A leaked government report on a rushed reform of Tonga’s education system in 2015 reveals confusion and concern within the Ministry and points to serious systemic failures that will take years to sort out. But the report, which apparently upset the Prime Minister, has not been officially released.
The leaked report highlights problems that the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) faced while trying to implement the transition from Standardized Marks to Raw Marks under a new system that was supposed to be trialled in 2016 but was “fully implemented” by the Prime Minister Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, as Minister of Education, in 2015.
The decision to implement the raw marks system has made it very difficult for 2015 Form 7 students to be accepted into universities in Tonga and overseas this year, because those institutions accept students based on their standardized marks not raw marks. There are other issues of concern particularly for educators, parents and students.
Matangi Tonga and other Tongan media organisations have been trying to get information from the Ministry of Education over the changing of the examination marking system and the education system in general, but officials in the Ministry have been reluctant to speak out.
It has become clear that the changeover is the idea of the Prime Minister Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, his son Siaosi Pohiva who works for the SPC’s regional Educational Quality Assessment Program (EQAP) and a friend Piveni Piukala, an IT programmer, who was supposed to have developed a computer software to analyse the transition toward what is known as an “outcome-based” approach for curriculum and assessment that will result in reporting Tongan students results in raw marks.
However, in recent days information has begun to leak out from the Ministry of Education and Training.
The first leaked document was titled “MET [MOET] Report in Response to Queries from Media,” and discusses nine key issues. It was submitted to the Ministry by the Examination and Assessment Unit (EAU) of MOET in response to some of the questions that were raised by the Tonga Media Council and the public on matters related to the 2015 examinations.
Why was the report not released to the media? No one knows, but according to our source, the 11 pages report was presented at a recent internal meeting attended by the Minister of Education and Training, the PM Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who reportedly got up and left before they finished reading the report.
The report highlighted the involvement of the Prime Minister’s son, Siaosi Pohiva and Piveni Piukala in the processing of the end of the year examination results for Tonga School Certificate (TSC), Tonga Form Six Certificate (TFSC) and Tonga National Form Seven Certificate (TNFSC).
It reported that after the Examination and Assessment Unit of Tonga’s Ministry of Education had been working with EQAP (Suva) IT personnel, processing the TNFSC examination result throughout December and the first week of January, the Acting CEO, Dr Raelyn ‘Esau had “advised EAU of the Ministerial Direction to have IT consultant (Piveni Piukala) come in and process the examination result.”
Siaosi Pohiva had requested the TNFSC data file, which was then provided by EAU on 6 January – given the directions from the Acting CEO. Then Piveni Piukala was provided with the data file for TFSC and TSC on 14 January for processing.
According to the report, the involvement of Piveni in the processing of the TSC, TFSC and TNFSC results “was due to concerns from the Acting CEO that the [regional] EQAP IT team has failed to deliver expectations in terms of processing the TNFSC examination result.”
The official final examination TNFSC results were released to heads of non-government schools and principals of government schools on Friday 15 January together with TSC and TFSC results.
After the official release of the results, various flaws in the processing procedures were identified in the TFSC Physics, Visual Art, Geography and Fine Art results.
“It is understandable that the hurried nature of the processing of the raw marks results resulted in the… mistakes,” the report stated.
The examination results for Form 7 were standardized by examination unit staff without the assistance of EQAP, and the standardized results were issued only to Form 7 students upon request (and not as a general release).
Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training sets and checks the exams for Tonga’s Form 5, 6 and 7 students, but it works closely with EQAP, because the EQAP endorsement of the results of its Form 7 students will enable them to enter universities overseas.
The validity of the 2015 examination results is being widely challenged. A total of 321 students from Form 5, 6, 7, have appealed their 2015 results (compared to 118 the previous year). The principals of Vava‘u secondary schools who were dissatisfied with the 2015 results are insisting that the Ministry provide answers to concerned parents, staff and students. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised by scholarship donors.
The transfer and the repositioning of ministry staff was also a matter of great concern.
The report explains how due to the sudden changes to examination unit staff along with the repetitive transfer of the Chief Education Officer, the examination preparation operations were affected and the much-needed analysis was not performed. Consequently, the TNFSC examination papers were not pre-standardized as publicly proclaimed and advocated by the regional South Pacific Commission’s Educational Quality Assessment Program (EQAP).
“This questions the validity and the reliability of the 2015 Tonga National Form Seven Certificate (TNFSC) examination papers,” stated the report.
The haste of the decision to shift to raw marks meant that consultations were not sufficient to provide clarity to the new system the Ministry had adopted.
“Important stakeholders that MET [MOET] failed to consult with, were the parents and students.”
The system went ahead in spite of requests from the Ministry staff and head of the FWC Education system to defer the implementation of the raw marks system in 2015, until full preparation was made toward obtaining full recognition of raw marks and accreditation of the TNFSC qualification.
The report stressed that there had been an understanding within the Ministry and in fact in accordance with Hon. Pohiva’s letter to EQAP in Suva that the syllabus would be trialled in 2016. “Yet the reformed curriculum has been given its ministerial approval and is now fully implemented in schools.”
Teachers remained confused over content of the curriculum.
“A lot of information within the Ministry are not transparent and are not shared amongst staff, hence there is confusion and ignorant [sic] amongst the workers.
“There are still grey areas of the outcome-based curriculum that teachers do not understand and they remain clueless… the issue needs to be addressed urgently,” the report concluded.
The report also reveals that the Ministry has failed to complete and provide schools with the approved curricula for all subjects at the beginning of the 2016 academic year.