Date of Submission



Drawing on my observation and understanding over a fifteen year period of the constant difficulties experienced by young Tongan immigrants in engaging with their learning in local Australian Catholic schools, this study responds to their needs. The study explored and recorded the stories of the experiences of four Year 9 Tongan immigrant students in two Australian secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney, and identified the issues influencing their engagement in learning. The study utilised a Biographic Narrative Interpretive Methodology (BNIM) to record, interpret and analyse the data of the participating students. As a technique in narrative interviewing, with a potential to illuminate their voices, the methodology was utilised to investigate their perspectives, while sitting on a Tongan mat setting. Three interviews were conducted with each participant over a period of time. The study also explored the perspective of the Tongan immigrant parents, and administrators and teachers of the Catholic schools context, using talatalaifale (Tongan way of conversation within the Tongan family house), and focus group interviews. A field log was also kept by the researcher. These methods were used to investigate the views of the participants to amplify the researcher’s interpretation, and to compare claims, arguments and recommendations regarding the experiences of the Tongan immigrant students on their engagement in learning. The data indicated many challenges and difficulties experienced by the students. Significantly, the findings indicated that Tongan language and culture have significant impact on the efforts of the Tongan immigrant students to engage in their learning in an Australian school context. The importance of culturally appropriate relationships between schools, families and Tongan communities was identified. Additionally, the data revealed the importance of the relatedness of the culture in the teaching strategies, used with these students, as well as issues related to leadership of the Tongan community and their Catholic school age children. The study identified a number of issues that influenced the Tongan immigrant students’ engagement in learning in Australian Catholic secondary schools, and concluded with a set of recommendations and directions needed to improve their engagement. The findings and recommendations of the study could also have relevance to other immigrant students of South Pacific and non European descent and Indigenous Australians. Thus, this exploratory study contributes to the growing literature articulating indigenous and non-western frameworks for students’ engagement in learning of Tongan and other indigenous, non-western voices.


School of Educational Leadership

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


384 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education

Included in

Education Commons


Research Location