In her class, Maile Loloa was almost 30 years older than her fellow students.
But the grandmother of 11 didn't let the age gap - or her lack of confidence in speaking publicly and writing in English - put her off.
She will graduate next month at age 67 from Manukau Institute of Technology with a bachelor of education, specialising in early childhood.
At a stage in life when many would be retired, Mrs Loloa said she wanted to stay working and use her qualification for the next five or six years.
"I believe I still can do it," she said. "Say, when I'll be 72 or 73, it's the time I will look to retire."
Granddaughter Sepa Loloa, 4, is one of the 50 pupils at Lotoifalei'a, the Tongan Methodist preschool in Manukau where Mrs Loloa has worked for several years.
Mrs Loloa said the requirement for all teachers at most early childhood centres to have a degree or diploma by 2012 was one factor in her decision to go back to school.
Manukau, where Mrs Loloa works, has low rates of participation in preschool and a shortage of trained teachers.
An analysis by the City of Manukau Education Trust found less than half the region's children under four went to preschool in 2006.
A forum this month was told the rate of Pacific Island children enrolled was the lowest of all the ethnic groups in the study.
Mrs Loloa said some parents were afraid their children would not be well cared for at preschool, so kept them at home.
Painting and arts sessions were among her favourite times at work. "I like messy play - I see kids painting. But it's a hard job for me to clean - the tables, the brushes and the kids too."