Kisione Manu has loved science since he was a high school student in Tonga. It was one particular teacher’s inspirational style that got him hooked, he recalls, despite her disavowal of evolution because it did not align with her staunch Christian views.
Manu’s passion for science led to a Bachelor of Science at Massey 10 years ago, which in turn led to a commitment to science education. For a decade he taught chemistry and biology at Tonga High School, then he began a job in 2015 as a senior qualification analyst at the Tonga National Qualifications and Accreditation Board, in Nuku‘alofa.
He noted gaps in local knowledge and structures about how best to support students to achieve educationally – so he returned to New Zealand to complete a Master of Education at Massey’s Institute of Education, through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade New Zealand Scholarship initiative.
His thesis continued his quest to ensure that Tongan secondary and tertiary students receive the best possible learning opportunities. His research explored a critical aspect of educational achievement – the ability of a student to gauge how they are progressing, and to determine what further support or resources they need to succeed.
Recognising the relevance of Pasifika ways of learning, and the role that self-assessment can play in Pasifika students’ success, has been one of the highlights of his educational journey, he says.
“Self-assessment requires the Pasifika learner to examine the ‘self’ on how, what and where their learning is, at different points. It pushes the Pasifika learner out of their comfort zone, from not always seeing ‘the help’ coming from elsewhere to unleashing resources from within the ‘self’ as a learner.”
Research on Pasifika students’ success has consistently voiced the importance of nurturing respectful relationships between teachers and students, he says. Another important aspect is the cultural capital that students bring to the learning situation – this also applies to Pasifika students in New Zealand.
Pasifika students’ success is influenced by various factors, including: language differences; cultural, family and communal commitments; socio-economic factors; unfamiliarity with academic culture and the appropriate behaviours and actions in such a context; lack of communication and help; and Pasifika shyness.
He says tertiary education is still in its infancy in Tonga and he hopes his work as a senior qualification analyst, equipped with new understandings from his postgraduate research, will contribute to high standards.
“I think there is still work to be done at the university level to ensure that Pasifika students feel they are entering an environment where they belong,” he says. “Having a Fale Pasifika space is a good start, but more can be done through teachings and creating learning materials that are Pasifika user-friendly.”