EcoCare Pacific Trust - Past Projects -2008

By: Ecocare Pacific Trust  05-Apr-2012

Projects undertaken in 2008

1. National High School Sciences Competition (annual event designed to provide informal assessment for scholarship applicants and to encourage students and teachers to participate in the sciences)

2. Fully funded scholarship for one Tongan student to attend the University of Canterbury in 2009 (We hope the scholarships will become a model for future additional scholarships that could be funded by other colleges and external corporate and philanthropic sponsorship)

3. Establishment of alternative energies for high schools in Tonga


For many students in Tonga and other third world countries, attending university is a far fetched dream. In Tonga for example, the average household might earn approximately $5000 and the resources that schools have are very minimal. I was watching a woodwork class in one of Tonga’s best schools, and the teacher was mimicking sawing wood and told the students to imagine what it would be like to saw a piece of wood as the school didn’t have a saw. There is often one or two computers per 100 students and students are told to imagine what it would be like to look through a microscope.Earlier this year Professor Paula Jameson (Head of the School of Biological Sciences at UC) and Russell Taylor arrived in Tonga with 5 University of Canterbury student representatives of Engineers Without Borders (UWB) and their Engineering mentor, Professor Pat Bodger College of Engineering at UC.

The group had arrived with some differing tasks in mind;

  • EWB students and Pat were there to scope out the feasibility of establishing a wind turbine at Vava’u High School on the main island of Vava’u 300 + km north of Nuku’alofa.
  • Paula and I were there to award prizes for the best science projects for 6th and 7th form students as a part of the student science competition that was established in November 2007 and to interview students that might be interested in applying for the UC College of Science Pacific Scholarship.
  • We also wanted to establish the Science Competition as an annual competition.

We organized visits to many schools and headed off to speak to students at Tupou High school, Tupou College, Tonga High school, Tonga College and Queen Salote College.

Details of the three projects

1. National UC/EcoCARE High School Science Competition

After viewing over 40 science projects Paula and I decided upon the winning projects in the inaugural University of Canterbury/EcoCARE Pacific Trust High School Science Competition for 2008. The projects entered were both of an extremely high standard and deserved the recognition they have received. These projects are even more impressive when one understands the extremely limited resources available to students in Tonga. We were fortunate in being able to offer three identical prize packages and are proud to have awarded them to schools in Tonga. The prize packages included; a Compound Microscope (donated by Dr Robert Thomasson of the Mermaid Beach Rotary Club), a computer (donated by Christchurch City Council and EcoCARE Pacific Trust) and a Concise Oxford English Dictionary (donated by the University of Canterbury International Office). Students have received a certificate and a University of Canterbury pen and the teachers of these students have received a University of Canterbury pen. The High School Science Competition booklet gives students some ideas for projects and an example of the basic format that is considered appropriate for science at secondary and tertiary level. This format is required of any student who intends to take up a career in science. The EcoCARE/UC national sciences competition enables us to identify the academic capacity of Tongan high schools students and to offer them some incentive to excel.

2. Fully Funded Scholarship

The College of Science at the University of Canterbury has made available a fully funded scholarship for a Tongan student to attend the University of Canterbury in 2009. The EcoCARE/UC relationship has culminated in the College of Science offering a $112,500, 4.5 year scholarship to one Tongan student. There will be scholarships offered for 2009 and hopefully in 2010 and 2011. Campus Living is offering a full accommodation scholarship for these students for the full period and Foundation studies is offering half fees waiver for the students. The student will be bound by the scholarship to return to Tonga for a period of 5 years on completion of the degree. As per the Ministry of Pacific Affairs data, 48-49% of Pacific Island students do not complete first year university. So what would cause such a high non-completion rate?

Academic ability - Do Tongan students have the academic background to meet UC requirements?

  • To answer this question I spent some time researching the high school curriculum and found that it matched the New Zealand HS curriculum. In fact Steve French from the UC Department of Education and others, have played significant roles in developing the Tongan high school and primary school curriculum.
  • To assess student’s capacity, I established the EcoCARE/UC National Science Competition and believe me when I say that there were numerous projects (at least 8) that I felt would receive an 85% and greater mark at 2nd year undergraduate level for their projects. Prof. Paula Jameson (who participated in the competition assessment) and I saw high levels of academic ability.

Practical skills - I have visited almost every high school in Tonga and even the best schools are almost completely lacking adequate resources. Many school wood work lessons require the teacher to mimic sawing wood as there are no saws, biology teachers asking students to imagine what it is like to look through a microscope and so on. One or two old, 200 MHz processor computers is common, long hand calculations or even slide rules are still used in some situations.

Culture and religion - A real contrast and one that is not addressed by any other scholarship that I have seen. Students may come from large families (8-18 members). Dress for a 23-33 degree Celsius climate. Lots of religious participations, members of choirs and so on.

Student Selection - Scholarships awarded by other organisations use the following format: One return air fare on completion. Scholarship allocated by the Ministry Lack recognition of the contrasting cultural experience Lack recognition of the student’s lack of access to resources and technology. Not fully funded so often does not enable students from poor backgrounds to participate. The combination of these issues means that an under prepared student is placed in an extremely different culture and environment with little or no support. The student is usually from a noble or well to do family (as these are the only ones able to offer the financial support required to meet the additional costs that the scholarship does not meet) consequently they are not necessarily the best candidates who have had little or no access to resources that most students take for granted.

Our program addresses many of these issues;

The establishment of the National Competition enables informal assessment of a student’s abilities. Students interested in applying for the scholarship are interviewed where they are asked appropriate questions that relate to their situation, their desire, their capacity, background, whether they demonstrate ownership of the project and so on. Because Campus Living will waive all accommodation costs and Bridging Programs will waive half fees, the College of Science scholarship addresses all of the student's needs meaning that students from any economic or social background can apply and take up this life-changing offer. 4 return air fares enables students to return home each Christmas to renew family ties. EcoCARE/UC and the Tongan Community Council and Department of Pacific Affairs in Christchurch have developed a good relationship and they are most happy to support the student’s cultural and religious needs. Enrolment in the Foundation Studies course will enable the student to address their lack of exposure to facilities and resources.

3. Alternative Energies

There are about 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, most of which will see no benefit from the large and elaborate wind farms and other power projects that will be established in the main centres. Smaller systems show great potential to be used by smaller communities in remote locations. After some discussions with the Minister of Education in Tonga we have a letter from him requesting that EcoCARE Pacific Trust implement sustainable energy generation technology in Vavau HS under EcoCARE Pacific Trust direction. We have 16 very talented engineering students from civil, mechanical and electrical engineering departments that have volunteered their services to implement sustainable energies into schools in Tonga. I have one group working on a Bio-digester at a school on Tongatapu and I have another group investigating the implementation of; wind turbines, solar photovoltaic and hybrid or hydrogen conversion for Vavau HS in Vavau. The students are mentored and supervised by Prof. Pat Bodger, Dr. Tom Cochrane and myself.

All EcoCARE Pacific Trust projects have three stages; Introduction, Implementation and Dissemination.

They have performed the first part of the project (introduction) which requires that the students visit the communities into which the project will be performed, carry out presentations into the communities and ask permission of the local heads of the churches and communities to carry out the project and to scope out the project.

The second stage requires that the students find the funds for and implement the system. They are required to involve the local communities and students. We hope to carry out this stage in June 2009.

The third stage (Dissemination) is very important for the continued sustainability of these systems. We are developing a 10 lesson package that involves the system becoming an educational resource. For example a system could be used to as a resource for; oceanography, electronics, chemistry, geometry, physics, mechanical workshop, technical drawing and so on. These are few of the subjects that could benefit from this technology. The students would be required to carry out regular maintenance programs as a part of their curriculum assessment.

The UC engineering students are required to present a report at each stage and by the time they will have finished this project they could be involved in projects of this type in other locations. They are required to identify problems and to address these.

There is a prototype systems established in Eua that would make ideal comparative studies to the Vavau HS system as these two locations are 300km apart. This means that the cost benefits to the communities in Eua will be different to those in Vava’u.

All fossil fuels come to Nukualofa and are then transported to other islands increasing the cost of the fuel and there by the cost benefit to a community in a remote location is increased enormously by having a reliable and cheap power source that is local. Over a period of time the establishment of such a system would pay for itself and this can be estimated by the establishment of a system on Vavau and one on Eua.

The information in this article was current at 27 Mar 2012

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