What are the educational experiences like for our Pasifika learners? This was a question we were grappling with at our latest Pasifika fono.
- What are the assumptions we have about our Pasifika students and why do we have those assumptions?
- How can we then illustrate the impact some of those assumptions can have on our students?
- Have attitudes changed?
- Or, do we as educators working in the Pasifika education sector need to speak more clearly or if needed, more loudly?
It is the 1990s, I am studying for an Equity exam at Auckland University. Like a lot of students from South Auckland, I'm on a budget, and I look like I’m on a budget. After taking a break from studying, I’m about to walk back into the library when a man bursts out yelling ‘there’s that suspicious-looking Polynesian kid, grab him’. I turn around to see who he is yelling at. It turns out, it's me. Just before they are about to pounce on me, one of the security guards recognises me, “Um, that guy is a student here”. Annoyed? Yes. Surprised. No. These experiences were fairly common. What was worse was when it happened in front of a crowd of palagi, and all eyes were on you, the poor kid from South Auckland. Sometimes, when you’re a minority, or you represent a number of minority groups, you learn to hide among the crowd; to find the little cracks and corners to squeeze yourself into, to avoid drawing attention to your differences. Humiliation. Frustration. Anger.
That was over 20 years ago.
Have things changed?
The “I Too Am Auckland” video project focusses on these issues. It's particularly interesting for three of us sitting around the fono table: me, Togi, and Manu — all ex-students of Auckland University. Sharing all of our various experiences in our old learning place, it is quite sad that over 20 years on, Pasifika students are still experiencing this level of racial discrimination.
These issues are highlighted in many different places in the literature, for example this from:
The “Effective Literacy Strategies Professional Development: Pasifika Focus”, a project that ran from early 2004 to early 2006.
A central component to any project must be the recognition, reflection on and addressing of, the disadvantages that many Pasifika students encounter in New Zealand secondary schools. The issues that students face can include:
- The individual and group experience of prejudice and discrimination
- Low expectations
- Too few opportunities to engage with challenging texts and materials
- Lack of recognition of the experiences, skills and needs of students
- Lack of provision of language and literacy opportunities that foster achievement.
Are these problems systemic? It seems so. How then do we, as educators, support our Pacific learners to be proud of who they are? How do we support non-Pasifika to be more cognisant of Pasifika students and their experiences? Here are some examples of educators who have been unpacking just a few of these connected issues.
Examples of educators connecting to Pasifika students
A non-Pasifika perspective about Pasifika learners
Maggie Flavell, explains the the perspective of a non-Pasifika person working with Pasifika students. She talks about the importance of learning about the Pasifika culture to enable her to better engage with Pasifika students and their families. She also talks about the value of having a good support network to support her own professional development.
Each student is unique
David Faavae explains that within Tongan culture that Tongan boys can be very different, each requiring a different approach when working with them as teachers.
Pasifika students bring a wealth of knowledge
Teokotai Tarai, HOD Languages, Teacher of Cook Island Maori Language, explains how Pasifika students come to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge and experiences. This can provide a platform for better student engagement and success
Culturally responsive courses
Would it be a simple enough exercise of introducing educators to culturally responsive courses that help them to understand how to teach Pasifika learners in their lecture theatres in more meaningful ways? I'm sure there are courses available that can help to support or extend their professional learning to effectively engage Pasifika learners and raise their achievement. For example, this course, which focuses specifically on affirmative action in this space, empowering lecturers and teachers to be cognisant of the impact of what they say, think and feel can mean for Pasifika learners.
Some key questions for educators:
- Do the results for Pasifika learners in your classes reflect how you have connected with them, or based on your relationships with them?
- Have you asked Pasifika learners about how you can better support their progress, learning and achievement?
- What are some of the positive ways that you have connected with Pasifika learners and their parents, families and communities?