No'oloto: Exploring the Epistemological Significance of No’oloto to the Academic Achievements of Tongan Tertiary Students in New Zealand

Kailahi, Vaivaifolau
Tagaloatele Peggy, Fairbairn-Dunlop
Item type
Degree name
Master of Education
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

New Zealand statistics indicate that Pacific students’ academic performance has been low at both secondary and tertiary level. These are significant concerns given that Pacific students are deemed capable of great potential. While there are undoubtedly many factors contributing to educational achievement, this research focussed on whether and how a culturally grounded motivation approach might be applied to increase the educational engagement and achievement of students who do not live in the homeland. One of the most successful Tongan motivation systems is no’oloto. No’oloto is used explicitly by Punake (composers and choreographers) in the Tongan art of fa’u ta’anga (poetry composition), hiva (music). This thesis asks, could no’oloto be used as a tool to motivate Tongan students?

It is an honour being a Punake and my experience in no’oloto initiated in me the irresistible urge to explore no’oloto in educational motivation. Questions for this exploratory study were: what motivates Tongan tertiary students to engage and achieve in tertiary education in New Zealand today? What are Tongan tertiary students’ understandings of no’oloto? Moreover, finally, and looking to the future, how could no’oloto be utilised as a motivating system for Tongan tertiary students in New Zealand? Using the Kakala framework, individual and group talanoa were carried out with tertiary level students comprising postgraduate and undergraduate. A focus group talanoa was held with community groups, which comprised of Punake, cultural experts, tui kakala practitioners, Community and Church leaders and community members.

Findings from student interviews were that their motivation to study was irregular, characterised by highs and lows. Few students knew about the no’oloto, but when this concept was introduced, all agreed to the potential of no’oloto as a motivational tool generally and for Tongan students. The major focus of the community talanoa was to seek their knowledge, understandings and experiences of the no’oloto generally and as a motivational tool. Findings were that almost three-quarters of the community focus group strongly believed, the no’oloto concept should be reviewed, reclaimed and used as a strategic tool to enhance the advancement of tertiary students in New Zealand today. Community groups identified the main motivation factors integral to no’oloto to be fakakouna (feeling compelled), faka’amanaki (opportunity/ aspiration/inspiration), tauhi vā (honouring relationships), and fakamā and ngalivale (shame & disgrace). Furthermore, no’oloto encompasses four lalava/ha’i (ties/lashes): tukuloto’i (stored/harbour in mind/heart), poletaki (commitment & challenge), tauleva (pride in ownership) and matu’uekina (resiliency). Findings suggest there is great potential in using traditional cultural models, such as no’oloto, as motivational tools for Tongan students in New Zealand and need to test these in a learning situation.

As part of the study, the Kakala Research Framework (KRF) was critiqued and refined. The new redefined and proposed tui kakala process consist of ten (10) stages instead of six (6) as per the original framework for this study.

Tongan peoples , Education , Punake , No'oloto , Kakala Research Framework , Talanoa , Motivation
Publisher's version
Rights statement