Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Rose has 10 reasons to put her feet up

Mum-of-10 shows how to snap a cycle of disadvantage

Rose Toki with six of her 10 children, Michael, 33, Dina, 23, Anam, 25, Tavai, 18, Allan, 15, and Megan, 14. Mrs Toki graduated and now works in early childhood learning. Photo / Greg Bowker
Rose Toki with six of her 10 children, Michael, 33, Dina, 23, Anam, 25, Tavai, 18, Allan, 15, and Megan, 14. Mrs Toki graduated and now works in early childhood learning. Photo / Greg Bowker

Rose Toki should be getting a few cups of tea in bed tomorrow - the mum-of-10's brave step into adult education will be felt by her family for generations to come.

This Mother's Day, Mrs Toki's experience is an example of what academics have long known - that through education mothers, in particular, can be the key to break the cycle of disadvantage.

Mrs Toki, who has 10 children aged between 14 and 36, had never worked before, let alone studied outside of school, when she enrolled in Whanau Ara Mua (then called the Manukau Family Literacy Programme).

Night classes were at her children's local primary school in Otara, and it was through word of mouth from teachers and parents that she heard about the programme.

However, she was less than keen at first. There were children and grandchildren to care for, as well as her elderly father.

"He was in a wheelchair, so that's one of the biggest reasons why initially I didn't want to have anything to do with it, at that time," Mrs Toki said of her father, who has since died.

"But he was one of my biggest advocates, to get in there and do something instead of staying home and looking after him."

Mrs Toki, who was allowed to bring her youngest daughter and grandchildren to class, soon found herself thriving, which was a relief and a surprise. "Self-confidence in those days was major for me, I just didn't want to go out and talk to other people," she told the Weekend Herald.

"My tutor was awesome, and those who were taking the course were really good."

At home, her children took on more housework, and the support of husband Tura was also crucial.

"I feel sorry for him during that time when I think about it - all my anger was focused on him when I couldn't get stuff done. But he is such a patient man."

The Whanau Ara Mua course takes mostly beneficiaries who have no experience of education beyond school.

It has a strong emphasis on family, which is the reason many enrol. Participants build their understanding of child learning and development, and at the same time increase their employability.

Mrs Toki completed a three-year early childhood education degree at Manukau Institute of Technology, and is now head teacher for the infant and toddler room at the Parnell Trust Glanville Early Learning Centre.

She was the first in her family to complete study after school - but won't be the last. Three of her children have since completed tertiary degrees, and two more are studying, as are three siblings.

- NZ Herald

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