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Embracing holistic education following Tongan Language Week

Wednesday 15 September 2021 5:05pm

Dr Xaviour Walker, Dr Michelle Schaaf, Dr Losa Moata’ane image
Dr Xaviour Walker (right), Dr Michelle Schaaf and Dr Losa Moata’ane (left).

Tongan leaders at the University of Otago are stressing the importance of cultural connections following Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga last week.

This year, 3 of the 4 University of Otago divisional Associate Deans (Pacific) are of Tongan descent, and we talked to them about Tongan Language Week and its theme this year.

It was the 10th anniversary of Tongan Language Week in Aotearoa and the theme was “Enriching Aotearoa with Holistic Education”.

The Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Sciences, Dr Losa Moata’ane, discusses how holistic education is being embraced at the University of Otago.

“We have mechanisms in place to ensure that our students feel culturally supported in their academic journey.”

Dr Moata’ane emphasises the importance of a rounded and integrated approach to engaging with students.

“We want to connect with our students by learning where they’re from, who their families are, and what communities they engage with.”

Dr Moata’ane explains that “holistic education is about culture, about faith, about education. It is an approach that encompasses everything.”

“For me, as an academic, it’s not just about the academic journey. It is everyone and everything that supported me in my academic journey. My family, my village back in Tonga, the church and the community that I belong to,” she says.

Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Health Sciences, Dr Xaviour Walker explains the importance of language within Pacific identity.

“Although my mother came from Tonga and her first language was Tongan, speaking Pacific languages has unfortunately not been encouraged in New Zealand in the past.

“It is fantastic to see that importance and opportunity of learning Tongan through Tongan Language Week is now encouraged.

“It is important for our Pacific identity, connection with our culture and our history.”

The Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Humanities, Dr Michelle Schaaf explains the significance of language for Pacific cultures.

“Language really is the essence of Pacific identity.

“Globally, indigenous languages are being recognised as important to development, reconciliation, good governance, peace building and lifting people’s general health and wellbeing.

“It is how we show respect, how we embrace our culture, how we share our knowledge.”

Dr Moata’ane is committed to extending the relevance of Tongan Language Week and its emphasis on holistic education to all University staff.

“It’s important to help all of my colleagues understand our space.”