Plans for Tongan language policy raises concerns

A Tongan academic and former education minister has expressed concerns over the Ministry of Education plans to amend the Tongan language policy for children.

Currently the English language is being introduced to class three - however, the new policy is looking to re-introduce English from class one to three, which was the case in the past.

According to Dr 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, in a largely oral society, it is important to teach children the foundational skills of literacy in the Tongan language.

She said it would be more meaningful to them in the Tongan language rather than in a language which is imposed on them.

There is a big concern that the focus on the English language could see the demise of the Tongan language.

Dr 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki suggests English should be taught at the high-school level.

“According to research, a child does not master his or her first language until he or she is about 12 years of age.  If we want the foundation of Tongan to be firm and strong then we need to delay the introduction of English to a later stage. Until we are certain that out children are strong in their mother tongue. But off course politically that would not be acceptable and many parents now are up in arms about the delay of the introduction of English which is one of the reasons why the review recommended that English be re-introduced as it used to be in the old days at class 1.

Education Minister Siaosi Sovaleni told RNZ Pacific he was waiting for a report of a review of the current policy which is to start English at class 3 to 4.