The Vaka Pasifiki Education Conference (VPEC) was held at the Falemasiva Hall on Thursday, 28th October, 2021, which began at 9:30am and ended at 5:30 pm, with 300 people attending. The conference was hosted by the Tonga Ministry of Education and Training, in a collaborative effort by the Tonga Institute of Education and the Institute of Education, USP, and is part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Re-thinking Pacific Education Initiatives for Pacific Peoples (RPEIPP).
The Vaka Pasifiki Education Conference has been held in a number of different Pacific Island nations over the years, beginning in Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, and this year was to have been held in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and border closure, island nations were encouraged to host their own local conferences, so this event was Tonga’s VPEC.
The RPEIPP was the result of a gathering of academics who were united in the pursuit of a common goal to have a stronger say in the educational initiatives run in each of their countries, allowing us to use our cultural capital to determine how programs might be run, and at the same time to nurture and build a new generation of indigenous Pacific leader-scholars. After 20 years, Tonga’s VPEC was a great opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and to re-chart the voyage of our Vaka. As an educational movement, this is an exciting time – the opportunity to hear from national leaders in Ako (Education), Lotu (Church/ Religion) and Fonua (Culture/ Land) as well as non-government education systems, industry and using statistics to inform our planning going forward from here.
This year’s regional theme is: Reimagining Pacific Education Together for the New and Sustainable Normal. From this over-arching theme, the organising committee in Tonga decided to use: Kafataha ‘o Sio Atu. The talanoa framework was used to run this conference so the setting was not a conventional one with the speakers and participants all sitting around an oval, likened to sitting in our humble fales. All the presentations were reminiscent of a family talanoa about what they valued, what they needed to look after and how they might do it (fakalotofale‘ia). The resulting talanoa was honest and refreshing where the audience felt uplifted, inspired, chastised, advised, supported, all the while knowing at all times, their best interests were being considered, and taken to heart.
The first three speakers representing Ako (Hon. Hu‘akavameiliku, Minister of Education & Training), Lotu (Pastor Mataele Fusitu‘a, Equippers Church) and Fonua (Lord Vaea of Houma) were asked questions by the Moderator (Fakalanga talanoa), to which they responded from each of these important areas of life in Tonga they represented.
The next presentations were by Mrs. Fatafehi Fifita, Principal of Liahona High School, and Rev. ‘Alifeleti ‘Atiola, General Secretary of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and Principal of Tupou College, who spoke on how non-government and government education systems might work better together (kafataha), and further strengthen their links. The resulting talanoa was thought-provoking and opened up other opportunities for future ongoing talanoa.
The following presentations were from industry, by Minoru Nishi of Nishi Trading and Rev. Tevita Palu of Palu Aviation. They talked about apparent mismatches and gaps in education in preparing young people for the workforce, not just here in Tonga but abroad where a lot of the young move to. Here was an opportunity to listen to the reality of the workforce and their needs for training in Tonga, and the need for communication and collaboration (kafataha).
The final presentation was by Dr. Viliami Fifita, Government Statistician, on what the statistics about education are telling us and how it can be used to inform planning for the future (Sio Atu). The summary and closing from His Eminence Soane Patita Paini Cardinal Mafi was a most fitting end to a day of rich feasting of the mind and soul (Kafataha ‘o Sio Atu).
The organisers wanted the conference to retain its integrity and solemn nature, hence it was a closed event so a video recording was taken by MET staff and will be shared with those interested in it.