Dr Taufeʻulungaki’s comments “disrespectful” and “untrue,” Prime Minister’s Office says

Claims by former Minister of Education, Dr ‘Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki that Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva did not understand what he was doing were disrespectful and untrue, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The Office said that in his role as the Education Minister, Hon. Pohiva was working to find a solution to a recently released report which showed that exam pass rates had declined dramatically while Dr Taufe’ulungaki was Minister of Education.

Hon. Pohiva, a former government teacher and lecturer at Tonga’s Teachers Training College now known as Tonga Institute of Education, said one of the problems that contributed to the decline was the use of standardisation of results to improve students’ final marks.

This meant primary school students who failed the Secondary Entrance Examination (SEE), particularly in English and Mathematics, could still get into high school, but were ill prepared to cope with work at a higher level.

The scaling of entrance exam results had misled the public about student performance, the PM’s Office said.

The PM’s Office released its statement after Dr Taufe’ulungaki joined forces with a group of supporters who strongly criticised Hon. Pohiva’s move to return the education system’s marking process to assessing raw marks.

Dr Taufe’ulungaki and her supporters believe standardisation is best for Tonga and it should be maintained.

Hon. Pohiva said Dr Taufe’ulungaki should give him a chance to do his job as her time was over.

The Prime Minister’s Office said a report was released on September 8 in which Hon. Pohiva pointed why students had performed poorly in the last decade.

Pohiva claimed Dr Taufe’ulungaki was well aware of the report as it was something she witnessed while she was a minister, but since the report was released none of his critics had formulated a response.

He said Dr Taufe’ulungaki should understand the ministerial posts were political appointments and their roles were mainly limited to matters like policy making decisions.

He said the ministry was comprised of senior officials and experts on various fields who ensured  the education system functioned properly.

The report

The report analysing the quality of education in Tonga showed that the rate of students passing their exams had been declining over the past decade, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

According to the report, the pass rate of students sitting for English and Mathematics in SEE in the period 2002–2014 was consistently about 30% or lower.

It said this level of performance was disappointingly low and nothing had been done to improve the situation, despite efforts to reform the education system.

In 2002, 23% of the students who sat for English passed. This pass rate dropped to 20% in 2014. In Mathematics, only 17% passed in 2014, a drop of 14 percent from 31% in 2002.

There was also a clear indication that the number of students passing popular subjects like Tongan Studies and Environmental Science with 50% raw marks or better had also declined.

Since taking office in January, Hon. Pohiva has attempted to find a solution to fix the declining trends of students’ performance.

The Prime Minister’s office said the public did not know how badly students had done because of the standardisation process and the way the results were reported.

“The scaling of results has misled the public about student performance against prescribed learning outcomes, thus allowing students to enter secondary school ill prepared.

“It infers that the scaling process has allowed students who actually failed in Mathematics and English to move on to secondary school alongside those who had passed legitimately.”

The main points

  • Claims by former Minister of Education, Dr ‘Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki that Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva did not understand what he was doing were disrespectful and untrue, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
  • The Office said that in his role as the Education Minister, Hon. Pohiva was working to find a solution to a recently released report which showed that exam pass rates had declined dramatically while Dr Taufe’ulungaki was Minister of Education.
  • Pohiva said one of the problems that contributed to the decline was the use of standardisation of results to improve students’ final marks.
  • This meant primary school students who failed the Secondary Entrance Examination, particularly in English and Mathematics, could still get into high school, but were ill prepared to cope with work at a higher level.

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