New Zealand Teachers Called To See Through Pasifika Eyes

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

News Release

Massey University Palmerston North, New Zealand

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Things like counting taro instead of tennis balls in a junior maths class can go a long to breaking down learning barriers that inhibit Pasifika students, says a Massey University lecturer.

Jodie Hunter, a specialist in Pasifika education issues, says enabling teachers to understand life from Pasifika perspectives and incorporating this into lessons can dramatically improve achievement. She coordinates two new papers at Massey’s Institute of Education that do just that.

Pasifika students are part of the group of learners targeted by the Government to improve achievement. Ms. Hunter, a PhD candidate who is of part Cook Island heritage, says culturally tailored teaching strategies are critical to transforming Pasifika education results, which currently lag behind that of other ethnic groups.

The challenge for teachers involves recognising Pasifika values – such as the respectful attitudes parents have for education – and making a conscious effort to include teaching materials that reflect Pasifika students’ experiences and lifestyles, she says.

While cultural aspects of learning are part of mainstream teacher education, she says a stronger focus is needed in light of New Zealand’s diverse and growing Pasifika population. Educators need to appreciate differences between Pasifika cultures, as well as between those born in New Zealand and the islands, and those with a "hybrid" identity (mixed heritage from more than one Pacific, or non-Pacific, cultures).

"Auckland has the largest Pasifika population in the world," says Ms. Hunter. "With this increasing diversity comes a challenge for teachers who want to improve the learning outcomes for their diverse students."

"What’s needed is culturally-responsive teaching which has clear links to core Pasifika values. The papers that we offer support teachers to develop and then apply skills that match the background and experiences of the students in front of them."

"These include students feeling that their experiences and perspectives are valued, which leads to a sense of belonging at school. This paves the way for improved achievement levels.

Educators who have taken the new papers have reported on how the knowledge has helped them. One teacher commented that the paper titled "Educational Issues among Pacific Islands Peoples in New Zealand" gave her "a whole new insight on how many groups struggle in the New Zealand education system."

"The paper gave me an awareness of the backgrounds of Pacific Island students and the reasons why they had problems at school. I was also able to look at strategies to help them achieve better results at school – these also apply to other overseas students who are learning in New Zealand schools."

A Speech Language Therapist says the paper "Teaching of Pacific Island students in New Zealand Contexts" opened her eyes to the importance of family and religion when working with Pasifika students.

"The paper made me realise what possible barriers and challenges there might be for Pasifika students in achieving success in schools, and how to try to remove these barriers."

Ms. Hunter has been based at the Manawatū campus since returning from three years at the University of Plymouth, where she was a research fellow, lecturer and PhD candidate working on early algebra teaching to primary-aged children. She has worked extensively with her mother and renowned educator Dr Bobbie Hunter researching maths teaching strategies for Māori and Pasifika students, which are currently being rolled out in a number of South Auckland schools.

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