Hundreds Of Secondary School Students Fail End Of Year Exam In Tonga

Student failures blamed on a sudden decision by the PM in March 2015 to change the national examination mark system to a Raw Mark system, abandoning the Standardized Marks System

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, February 05, 2017) – The failure of hundreds of Form 5, 6 and 7 students in their 2016 end of the year examination was one of several controversial issues that the Tongan Parliament had to deal with when it  opened for its 2017 session last week on Monday, 30 January.

The student failures have been blamed on a sudden decision by the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva who was also the Minister of Education in March 2015, to change the national examination mark system to a Raw Mark system, while abandoning the Standardised Marks System that the Ministry of Education had been trying to put in place for more than 12 years.

The large number of students who either have to repeat classes or dropped out from school was raised by Fe’ao Vakata, the People’s Representative for Niuafo’ou and Niuatoputapu. Fe’ao pointed out that at high schools in Tonga, students who failed in their end-of- the year’s exam, could not enter university or repeat Form 7, and about 200 of these drop-out secondary school students were now destined to join the growing list of Tonga’s unemployed school leavers.

However, the scale of the failures in education was not immediately clear because Parliament was not given any comparative figures with previous years' results.


The marking system has been controversial since it was hurriedly introduced.

When the Prime Minister and Tonga’s Minister of Education, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva in March 2015 decided for Tonga to revert back to the Raw Marks System, it caused an uproar among educators and scholars within the Ministry of Education.

There were protest marches and letters of petition to the KIng in Privy Council and to Parliament but it appears that no one could change the Prime Minister’s decision.

Lord Tu’ilakepa also queried the whereabouts of computer software costing $250,000 that the PM’s son Siaosi Pohiva who works for the SPC’s regional Educational Quality Assessment Program (EQAP), and a friend Piveni Piukala, an IT programmer, were developing to analyse the transition toward what is known as an “outcome-based” approach for curriculum and assessment that will result in reporting Tongan students' results in raw marks.

The PM responded that he knew what he was doing and that “there is no software.”

Hon. ‘Epinisa Fifita, who two weeks earlier on 16 January, swapped with the Prime Minister to become the Minister of Education (when the PM became the Minister of Internal Affairs and Sports), told the House that he would let them know the number of high school Form 7 drop outs by the end of February.

Pacific Games delays

During the first four days of this year’s parliamentary session from 30 January to 2 February, members also raised the controversial issue of the Pacific Games hosting.

There was a letter from the President of the Tonga Amateur Sports Association and National Olympic Committee Lord Tupou and the Chairman of the 2019 Pacific Games Organising Committee, Lord Sevele expressing their concern over the delay in the construction of Sporting Facilities for the 2019 Pacific Games. They also proposed for government to appoint a Minister of Sports.

The PM responded to some of the issues raised in the letter, but the House with votes of 14-7 agreed to let government respond to the letter, though the letter was addressed to the Speaker of the House.

Popua Park

Another major concerns was raised that government had invested thousands of Pa’anga to build the Popua Park recreation park in a vacated public rubbish dump in a swampy area, installing street lights, decorative fencing and carved rocks, while the living conditions of the two settlements nearby were very tough.

If that was not controversial enough the PM is building a canal through the swamp to an island nearby where a 18-holes golf course will be build for the 2019 Pacific Games.

The PM told the House that the new 18-holes golf course costing between $12 and $14 million Pa’anga, was less than the $14 to $16 million that the Organising Committee was going to spend to upgrade the 9-holes golf course at Manamo’ui.

No environmental impact report

While around half a kilometre of canals have already been dug at Popua and massive earthworks are underway, the environmental impact report has not been done and a master plan is not finished.

According to government, an environment impact of the work that has already been carried out and the construction of this 160 acres in this swampy area, will be carried out once a Master Plan of the project is drawn up.

To add a bit of spice to what has been going on in parliament, after the Prime Minister's Office presented its 2015 Annual Report.

Lord Tu’ilakepa queried when had the PM’s son, Sosaia Po’oi Pohiva become the PM's secretary, because it appeared he had started receiving a salary from government since 2015, but he was not officially made a secretary to the PM until 2016.

The issue was not clarified by the PM. The 2015 annual report of the Prime MInister's Office was passed with 16-1 votes. Lord Nuku voted against it.


The first week of parliament for 2017 ended with another controversial issue raised in the Annual Report of the Minister of Police.

The Minister of Police was not in the House, but the Whole House Committee decided to go ahead with the report because the report was made before the current minister became the Minister of Police.

Lord Tu’ilakepa, wanted to know what happened to 200kg of cocaine that was found in yacht in Vava’u. 

The Minister of Police, Hon. Vuna Fa’otusia, responded that they would never get an answer to that question until they changed the law, so that the Police Commissioner reports to Parliament.

At the moment the Police Commissioner reports to the Privy Council.

Lord Fusitu’a told the House that the Police Commissioner started reporting straight to the Privy Council after the riots and the burning down of Nuku’alofa.

Lord Nuku said that there was a delay in the decision by the Police to call in the army to stop the riots.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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