A Samoan couple who are studying for a Certificate in Liaison Interpreting at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology found the initial move to online teaching under the COVID-19 lockdown daunting, but are now embracing the change. “Before this he only owned a phone that we all had to answer for him, now we can’t get him off the laptop,” says 62-year-old Setefano Tominiko’s wife, Makarita
Setefano and Makarita Tominiko are passionate representatives of their Samoan heritage, and at the age of 62, they’re two of Unitec’s newest students.
But less than a month into their new educational journey, the Tominikos were confronted with another daunting challenge – having to take their classes online.
With the closure of the Unitec campus as part of the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, all classes were moved online within just four days. It meant the couple had to come to grips with technology which was very alien to them.
Makarita says, “It was scary and a bit of a struggle at first, because me and my husband are ‘old school’. However, with the help of our tutor and our youngest child Stephen, we’ve learned to use all the functions and it has opened up a lot more opportunities for us in a whole lot of places.”
The dynamic duo are no strangers to overcoming challenge and have worked tirelessly since they first migrated to New Zealand from Samoa.
“My husband has adjusted really well,” says Makarita. “Before this he only owned a phone that we all had to answer for him. This experience has built up a whole lot of new skills for us both, like using a laptop and connecting with our family, while we carry on with study.”
The choice of taking up a new pathway in education was an unexpected one for husband Setefano and came about when he was forced to leave work due to health reasons.
Knowing how much of an impact this would have on him, the Tominiko family rallied together to plot out a positive way forward for him; one that would keep him positive and motivated through a difficult time.
The eldest of their six children, Dr Falaniko Tominiko, who’s the Director of Pacific Success at Unitec, saw an opportunity to combine his father’s passion for the Samoan language and his nurturing way of helping others.
Drawing on his knowledge of the courses on offer at Unitec, Falaniko suggested his father study for a Certificate in Liaison Interpreting; a qualification that would optimise his in-depth knowledge of the Samoan language and culture, but also provide new and exciting career opportunities.
Makarita, who already holds a degree in Social Work, knew the journey wasn’t going to be an easy one but wanted to be there to support her husband in his new pursuit. So she signed up as well.
“It’s a lot harder for older people. Taking on education like this can be scary but I knew if we did it together, it would work.”
Falaniko says his father has now become a master of using technology and often calls family meetings online and video chats to family members all across the world, using his new tech-savvy skill base. “We can’t get him off the laptop now,” he said.
The couple are extremely thankful for the additional support they’ve received from family and their enthusiastic and supportive teacher Anna Guo, who’s made participating in the online teaching lessons an interactive and enjoyable experience.
Anna, who’s a lecturer in Unitec’s Bridgepoint School, says, “Setefano and Makarita, along with all our students, are so enthusiastic. They’ve never missed a class on campus and they’ve never missed a class online. With that level of commitment, we want to do everything we can to make sure they reach their goals.”
Since the lockdown, Anna has delivered her usual programme of lectures online and also organises one-on-one online meetings with all her students to make sure they’re getting all the support they need.
As examples of students and staff adapting to the challenges of online study continue to grow, Unitec’s Interim CEO Merran Davis sent a video message of praise from her bubble, commending them for their enthusiasm and commitment.
“Our teaching staff have gone above and beyond in their responsiveness and implementation of new ways of teaching to support our students,” she said. “We’ve also had some very positive feedback from students about their online experiences – some are connecting on Facebook and other channels to share tips and support each other.”
Unitec has been teaching its students online since Monday, March 30 – taking just four days to move to full online teaching after the campus was first closed due to the lockdown.