Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tongan Schools

Not surprisingly, the Tongan school system is different than America’s. Almost all students attend a public elementary school, and at the end of sixth grade, they take a huge test on all their subjects: Tongan, English, Math, Science, Social Studies. Based on their scores from the test, the Secondary School Entrance Exam (SEE), they are admitted to high school (these years are called “forms;” thus, Forms 1-7).

The best students (according to this one test) are admitted to the public high schools – usually one per island group (there are 5 island groups). The lower-scoring students are admitted to religious schools – Catholic, Wesleyan, Free Church of Tongan – but they’re not required to be of the school’s religion. Families pay a modest amount for the tuition. The lowest-scoring students aren’t admitted to any high school; they can repeat sixth grade and hopefully do better on the next test, or just end their schooling. If they end their schooling, they’ll probably live at home with their parents, helping with chores, and weave, fish, or work in the bush. Sometimes, parents choose not to send students to high school, even if the student is admitted.

Since I’m an English teacher, one of my jobs is to prepare these students for the English section of this test. I rummaged through the piles of papers (including the original proposal for building the current school building from 2004-ish and workbooks from 1976) in the school to find past tests and any other resources that might be helpful for the SEE. I decided to use that test as the overall guide for my lesson planning since, ha – of course, the school doesn’t have a syllabus for teaching English. (“Does the government give you any requirements about teaching?” “Um, ‘ikai.” No.)

Fortunately, I found about 18 years worth of tests. They’re pretty comprehensive, and I’m having difficulty figuring out how to set up the upcoming year. I’m trying to brainstorm a lesson plan for these four sixth graders, while covering all these different areas, but keeping in mind that there are also fourth and fifth graders in the class. How to teach students who don’t know more than “My name is Palu” while teaching other students “You have finished fixing the boat, haven’t you?”

Other interesting things on the test include a reading comprehension section. Question: Based on the passage, why might we think Lesieli is a Christian? Correct answer: Because she runs every day of the week except Sundays.

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