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School drop outs of concern in Tonga

Tuesday 27 January 2015 | Published in Regional


NUKU‘ALOFA – Non government organisations and regional bodies are urgently trying to curb the alarming rate of secondary school drop outs in Tonga as it climbs to around an average of 1000 a year since 2008.

This month the European Union contributed funds to an NGO in a move to assist efforts to keep young Tongans at school.

However, the situation could need more than just funds, Dateline Pacific reports.

The educational leadership programme Takiama Ma‘a Tonga recently released figures showing that 5000 students had dropped out of secondary school between 2008 and 2013.

In 2014 the Tongan Queen described the situation as becoming an epidemic of failure.

Recognising the problem, this month the EU Ambassador, Andrew Jacobs, presented Takiama Ma‘a with a cheque for over US$142,000 to assist in programmes to alleviate the issue.

Jacobs said it was important for the EU to work with the Tongan NGO and the authorities to try and stem a “tide of lost potential”.

“ It’s a loss of potential for the students themselves, for their families and very importantly for Tongan society and the economy as a whole. I am very pleased that we will be working in this key area related to children’s rights and education,” Jacobs told Dateline Pacific.

Takiama Ma‘a managing director Mele Taumoepeau said the funds will be used to research how to make school interesting for students in an effort to keep them there.

Taumoepeau says there are a number of reasons for the high dropout rate.

“Parents pulling kids out to take care of family needs and things like that. There’s also the issue of students becoming disinterested in what they’re being offered in school and the school environment not being supported. There’s also the issue of parents not valuing education. “

But Vanessa Heleta, who runs a development and empowerment organisation called the Talitha Project, has a different theory.

The project recently had to stop a full scholarship programme because of a lack of participants.

Heleta says culturally Tongans are family orientated, which spreads beyond nuclear relatives. She says this has fuelled a dependency and over-reliance on remittances which in turn affects attitudes to education.

“There’s a notion of belief that we all have to help each other. So we have these problems, like if I can’t feed myself today, it’s okay because I can always ask my aunty or my cousin overseas to send me some money.”

Taumoepeau says while cultural factors and the like may take a while to be sorted, there are short term resolutions that can be actioned like policies around school leaving.

“The number of teachers per school or number of students per classroom or such things or minimum equipment and facilities needed. Things like that.”

She says the school leaving age could be raised too if needed.