[lg policy] Minister of Education introduces new language policy for Tongan schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 31 15:47:22 UTC 2012

Minister of Education introduces new language policy for Tongan schools
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 18:45
Nuku'alofa, Tonga

The Ministry of Education will launch its new language policy for all
Tongan schools at the beginning of the 2012 school year in February.
Dr 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, the Minister of Education, said that under the
new policy Tongan will be the only language to be used in all
kindergarten schools, and in primary schools from Classes 1-3. An
exception will be for children whose mother tongue is not Tongan. The
English language will be introduced into the schools in Class 4 as a

>>From Classes 4-6 the Tongan will remain to be the dominant language,
but its use in classes will gradually decrease as the use of the
English language increases. The policy determines the language use as
a percentage of teaching time, based on a week of 880 minutes of
teaching time. Under the new language policy, the percentage of Tongan
and English to be used in classes are: Class 4, 80% Tongan, 20%
English; Class 5, 70% Tongan, 30% English; Class 6, 60% Tongan, 40%

By the time the students enter high schools, from Form 1-7, language
use will be 50% Tongan and 50% English. The Tongan language will be a
compulsory subject, starting from Class 1 at primary level to Form 7
at high school. English will be a compulsory subject from Class 3 to
Form 6. Students who may want to step up to another level in their
study of the two languages will be able to do so from Form 3 to 7.

'Ana said that the prime objective of the new policy is that when
students leave high school at age 18 they should be able to speak,
listen, write, and read in both Tongan and English.


There have been various attempts to set a language policy for Tonga.
'Ana recalled an attempt in 1999 to implement a bilingual language
policy, and there was also another attempt at the turn of the century,
"then it became very confusing because there were no supporting text
books, and it was not in line with the school curriculum".

The New Zealand government funded the Tonga Education Support program
(TES) in 2004, and two of its components were to draw up a new
syllabus for primary schools, and a language policy.

'Ana said that a Cabinet sub-committee was to approve projects that
were completed under TES before they could be implemented.

At the time while she was with the Ministry of Education. 'Ana played
a leading role in the drafting of the language policy, which was
approved the Cabinet sub-committee in 2008.

In 2007 'Ana left the Ministry of Education to become the Deputy Vice
Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Suva Fiji. She
returned to the Ministry in 2009 and then left again in 2010 to become
the Director of Pacific Studies at the USP Tonga Campus, until last
year when she was appointed as Tonga's new Minister of Education.

It has been a long journey for 'Ana to eventually implement a policy
that has meant so much for her, and at a time when researchers and
linguists have given the warning signals that the Tongan language is
in the danger of decline.

"We might even have to adopt the approach that was taken by the Maori
to save their language, by politicizing the issue," said 'Ana, who
admired how the Maoris successfully brought back the Maori language to
popular usage.

Following the implementation of the language policy, 'Ana said that
the next step for Tonga is to establish a Language Commission. An
amendment to the Education Act has been drafted to go through the law
making process, which will legally enforce clauses in the policy.

An example of how the Tongan language is making itself irrelevant, is
the law-making process itself. 'Ana said that under the constitution,
that the interpretation of the Tongan version of the Tongan law is the
one that has the supremacy. But the problem now is that the Tongan law
is no longer drafted in Tongan first and then translated into English.
It is the other way around, so even if there is a difference in the
translation, the Tongan version remains to be law of Tonga.

But because of the Tongan language problems, what happens now is that
while the Tongan version of the Tonga Law is considered to be the
legal version, we have a situation where the English interpretation of
the law is considered to be the correct one.

'Ana told of reports by researchers and discussions with Tongan
people, indicating that the status of the Tongan language is lower
than that of English, simply because being able to speak English makes
it easier to find employment and to secure opportunities for further
studies, either locally or overseas. English remains to be the
language that is used by the business community and by government.

However, she was optimistic that with the language policy Tonga would
eventually have a population that would be fluent in both Tongan and

She believed that Tonga could become a successful bilingual society,
but all it needs is a commitment by the government and the people of

Commenting on the introduction of the new policy, the President of the
Tongatapu School Principals' Association, Paula Fonua, appreciated the
intention of the government's new language policy.

While he did not think it would be very difficult for some of the
church schools to implement the policy, "because we use the Tongan
language as the teaching language at all levels, and that is common
practice with most church schools, excepting for Liahona and the Ocean
of Light", Paula believed that government schools would face the
difficulties of implementing such a policy.

He said that the problem they were facing was not in the using of the
Tongan language in the schools, but because all exam papers were in
English, so the learning and the use of the English language was a
problem for them.
Ministry of Education
Tongan language

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