Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A commitment to education

Yesterday morning started early when we arrived from Auckland at 1.30am. And when I finally tucked myself in bed at 3am it was with reluctance that I set my alarm for 7am to face a full day of meetings.

It is the first day of a week long mission to complete the annual review of the Tonga Education Support Programme (TESP) - a project designed to build a framework that will provide consistent and equitable and quality basic education for all. NZAID has committed NZD$14 million to be spent over three - five years. Over the course of the week, NZAID, the World Bank and the Tongan government will work out a work plan for the next 12 months. It's not going to be an easy task.

While Tonga has one of the highest literacy rates in the Pacific region there are still pockets of the community, like special needs education that are missed out. There are also issues of access and quality which need to be addressed.

The last eighteen months have been particularly difficult - a public strike, voluntary public service redundancies, the passing of the late king, and the riots of November 16 have highlighted unexpected challenges. We need to look at what has gone before and then move forward to make sure changes take place that will bring a better outcome for schooling. Open and honest dialogue need to take place and issues around capacity, communications and policy need to be addressed.

Meetings with the Minister of Education, the Education Ministry, the TESP team, Prime Minister Suvele, the Minister of Finance set out the agenda for the week and are generally filled with optimism of what the programme could achieve - once some hard decisions have been made It is clear that it will take a whole of government approach.

Sometimes it is hard to believe the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes in a programme of this nature - the importance of getting it right and building an initiative that will build capacity and be sustainable is something that can never be overlooked.

The night concluded with a cocktail function hosted by the Ministry of Education - a mixture of dignitaries like the Ambassador of China, the New Zealand High Commissioner, the project donors and education specialists reflect the importance Tonga places on this education programme. It's a positive start to the week.

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