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Language Enhancing the Achievement of Pasifika. Ministry of Education.

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Pasifika in New Zealand

When people consider what is distinctive about New Zealand culture, they often focus on the Pasifika features. After 60 years of migration, Pasifika communities flourish here, particularly in the large urban centres. Pasifika languages continue to be used widely in these communities, not just by new migrants but by families who have been here for two, three, or four generations.

A growing Pasifika influence is also becoming apparent in education. Did you know, for example, that the percentage of Pasifika students in New Zealand schools is predicted to double over the next 40 years? This means that learning to teach Pasifika students effectively is an increasingly important challenge for New Zealand teachers.

The challenge is heightened by the fact that Pasifika students have not always fared as well in our schools as they might have. Pasifika parents are known to value education highly, so why are Pasifika students, as a group, not high achievers?

Historically, educational underachievement by Pasifika has often been ‘explained’ by a view of Pasifika languages and cultures that is based on deficit thinking. A number of English-speaking countries have adopted the approach, based on a similar view, that bilingual students should be taught only in English. A corollary of this approach is that recognising or making use of students’ other languages is regarded as a problem.

What teachers now know from research is that the reverse is actually true – the more we help our Pasifika students to develop their Pasifika (and other) languages alongside English in the classroom, the more likely it is that they will succeed academically. The way we teach is therefore the key determinant of Pasifika students’ success. This is just as true of students in the mainstream as it is of those learning in overtly bilingual contexts.

This section discusses the characteristics of Pasifika peoples in New Zealand, their languages and cultures, and how these can be drawn on in educating them. This discussion provides a basis for reflecting on our teaching practices, initiating action-research investigations, and making changes based on our findings to improve results for our Pasifika students and for all our students.

What is meant by the word ‘Pasifika’? Pasifika (sometimes spelt Pasefika) is the term used to describe Pacific Island migrants to New Zealand from Sāmoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and other, smaller Pacific nations. Most of these Pacific nations were previously governed by New Zealand. Some, notably Niue and the Cook Islands, retain close administrative ties with New Zealand although they are now independent. Tokelau remains a dependent territory of New Zealand. For further information on the historical relationship between New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours, see the Ministry of Justice report The History of New Zealand’s Pacific Connection (2000).

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