would assist them to introduce a new programme based around the trades, offering to students the opportunity in Year 12 and 13 to undertake a practical subject or two that had application to the setting in Tonga.

The goal would be that the students would then:  

               emerge as prospective students for the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST), an             excellent trade training institution in Tonga but one that lacked the pathways from schools;

               return to school re-engaged and ready to complete their secondary schooling – this is aby-   product of secondary/tertiary programmes;

               return to or stay at their village but has skills that would be useful – or skills that would be             very useful in helping those in such communities that look after building and so on.

MFAT accepted the proposal and funded a substantial project for three years. The programme started with curriculum trial MIT put forward in 2014 and in successive years increasing numbers of students opted for the Trades programmes. A Level 2 certificate was developed and placed on the Tonga Qualifications Framework – the Certificate in Technical and Vocational Skills. This is the equivalent of the NZ Level 2 qualifications.

Of course, there were numerous questions to be asked and solutions to be found. Schools equipped themselves in the trades using ingenuity, cleaning up former workshops for their new use and so on. Local communities came forward, tools were sourced from many directions with MIT also contributing. Organisation such as ex-Student Associations, community service groups, and churches were keen to support the programmes.

Now some other pointers to success:

The enrolment at TIST has more than doubled their previous rolls and the tertiary provider has started to establish programmes in some of the schools.

The engagement of students in these school CITVS programmes has grown exponentially.

From the initial enrolment in 2014 of 3 schools and 45 students the Certificate programme has grown, in 2021, to 17 secondary schools on four islands[1] supported by all school-types[2] involving 895 students.  Overall, 3,720 unique students have undertaken the programme and up to and including 2020 1,356 students formally and proudly graduated with the Certificate.

In 2017 MIT maintained the programme while a new 4- year proposal was developed in collaboration with MFAT. The involvement of MFAT is scheduled to finish at the end of 2021.

What learnings can we take out of this project?

That the best projects (and this is one of them) are collaborative and based on need as identified by those who will have to deliver them and buy those who will benefit from them.

That quick hit and run projects are pointless – activity matured over time is activity that is lasting.

The competence of those delivering a project cannot be left to chance – MIT has provided professional development to those who are at the front line.

When distance is involved between the Project Team (Auckland) and the site of delivery (Tonga) you need the very best on-site management. MIT has been blessed by having a top Pacific Trades Training expert who has worked tirelessly over 8 years.

Various overseas aid specialists describe the project as being exceptional in its conception and execution.

Each year there is a graduation for the 303+ (approximately) students graduating. The largest pavilion is bedecked with tapa and vegetation and huge crowds support those graduating. The crowds stop the traffic. The radio station broadcasts the event, television is there to capture to capture it all in a repeated evening screening (and at other odd times over the next week or so. – it is a huge national event.

Each time we return we have a strong feeling of malo au’pito


[1] Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Vava’u, Ha’apai

[2] In the Tongan education system there are seven types of secondary school generally

based around religious groups and the Government. The key groups are: Wesleyan, Catholic, LDS, FCT, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, and the Government.