FEdMM Opening Address, HRH Princess Pilolevu Tuita
24 MARCH 2009

Your Excellency Hon Prime Minister of Rarotonga,
Hon Acting Prime Minister Dr. Viliami Tangi,
Honourable Minister of Education Dr Tevita Palefau and Ministers of the Crown Honourable visiting Ministers for Education and delegates from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Members of the Nobility,
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Pacific Development Partners and
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is indeed an honour, to give the opening address at this seventh and very important Forum Education Ministers’ Meeting. I am sure that many of us present this evening, started our career life, in the “noble profession”, as teachers. Therefore, good education in our various islands, indeed in our entire region, is of personal interest, and access to good education, should be a national priority, in all Forum Members Countries.

I would like to take this time to thank the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, for their continued effort in assisting with Educational programs in the region.

I do not pretend to have intimate knowledge of, the topics to be addressed during this Forum Meeting. However, I have been briefed, with some of the critical issues, that are going to be discussed throughout this Forum, in particular the endorsement and evaluation, of a Forum Basic Education Action Plan, which would hopefully provide for an appropriate, regional support mechanism for education.

It is my fervent hope, that proposed strategies, the review of the Action plan, and endorsement of a suitable and practical policy, is achieved with some success for our regional partners.

However, as a concern parent, Education for me has always been an important, and integral part of Tonga’s society. I am implicitly aware, of the number of Tongan parents and families that endure immense hardship for many years, in the belief that the sacrifice to provide education for their children will enable them to have opportunities in life, that they did not have themselves.

I do not intend to ignore conflicting ideology, nor do I intend on pleading a lack of awareness, of the degree of variance, for views of opposing theorists in education. I am aware, that many perceive education, as a means to strengthening equality, while others hold the perceptions, that it reflect society’s intention, to maintain the previous unequal distribution of status and power.

I am also cognizant, of the ideology, that some perpetuate the myth that education is available to all, to provide a means of achieving wealth and status and those who fail within the system to achieve the goals, according to the myth have only themselves to blame.

I do not like to consider the education system, in particular the curriculum, being alleged as a powerful indoctrination, of the norms and values, of the wider society, where student learn these values, because their behavior at school is regulated until they gradually internalize and accept them. I understand that education must perform other functions, where jobs become vacant, they must filled with the appropriate people. It can be seen to sort and rank individuals for placement, in the labour market where those with high achievements will be trained for the most important jobs, and in reward, given the highest income.

I am opposed to some of the conflict theorists that believe education, is controlled by the state which is controlled by the ruling body, and its purpose is to reproduce existing inequalities, as well as legitimize ‘acceptable’, ideas which actually work to reinforce, the privileged positions of the dominant group. Effectively those theorists believe, that education achieves its purpose by maintaining the status quo, where lower-class children become lower class adults and middle, and upper class children become middle and upper class adults.

It is this seemingly misconceived thought, that education is a means to reproducing the class structure.

In examining the view in a Tonga context, a number of leaders have achieved through education, and not through social class means. The manner in which Tonga has selected leadership through meritocracy, as opposed to aristocracy, is a reflection of its education, as much as it is a reflection of the individual’s determination and ability. We are proud of those achievements, which are reflected in the appointments of our Government leaders, Church Leaders, Sport Leaders through achievement, and not through birthright claims.

Education, like many other social functions, is not to be taken in the sense of a vacuum, rather a mechanism that is forever evolving, reviewing itself and seeking to improve on its fundamental delivery, to a major portion of our population.

However, it can no longer be taken, to be the only means to an end, or sole provider for career opportunities.

As a concerned mother, grandmother and aunt, I would like to impart some of my views and knowledge, that I have gathered over the years, both as a teacher and as a parent. I have had the pleasure of witnessing success, as well as, viewing the unfortunate despondency of students, who do not achieve in the education system. In Tonga, the number of children who do not succeed, and do not have hope for suitable career opportunities, is of major concern. Enhancing the trepidation I share with you all, is the large numbers in unemployment we have here in Tonga.

I have witnessed the lack of motivation in my own family members, when placed in a school surrounding that neither encourages, nor inspires, the individual toward future careers. Fortunately, I have observed differing results, when the same individual is placed, within a completely dissimilar environment.

But that is not to mean, that education is responsible for lack of achievement, for its students within the system. I am aware that we do reward, those who achieve with the appropriate certification, where those students attain appropriate vocations in life. It is my preference that education is not seen solely, as a means to an end, rather that some intrinsic value, is attained by each individual, from the education system and not merely certification.

As I have said, there are encouraging signs, that education is no longer the only means with which students, can forge a career with lifetime opportunities. I only have to mention the likes of Sione Lauaki, Jonah Lomu, Viliami Ofahengaue, Solomon Haumono, all born in Tonga, and successful athletes in their various disciplines.

In looking for the delivery of a better educational system to the Pacific Islands, I call upon the delegates to consider certain aspects of education that not only affect Tonga, but our closest neighbors. We have financial problems within our own Ministry, to deliver the needs of high quality education to our students. The constraints of government budgets, affects our teachers and our students.

They are probably our most urgent needs. Critically I note, that a topic of discussion, is the improvement of teaching standards, and regularizing this throughout the region. But would that not suggest, that the quality of teaching is interdependent on the budgets, with which the education departments operate, along with a host of other factors, and note merely the quality or standards being set? This issue is one of many, which I hope can be addressed during the Forum meeting.

But there is a matter that I feel compelled to deliver at this Forum. It is a matter that is not only evident in Tonga, but recent published reports, suggest that it is a prevalent problem within our regional school systems.

I acknowledge that schools have their own identity and traditions. Immersed within that, is the cultural aspect, where students exhibit pride, and attach importance with the schools in which they attend.

But tradition is often misunderstood, and pride is readily misplaced by arrogance, to the extent that there is a tendency to commit violence, both within the school, and between rival schools. It is unfortunately condoned within the school system, and has indoctrinated itself as a norm, and value of the education system. I am against all violence in thought, word and indeed. I believe that there should be no place in human society for violence, where Dr. Martin Luther King said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that, it is a descending spiral. Returning violence with violence, only multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars”. The issue of violence, in my view, needs to be addressed before it is too late.

Therefore, I implore you all, attending this Forum, that the urgent needs of our schooling system, need also to be given significant attention, where there is a real concern for the society as a whole.

On that note, I wish you all a pleasurable stay in Tonga, and it is my fervent hope, that important strategies are formulated, and answers are found, for the urgent needs of our schooling system. I trust that this Forum, will be worthwhile for all in attendance, and look forward to positive developments, arising from this Forum.

May God Bless You All.
‘Ofa atu.

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