University honours Tongan science students

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University honours Tongan science students

University of Canterbury (UC) has honoured leading Tongan science students who excelled in their national high school science competition.

UC biological science lecturer Sharyn Goldstien said three students were awarded prizes for excellence in biology. They were Annelise Halafihi and Nunia Faletau, both from Vava’u High and Susan Li’kena Ki Auckland Funaki, from Tonga High.

Highly commended were Loiloi Latu from Tonga high, Meletupou Ciai Polutu from Vava’u High and Folauhola Manu from Ha’apai High.

Dr Goldstien and four UC post-graduate students visited seven Tongan schools and helped them with scientific techniques and collecting environmental data.

Tonga education is important to UC and prize winning projects looked at the influence of stray pigs to local soil in Vava’u, waste management issues in Vava’u and the effect of rubbish on mangrove growth in Tongatapu,’’ Dr Goldstien said.

This is the first year I have taken a group of postgraduate students with me to assist Tongan students. But the competition has been running for the past four years.

UC has given two biological science undergraduate scholarships to students from Tonga - both of whom were winners of the competition.

One of the students, Emma Puloka, is now going on to do an honours degree with us. The other student is in her third year of her degree.’’

Dr Goldstien is supervising a PhD student, Tuikolongohau Halafihi, a fisheries officer in Tonga who is looking at the spatial ecology of seamount snapper in Tonga.

In November, Dr Goldstien will take another honours student to Tonga to assess coastal fish communities. This work is in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries (Tonga) and the Ministry of Education and Training (Tonga).

One of the outcomes will be to establish a marine garden for school students to use for conservation awareness and biology projects, working in with postgraduate students each year when US staff visit for the science competition prize.

Most of our graduates had never been to the Pacific Islands and have not had to design experiments with few resources. Together, we made a booklet on scientific methods and included five different projects that could be done by school students with very little resources.

This booklet was a great success as many organisations send equipment to schools but neglect to tell them how to use or maintain the equipment. Our microscope sessions were so essential and successful. The students had no idea that insect legs were so hairy for instance, nor did they know that you could age fish by looking at their scales under the microscope.’’

UC has a close association with Tonga as UC students and staff have helped install solar power system in many high schools.