Catholic schools’ mixed national exam results worry ex-students after alarming report about biggest diocesan school

The Takuilau Catholic school’s outstanding results in the 2021 national examination released last week have triggered concerns in the wake of a damning report about the falling student achievement of ‘Apifo’ou College – the church’s biggest school in Tonga.

Dr ‘Alisi Kautoke Hōlani. Photo/Screengrab

A total of 17 out of 20 students of Takuilau College Form Seven – or 85 percent of the class passed their national exams.

While the overall result was applauded, it also sparked serious concerns about the ‘Apifo’ou College’s academic standing.

When the Ministry of Education (MOE) released the results of the examination it mentioned schools which had outstanding performances. ‘Apifo’ou College was not mentioned.

It said the overall pass rate for the Tonga Form Six Certificate (TFSC) 202l is 49 percent, a slight decrease from 54 percent in 2020.

“There are four schools that showed outstanding improvement in the TFSC examination”, the MOE said.

“The best performing High School having attained 77% in 2021 from 33% in 2020 is St Andrews High School of the Anglican Church Mission .The second best performing High School is Niuafo’ou District High School with an improved pass rate of 80% from 57% in 2020. This is followed by Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu College, Vava’u of the Free Wesleyan  Church Mission with 67% in 2021 from 45% in 2020 and ‘Eua High School achieved 82% from 61% in 2020”, the Ministry said in a statement.

It also said: “Four subjects attained the Distinction Level namely Mathematics, Biology, Accounting and Computing and lCT from Tonga High School, Queen Sālote College in Accounting and Liahona High School also in Computing and ICT”.

‘Apifo’ou came last in 2020 exams

Concerns among the ‘Apifo’ou ex-students came in the wake of a damning report about the reasons why the students performance fell by a huge margin in the national tests.

The report by Dr ‘Alisi Kautoke Hōlani was revealed during a meeting with ex-students in Tongatapu in August 2021 which was livestreamed and shared on Facebook.

Dr Hōlani, who was an ex-student of ‘Apifo’ou and was a member of the school’s executive committee, described the report in Tongan as devastating.

In 2020, Form Six class students from 22 high schools took part in the national exam and when the results were announced ‘Apifo’ou came last, Dr Hōlani said.

Form Five students from 35 schools participated in the national exam in 2020 and when the results were out ‘Apifo’ou was numbered 28.

Dr Hōlani, who is currently the Deputy CEO of the government’s Ministry of Trades and Economic Development, said she was shocked when she learned about the results.

She said she, her uncles, grandparents and great grandparents went to ‘Apifo’ou College and they took pride in the success and achievements they had at school. She said this was especially so when it came to national school examinations and competitions. She said that in the past ‘Apifo’ou’s performance results were either in the top five or top 10.

She also said ‘Apifo’ou often challenged the kingdom’s top high school, the Tonga High School in attaining top marks in national examinations.

Concerned ex-students shared the same experience with Dr Hōlani and called on the church to overhaul the school system and work with the various ‘Apifo’ou alumni associations to help the school.

Some asked why Takuilau College could have achieved such an excellent result and not ‘Apifo’ou.

Teachers’ salaries so low

Dr Holani said an inquiry was conducted to find out why the school was failing. It found that the best teachers at ‘Apifo’ou had left the school and were teaching at the government schools because the government paid their teachers far more.

She said ‘Apifo’ou paid TOP$10,000 for teachers who had overseas first-degree qualifications, while the government paid a minimum of TOP$30,000.

Dr Hōlani said she was emotional when she found out from the inquiry that ‘Apifo’ou only had a limited budget of TOP$2000 to fund its scientific laboratory every year. She said the money was not enough to buy the resources needed to help teach Form One and Two students.

She said teachers at ‘Apifo’ou had no option but to go to other schools, including Tailulu College, and borrow their scientific teaching resources.

She said the annual budget for the economic lessons was TOP$1000.

“You can figure out from there that that’s one of the reasons why our examination results fell,” Dr Hōlani said in Tongan.

Alumni Associations willing to help

Dr Hōlani said ex-students could play an important role in helping the school. She urged all former students to pull together as a team to rescue the school they loved.

The news came after the Apifo’ou College online community told the authorities they were willing to help.

‘Apifo’ou College has one of the strongest and liveliest overseas alumni especially in New Zealand, where more than 80,000 Tongans live.

The Association’s members in New Zealand are classified into years when they studied at ‘Apifo’ou, including 1975-80, 1981-85, 1986-90 apart from some who gave the groups their own names. That classification was proved to work well when the jubilee of the school’s 125th year was celebrated in 2012. All groups were tasked with various projects to help the school, including mathematics and computer science laboratories.

However, it appeared that after the jubilee there was nothing else to maintain the spirit and the communication between the New Zealand associations and the ‘Apifo’ou College’s authorities. It led to most of the projects collapsing due to lack of upkeep and maintenance.

It is understood that the New Zealand, Australian and American ‘Apifo’ou alumni associations are still willing to help the school, but need the college to tell them what they need.

FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA NOUNOU

Kuo tuku mai ‘a e ola ‘a e ngaahi sivi fakapule’anga ‘o e 2021 pea kuo hoko ‘a e tu’ukimu’a ‘a e Kolisi Takuilau ‘a e Katolika’ ke ‘ohake ai ‘a e hoha’a kuo ki’i tolanga mai ki he tu’unga tō lalo fau kuo ‘i ai ‘a e Kolisi ‘Apifo’ou ‘a e siasi’ ni. ‘I hono fakamafola ‘e he Potungāue Ako ‘a Tonga’ ‘a e ola ‘o e sivi’ ne mahino pe ‘a e Ako Mā’olunga ‘o Tonga’ ka ne ‘i ai mo e ngaahi ako ne fu’u ola lelei mo fakalaka ‘aupito hangē ko Sa ‘Anitelū, Liahona mo Kuini Sālote. Kau ki ai mo e Ako Mā’olunga ‘a ‘Eua’, Mailefihi Siu’ilikutapu, mo e Ako Mā’olunga ‘a Niuafo’ou. Ne ‘ikai ‘asi heni ‘a ‘Apifo’ou.  Kuo tālanga’i e  tō lalo ‘a ‘Apifo’ou ‘e he’enau kau ako tutuku’ he ope’  ‘i he laumālie ‘o e fietokoni he ‘oku ‘ikai ko e me’a ‘eni ne anga ki ai ‘a e ako’anga’ ni talu mei mu’a. Ne mei ‘i he top 5 pe top 10 pe ‘a ‘Apifo’ou ‘i he ngaahi sivi fakapule’anga fakafonua’ pea ‘i ai e ngaahi taimi ne ne fa’a pole’i ‘a e Ako Mā’olunga ‘a Tonga he ngaahi fe’uhi lahi. Ne hū mai e hoha’a ko ‘eni hili ia hono tuku mai ha lipooti ko ha faka’eke’eke ‘eni fekau’aki mo e tōlalo ‘a ‘Apifo’ou’. Ne ‘asi ai ‘i he 2020, ne fe’unga mo e apiako foomu ono ‘e 22 ‘i Tonga ne sivi’. ‘I he ola ‘o e sivi ‘a e foomu ko ‘eni’ ko ‘Apifo’ou ne muimui taha’ pe fika 22. Pea ko e foomu nima ne fe’unga mo e ‘apiako ‘e 35 ko ‘Apifo’ou ne fika 28. Ne fai leva e fakatotolo ki he tupu’anga  ‘a e tōlalo’. ‘Uluaki’ ko e ‘ikai sai ‘a e vahe ‘a e kau faiako’. Lahi e ‘alu ‘a e kau faiako lelei ne ‘i ‘Apifo’ou’ ki he pule’anga’ ‘o faiako ai ko ‘ene vahe lelei. ‘Ikai ko ia pe toe fu’u vaivai fakapa’anga pe ‘a ‘Apifo’ou ia. Ne fakatātā’aki ‘a e ‘ikai fe’unga e patiseti $2,000 ‘oku fakapa’anga’aki ‘a e leepi saienisi ke kumi’aki ‘a e naunau fe’unga mo totonu ki he ako’. Iku leva  ki he ‘alu ‘a e kau faiako’ ‘o kole naunau mei he leepi ‘a e ngaahi ako kehe’ kau ai ‘a e kole ki he Kolisi Tailulu’. Ko e fakamatala tonu ‘eni ‘a Dr ‘Alisi Kautoke Hōlani, na’e ako mo ia ‘i ‘Apifo’ou,  kau ki he palopalema’ ni mo ne uki e kau ako tutuku ke nau ‘ofa ‘o ala nima ange ke tokoni’i ‘a e ako’anga’.

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