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This chapter begins by profiling the most critical factors affecting Tongan students‘ academic performance in the context of New Zealand, followed by a theoretical framework for the research. It will then examine some theories for minority populations‘ academic achievement. Findings from relevant investigations of Tongan and Pasifika schooling experiences will also be reviewed together with instruments that were developed or used to elicit New Zealand students‘ and teachers‘ conceptions of schooling. Finally, details of what this research intend to investigate about Tongan conceptions of schooling, and their influences on Tongan students academic performance, will be discussed.

Tongans/Pasifika in New Zealand

Tonga is one of the seven main ethnic groups that make up the Pacific peoples in New Zealand. The 2006 Census recorded 265,979 Pacific ethnic peoples. Of these, 49% were Samoans, 22% were Cook Islanders, 19% were Tongans, 8% Niueans, 4% Fijians, 3% Tokelauans, and 1% Tuvaluans. The Tongan ethnic group had a population of 50,478, 56% of which were New Zealand-born and 61% were able to hold an everyday conversation in the Tongan language. Those that were affiliated with a religion made up 90%, of which 98% were Christians. Tongans in New Zealand have a very youthful population with a median age of 19. By comparison, the median age for the total Pacific and New Zealand populations were 21 and 36 years respectively. A disproportionate majority of Pasifika peoples who live in urban areas is reflected in the 80% of Tongans living in the Auckland region.
Pasifika students currently make up more than 9% of the New Zealand student population, and it is estimated that by the year 2021 young Pasifika people will make up 17% of that population. Many initiatives to improve Pasifika achievement have so far failed to make a significant impact on student achievement. The rates of stand-down, suspension, exclusion, and expulsion for Pasifika students continue to be alarmingly high relative to the total school population (MOE, 2009a).
The level of academic performance of Tongan and Pasifika students can be seen in the New Zealand qualifications systems and in standardized measures of learning. In 2008, 79.4% of Pasifika students left school with at least NCEA Level 1, compared to 92.6% of Asian students, 88.1% of European/Pakeha students and 70.4% of Māori students. Students leaving with at least NCEA Level 2 were Asians with 85.8%, European/Pakeha students with 75.2%, Pasifika students with 62.9% and Māori students with 50.4%. In the same year, 67.1% of Asian students achieved UE compared to 48.9% of European/Pakeha students, 23% of Pasifika students and 20.8% of Māori students (MOE, 2008).
In addition, Pasifika and Māori students spend more time completing their NCEA certificates compared to European/Pakeha and Asian students. In 2007, 71% of European students, 69% of Asians students, 44% of Māori students, and 42% of Pasifika students commencing NCEA Level 1 in Year 11 attained this qualification. By the end of Year 13 in 2009, about 80% of European and Asian students, 68% of Pasifika, and 60% of Māori students managed to complete NCEA Level 1 (New Zealand Qualification Authority, 2010).
The consistent message across reading, writing, and mathematics from international (i.e., TIMSS, PIRLS, PISA) and New Zealand (i.e., asTTle, NEMP, NCEA) measures of learning, is that Pasifika students achieve significantly less well than the majority and the Asian minority groups (Satherley, 2006). In PIRLS 2005/06, 3% of Asian and 4% of European/Pakeha failed to reach the Low Internal Benchmark (i.e., scored below 400) compared with 18% of Māori and 16% of Pasifika students. In TIMMS 2006, the average score for European/Pakeha students (510) was significantly higher than Māori (453) and Pasifika students (427). PISA 2006 found that 50% of European/Pakeha and 48% of Asian students were proficient in Level 4 or higher on the scientific literacy scale, compared to 22% of Māori and 17% of Pasifika students (Telford & Caygill, 2007).
Consequently, a variety of government sponsored initiatives have been introduced to respond to the academic performance gap. For example, on 30th of June 2009, the Ministry of Education had 22 schooling improvement initiatives focussed on improving reading comprehension or numeracy achievement in Years 1 to 4, in low decile schools, with a high proportion of Māori and Pasifika students. Some improvements have been recorded, but Pasifika, including the majority of Tongan students, continue to exhibit lower achievement levels relative to Pakeha and Asian ethnic groups in New Zealand (MOE, 2009a).
As a minority group in New Zealand, Tongans are a heterogeneous group with particular linguistic and cultural characteristics that distinguish this group from the New Zealand main stream population. These characteristics and factors cannot be readily changed through the education system, or at least take a long time to change. In the 2006 Census, the three most common occupations for Tongan adults were labourers (25%), technicians and trade workers (15%), and machinery operators and drivers (15%). Of the Tongan adult population 19% reported no personal income, 36% received up to $20,000 per annum, while only 3% received over $70,000. The median annual income for the Tongan adult population was $17,500 compared to $20,500 for the Pasifika population and $24,400 for the New Zealand population. In addition, the 78% of Tongans who lived in Auckland, 48% lived in South Auckland and 38% lived in Central Auckland; two low socio-economic suburbs (SNZ, 2007). This means that the majority of Tongans in Auckland live in areas which have low decile schools. We know from the factors above that most Tongan student demographic characteristics, and school circumstances, place them at a high risk of failing academically. They occupy the lower levels of the socio-economic status (SES) scale and the poverty level. Low decile schools, low SES and poverty provide low academic achievement and promote a lot of health problems. These factors are inter-related and create further negative rippling effects on students‘ education outcomes.
There are however some factors that we may be able to influence or even improve. Of particular concern for this research is how beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and values – a general group of phenomenon that are captured by the word ‗conceptions‘- affect secondary academic performance, particularly that of New Zealand Tongans.
‗Conceptions‘ has been defined by different people as ‗mental representations‘, ‗constructs‘ (Thompson, 1992) of reality or phenomenon, and a ‗system of explanation‘ (Fodor, 1990, 1998; Kelley, 1991; Lakoff & Johnson, 2003; White, 1994). Pratt (1992a) defines conceptions as Specific meanings attached to phenomena which then mediate our response to situations involving those phenomena. We form conceptions on virtually every aspect of our perceived world, and in doing so, use those abstract representations to delimit something from, and relate it to, other aspects of our world. In effect, we view the world through the lenses of our conceptions, interpreting and acting in accordance with our understanding of the world (p. 240).
This research is an attempt to view schooling experiences through Tongan lenses and interpret their conceptions from their understandings, beliefs, values and worldviews. This is potentially something that can be influenced and changed within the lives of individuals. This thesis will be looking at the potential to improve academic performance for Tongan students by looking at conceptions associated with key schooling processes: Assessment, teaching, and learning. The research literature shows that at least amongst students and teachers, these beliefs systems appear to have considerable impact on learning and outcome (Brown & Hirschfeld, 2007; Evans, 2007; Hadar, 2009; Peterson, Wahlquist, & Bone, 2000). Belief systems found to be counter-productive to students‘ achievement can be discouraged, whilst those that seem to enhance achievement can be supported.
The research recognizes the connections of parents and communities to students‘ schooling and therefore investigates parents‘ conceptions as well. It is hypothesized that some parents‘ conceptions have the potential to enhance performance for students. Other conceptions may have negative influences and may therefore discourage success. The BES project is a response by the New Zealand Ministry of Education to the growing interest and increasing recognition of the contribution education research can make to policy and practice. The BES review is an attempt to use evidence to guide what schools do. Robinson (2009) and her colleagues reviewed studies on the most effective school interventions designed to help parents support their primary school children‘s learning. They found that the most effective interventions were the ones designed to help parents and other community members support children‘s learning at home and school and provided teachers with professional development. This research will treat students, not in isolation, but as members of a family and community, thereby drawing on the relevance of investigating parental conceptions.
The research not only hopes to influence Tongan parents‘ and students‘ beliefs about schooling, but it also hopes to challenge New Zealand school administrators‘, managers‘, policy makers‘, and teachers‘ beliefs and conceptions about Tongan parents and students.
Tongan students in New Zealand are taught mainly by non-Tongan teachers; mainly teachers of European ethnic origin (Pakeha or Palagi). New Zealand based studies on teacher-student relationships found that teachers‘ attitudes, behaviours, and understandings of cultures were needed to improve students‘ achievement (Carpenter, McMurchy-Pilkington, & Sutherland, 2002; Cowley, Dabb, & Jones, 2000; Hawk, Cowley, Hill, & Sutherland, 2002). In the case of Māori students, Bishop et al. (2002) agree:
It is clear that the major influence on Māori students‘ educational achievement lies in the mind and actions of their teachers. Changing how teachers theorize their relationships with students and how they relate to and interact with them in the classroom can have an impact upon students‘ engagement, their learning and their academic achievement (p. 123).
This research begins from a very similar inquiry: Why do the majority of Tongan students not perform well academically in the New Zealand education system? How do beliefs, attitudes, opinions and values of students, teachers and parents affect secondary academic performance, particularly that of New Zealand Tongans?


Research Theoretical Framework

This research is positioned within the framework of the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991) which was developed as an extension of the theory of reasoned action (TRA) by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975). TPB proposed that human action is guided by three kinds of considerations. These are behavioural beliefs (i.e., beliefs about the likely outcomes of the behaviour and the evaluation of these outcomes), normative beliefs (i.e., beliefs about the normative expectations of others and motivation to conform with these expectations, and control beliefs (i.e., beliefs about the presence of factors that may assist or hamper performance of the behaviour and the perceived power of these factors) (Ajzen, 2010).
The best predictor of behaviour is intention which is determined by three things: Attitude towards the specific behaviour (i.e., belief toward an outcome and evaluation of the outcome), subjective norms (i.e., beliefs of what others think and motivation to comply with others) and perceived behavioural control (i.e., perceptions of ability to perform a given behaviour) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Gatch & Kendzierski, 1990).
TPB holds that only specific attitudes toward the behaviour in question can be expected to predict that behaviour. TPB proposed that to measure attitudes toward the behaviour, we also need to measure people‘s subjective norms – their beliefs about how people they care about will view the behaviour in question. In order to predict someone‘s intentions, knowing these beliefs can be as important as knowing the person‘s attitudes. Perceived behavioural control, (i.e., people‘s perceptions of their ability to perform a given behaviour) influences intention. As a general rule, the more favourable the attitude and the subjective norm, the greater the perceived control; the stronger the person‘s intention to perform the behaviour in question should become. Ajzen‘s TPB model is adopted to help describe this research (Ajzen, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1991).


1.1 Introduction
1.2 The research problem of Tongan students‘ achievement
1.3 Purpose of Research
1.4 Significance of Research
1.5 Assumptions
1.6 Structure of Thesis
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Tongans/Pasifika in New Zealand
2.3 Research Theoretical Framework .
2.4 Theories of minority population‘s academic underachievement
2.5 Tongans in New Zealand secondary schooling
2.6 Summary
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Study 1: Multiple Focus Groups
3.3 Study 2: Survey of Participant Attitudes
3.4 Study 3: Linking Student Attitudes to Academic Performance
3.5 Summary
4.1 Tongan Parents‘ Focus Group
4.2 Tongan Parents‘ Focus Group Findings
4.3 Discussion
4.4 The Survey
4.5 Tongan Parents‘/ Caregivers‘ Survey Results
4.6 Summary
5.1 Teachers‘ Focus Group
5.2 Teachers‘ Focus Group Findings
5.3 Discussion of focus group
5.4 The Survey
5.5 Discussion and Summary of Teachers‘ Survey
5.6 Summary
6.1 Tongan Student Focus Group
6.2 Tongan Students‘ Focus Group Findings
6.3 Discussion of Focus Group
6.4 The Survey
6.5 Attitudes and Academic Performance
6.6 Participants
6.7 Instruments
6.8 Data Analyses
6.9 Results
6.10 Discussion on attitudes and academic outcomes
7.1 Overview
7.2 What are the conceptions of the New Zealand Tongan caregivers and parents towards
7.3 What are the conceptions of schooling of teachers teaching Tongan students?
7.4 What are the conceptions of Tongan students towards schooling and how do these conceptions influence achievement, if at all?
7.5 Implications
7.6 Contributions
7.7 Summary

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