Tongan Language Week: Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Ako Lelei (Enriching Aotearoa with holistic education)

Tongan Language Week: Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Ako Lelei (Enriching Aotearoa with holistic education)

This year’s theme for Uike Kātoanga‘i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga | Tongan Language Week is “Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Ako Lelei”, which means enriching Aotearoa with holistic education. Guest writer Malia Pole‘o shines a light on how a holistic education is beneficial for Tongan learners today – and for future generations.

Young woman poses at night for a photo at a harbour with bots on the water in the background
The author, Malia Pole‘o. Photo by Fugalaau Mafi, courtesy of Malia Pole‘o

Holistic education – a definition

Holistic education as one that “focuses on the fullest possible development of the person, encouraging individuals to become the very best or finest that they can be and enabling them to experience all they can learn from life and reach their goals,” in the words of academic scholar Roger Marshman.1

This definition itself should be the epitome of what our education should provide for all learners. Our education system should create a space where learners of all cultural backgrounds should feel included and welcomed, into a system where there is equal opportunity for all learners to reach their full academic potential, so one day they can fulfil their academic dreams.

Current situation in Aotearoa

However, the education system in Aotearoa fails to recognise the importance of providing courses for teachers that educate them about the significance of a teacher-student relationship that is composed of the core values of faka‘apa‘apa, which is respect, ‘ofa, meaning love, tauhi vā, which is nurturing relationships, and anga fakatokilalo, to serve with a humble heart.

There is a lack of opportunity within the teaching course that teaches the importance of cultural competency, and how it can be used effectively by teachers to communicate to learners of all cultural backgrounds, and to create a sense of understanding.

More Pasifika teachers

The education system also neglects to highlight the lack of Pasifika educators amongst all levels of education and there is an increasing need to push for additional Pasifika teachers within Aotearoa.

Pasifika educators are the lowest group of represented facilitators within the teaching sector which makes no logical sense when we look at the growing numbers of Pasifika students. As it is highlighted in the 2008 Pasifika learners report by Dr Pip Bruce Ferguson, Dr Ruth Gorinski, and Tanya Wendt Samu, by “2051, the population of Pacific students will increase from a one to ten ratio, to one in five.”2

I addressed this growth and the need for more Pasifika educators in my opinion piece ‘Where are our Pasifika teachers to lift up our learners?’ in the New Zealand Herald. In this article I stressed the importance of Pasifika teachers, stating that “a push for Pasifika educators also means that Pasifika learners can make important cultural connections to those of similar experiences and value”.

Holistic education for Tongan learners

A holistic education can enrich Aotearoa because it addresses a student’s identity in a holistic way. A holistic education focuses on the learner as a whole, providing a broader approach to learning that acknowledges their emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual, and social development.

This approach would also acknowledge the diversity in the class room, embracing different cultural values, belief systems, and identities of the class. Educators could also encourage students to make interconnections between their learning and their culture, communities, spiritual, and physical environments, and ultimately to the world. This will teach students how to become good adults who can adapt to this modern world. It will also equip students with the right tools to interact with people as they progress in to the academic paths and future workplaces.

A holistic education would also create opportunities to enhance our identity as Tongan learners, as it enables us to maintain anga fakatonga, as well as lea fakatonga (Tongan language). We must be encouraged by this idea and to look into what a holistic education can provide. I believe a holistic education will the upcoming generations of Tongan leaders, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and whatever it is that we desire to be.

Tokanga ki he ako, pea moe lotu

As Tongan peoples, our faith, love for our family, and our education are the most important aspects of our cultural identity. We are told from a young age that our education is the key to this idea of ‘success’ in this western world that surrounds us.

Growing up, I was constantly reminded by my Father to “tokanga ki he ako, pea moe lotu”, which simply means focus on school, and church. This simple phrase encourages me to continue to reach my academic goals so that one day I will be able to give back the knowledge I have gained throughout my academic journey to my family and the Tongan community of Aotearoa.

I aim to one day provide hope for future learners, by becoming a teacher who nurtures the values of faka‘apa‘apa (respect), by trying to be understanding to all students. I also want to show ‘ofa (love) by caring for students and serving them with a humble heart. I also want to provide support to those in need as I recognise that not all students have the same privileges or access to resources and academic opportunities.

A group of 16 students in Tongan dress pose for a group photo
Victoria University Tongan Students Association 2021 cohort. Photo by Fugalaau Mafi, courtesy of Malia Pole‘o

Future academic journeys

As we are in these challenging times of Covid-19, we must not focus on the difficulties we may be facing. Instead, we must think about the challenges and sacrifices of our parents, and grandparents. Their choice to leave their homelands and move to New Zealand to give us opportunities that we are fulfilling throughout our academic journeys. Their choice to give us the education they did not have.

We must be encouraged to utilise this time to reflect on our individual journeys, and to embrace this time spent with our families because times like these are precious.

Throughout our individual academic journeys as Tongan learners, I encourage everyone to embrace the shared obligation we have at our feet.  We must continue to nurture, grow, and protect our Tongan culture, knowledge, and language as part of our academic journey so that we can pass this on to future generations to come.

As the poet and writer Albert Wendt states, “we can’t rewalk the exact footprints we make in the stories of our lives but we’ll hear again our footprints like the lullabies our parents sang us the moment our stories end perhaps out of our footprints our children will nurse wiser lullabies.”


  1. Marshman, R. Concurrency of learning in the IB Diploma Programme and Middle Years. Retrieved from Semantic Scholar:  (2010, p.3)
  2. Ferguson, P., Gorinski, R., & Samu, T. Literature review on the experiences of Pasifika learners in the classroom [PDF; 541KB]. Report for the Ministry of Education. Retrieved from New Zealand Council for Educational Research, The Hub website. (2008, pg. 22)
  3. Drew, C. What Is Holistic Education? – Benefits and Limitations. (2020)

In the video above, members of the Victoria University Tongan Students Association share “their perspectives and thoughts about what ‘ako lelei’ means to them and why it is mahu‘inga to them as Tongan students.” Video from NZ Tonga Language Week/Facebook, edited by Mosi Moala-Mafi

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