Auckland primary schools embrace online celebration for Tongan language week

By RNZ.co.nz. Republished with permission. 

Primary schools in Auckland were among many institutions across the country taking up the call by the Ministry of Pacific Peoples to embrace Tongan language week online.

Aupito William Sio.
Aupito William Sio. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

This year’s Uike Lea Faka-Tonga or Tongan Language week was a virtual affair because of the nation-wide lockdowns for Covid 19 said Minister Aupito William Sio.

The theme is Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Ako Lelei, which in English, it means, Enriching Aotearoa New Zealand with holistic education.

“Of course, right now, learning the traditional way – such as attending school or university – was on hold due to the current Covid-19 restrictions.

“Alert Level 4 and 3 means students must learn from home, and follow the golden rules,” Sio said.

Aupito said education is highly valued in the Kingdom of Tonga and this year’s Tonga Language Week explores the importance of education and how Aotearoa can benefit.

“Holistic education completes the picture for many people – this knowledge gives them a sense of wholeness, and confidence in their own identity,” he said.

Glenbrae Primary School Principal Christina Patea
Glenbrae Primary School Principal Christina Patea Photo: Supplied

Glenbrae Primary School in Glen Innes is a part of the Manaiakalani Education Trust – a community of learners, whānau and educators in the Auckland suburbs of Glen Innes, Pt England and Panmure (collectively known as Tāmaki) who embarked on a project to raise student outcomes and build capacity and engagement through the combination of media and digital technologies and effective teaching practice.

Its principal Christina Patea said that meant the transition to move Tongan language week online was smooth and the students adapted extremely well.

“It’s just great to see our students who are proud of their culture and heritage be able to share this with our community even if it’s not face to face,” she said.

“Our Tongan whānau have really gone all out with decking out their lounges with the colour red, doing their Tongan dances and singing hymns with pride.

Glenbrae Primary School is predominantly Māori and Pasifika with a high percentage of Tongan families and Patea explained that it was very important for the school to acknowledge the Tongan culture.

“Part of the theme this year is about learning from the home and lockdown has done that, we’ve learnt a lot from the Tongan families who shared the culture with us in the virtual way.

“It is a tough time being in lockdown, and so this week of celebrating a culture has helped bring smiles to a lot of people in our community,” Patea said.

Valerie & Lisa Adams celebrating Tongan Language Week 2021 with Nga Iwi School
Valerie & Lisa Adams celebrating Tongan Language Week 2021 with Nga Iwi School Photo: Supplied

Nga Iwi Primary School in Māngere have been hosting daily Zoom every day this week at midday and on Wednesday’s video conferencing session the students had a surprise New Zealand celebrity guest join in.

“We were very honoured to have the presence of Valerie Adams and her sister Lisa jump on our Zoom this week to celebrate Tongan language week with us,” Principal Michelle Fepuleai said.

She explained that Valerie is the niece of one of their Tongan staff members and they were grateful she made time for them while she was in managed isolation quarantine.

“She spoke first about her upbringing in Māngere, being an Olympian and representing New Zealand, but also carrying the Tongan flag close to her heart and her inspiration, which she said was her late mother,” she said.

Stanhope Road Primary School in Mt Wellington has over 60 cultures in their community, with a third being Pasifika and Tonga being the largest ethnic group in the school.

Leilani Salesa is a teacher at Stanhope Road, and she said because the celebration of the Tongan language has moved online, the staff decided to get students into positions of leadership and expertise and lead the content that was shared online on their Facebook page.

“We had our juniors doing activities like spelling out Tongan words using resources they found at home.

“We were getting multi-generational videos where grandparents and parents support their children to participate in learning new Tongan words,” she said.

Salesa shared that the staff members participated in the fun too by sharing a video of them all attempting the language in their bubbles.

“We have no Tongan teachers in Stanhope, but that didn’t stop us from researching into the culture, so that we can lead by example for our students.

“As part of the action plan for Pacific Education, we want to enable every teacher at our school to do their best by Pacific learners,” Salesa said.

Valerie Adams joined in on Nga Iwi School's celebration online for Tongan Language Week 2021
Valerie Adams joined in on Nga Iwi School’s celebration online for Tongan Language Week 2021 Photo: Supplied

Tongans make up 1.7 percent of New Zealand’s population, with our Pacific population expected to reach 414,000 this year.

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