The Tongan Ocean of Light
When you live on a small island, far from even other small islands, life takes on unusual dimensions, and challenges.
One of those challenges is getting a quality education. There are schools of course- a primary school in each village, and a secondary or high school in the large towns, but the standard is low, class sizes large and resources limited. This makes for some frustrated brains.
However, ten years ago, the founders of the Ocean of Light Primary School, decided to take on the challenge and in doing so are raising the educational bar in Tonga.
Back when I was last in Tonga, on a gap volunteer year after school, I worked for a some time at the then infant Ocean of Light Primary School. It has just 27 pupils and was very much still trying to find its feet. Ten years later, with new school buildings and a pupil intake of about 340, it’s feet are clearly found. There is now a kindergarten and a secondary school, and plans for more buildings. Last year the school opted for the Cambridge International School certificate, and now students can take A levels and compete for university places in whatever part of the globe they wish. The exams are tough, the standard high- and given the relative shortage of local teachers who are available to teach at A level standard, it’s hard to get staff.
But still the school continues, believing the just because you may live in an isolated place, it doesn’t mean opportunities have to be isolated too.
Interstingly too, and I dare say unique to Tonga, the school takes moral education and pastoral care as a very high priority. Although inspired by the principles of the Bahai’i Faith, the school uses ‘The Virtues Guide’ which a methodology for teaching social and moral behaviour across the religious and cultural spectrum. The principle of the secondary school, Nick Flegg, told me that about one third of the current pupils are Baha’i while the remainder are from the many other denominations which make up the Tongan population- Methodist, Baptist, Seven day Adventist, Mormon, all seeing advantage in the methodology.
Ten years on, it was fantastic to see the growth of the school. The challenges are still there (funding, staff, resources), but the school is committed to tackling them, and keeping the bar high. I hear too that other schools that other schools on the islands are sitting up and taking note… which is a good sign for educational opportunity but at bad sign for frustrated brains. I’m on the side of the good sign.