Female Experiences of Secondary Education in Tonga

Kautai, Fe'aomoengalu
Brown Pulu, Teena
Pamatatau, Richard
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Master of Arts
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis is a qualitative study exploring the meanings of secondary education in Tonga for female students from the perspectives of migrant Tongan women who are living in Auckland, New Zealand. These six women were born and raised in the village of Lapaha in the Hahake (eastern) district of Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, and are aged between forty-two and fifty-eight years old. During their childhood and adolescent years they attended Takuilau College, which is the Catholic co-educational secondary school in Lapaha village catering for Form 1 to Form 6 students; the New Zealand equivalent to Year 7 to Year 12.

The research is framed by firstly, a specific inquiry into their understandings of success and failure for female students, and secondly, a general inquiry into their experiences of secondary education at a Catholic high school for girls and boys in a Tongan village setting. The study’s main finding is that although the Tongan secondary education system is weighted heavily on whether senior students pass or fail state examinations held at the end of every school year, the women retained loyal ties to their former Catholic high school irrespective of whether they, themselves, had passed or failed state examinations. As adult migrants, some were involved in an ex-student group established in Auckland, New Zealand, aimed at fundraising for, and supporting the current students of, Takuilau college.

The thesis has used the research framework of kakala designed by Tongan education academic Konai Helu-Thaman to carry out online talanoa or interview discussions with the participants by a culture-informed process. Such a process centres the Tongan language and aspects of cultural identity – a common village of descent – as the research methods by which to establish relationships, communicate familiarly, and co-construct the women’s stories of female experiences of secondary education in Tonga. The study argues that exchanging talanoa about personal reflections and reconfiguring kakala as not only a research model, but also a framework for learning in Tongan society, is a valid approach for gathering deep qualitative insights into how Tongan women, in this case, attribute meaning to their past experiences as female students.

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