I have had a particular interest in gifted education for some time now, but I think it stems from personal experience as well. I thought I would take an autoethnographic approach to today’s blog post and show some highlights about how I have been raised, and how growing up in Aotearoa has contributed to being young, gifted, and brown. This, then, is my story…
Life as a gifted and talented Pasifika child at primary school
I vividly remember being in primary school and going through the SRA reading system—the colour coded reading comprehension programme that was widely recognised in schools in the mid 1980s. In my final year of primary school in West Auckland, we moved back to Central Auckland, but before that time I had already completed the final colour grade of the system, the coveted “Gold” grade.
My teacher placed me and other students who also completed this grade in what he termed the “Language” group — students who had high literacy levels. We were responsible for producing the school’s newspaper (the Glendene Gazette, if I remember correctly). We all had assigned roles and wrote poetry, short stories, drew animated cartoons, gave advice, and produced quizzes for students to complete. I hadn’t realised until later, that we were the same students that had been selected a few years before to be senior reading buddies for junior students who had just started to learn how to read.
It was within this group that I also experienced a few field trips that included visits to MoTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology), Microworld (a science and technology inspired museum), and even watching a high school debate at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School (which would later be my high school of choice based on this trip alone). In-school activities included exploring our interests and passions such as performing arts, visual arts, sports, and science. At this age I was an athlete — competing in the school triathlon as a runner. Track events became my forte: being in the first round of selection for the 4 x 100 relay, winning the 100m final for my age group, and competing with other schools was a common experience for me.
At intermediate school
I skipped my second year of intermediate school. My eldest brother advocated for me in a meeting with my principal to push for this. My parents had no real understanding about what was happening. I remember my brother arguing with my principal that I didn’t need to be in Form 2 as I was in the top three of the class and wasn’t learning anything. This was a lesson about advocacy and standing up for yourself. They were important lessons that I would carry with me well into adulthood.
Learning in the home
While this learning was happening at school, it complemented the learning that was happening at home. My parents impressed upon us at a very young age that we were not permitted to speak English in the home — that was the purpose of school — to speak all of the English that we wanted to our heart’s content — outside the home.
I didn’t fully appreciate their hard-line approach until adulthood. Being bilingual has opened many doors to opportunities that I would not have had without knowing how to speak my own language. Samoan language was the first language of the home. We were disciplined if we did not speak our mother tongue, and we attended a church every Sunday that reinforced our heritage language as the language of worship to our God. I think, because the mode of communication at church was Samoan, it in a way helped to elevate the status of my mother tongue into the stratosphere of the heavens where I could feel closer to God, because we worshipped him through song and Scripture in Samoan.
The focus of learning at home was about cultural protocols: the Samoan manners of how to walk, how to talk, how to sit, how to stand, how to respect your elders, how to listen, how to watch and learn. My brothers and I were very quick to be able to walk in both worlds — our home world and our school world. We became quite adept at it. In time, we became interpreters for our parents for more complex social situations. Such situations required us to not only translate English into Samoan, but to also think critically about the best pathways forward, particularly in matters that affected our family. Some have the idea that Pasifika peoples are not taught how to think critically in home contexts because we are taught to obey instruction from cultural standpoints. However, we develop our thinking in conjunction with our learning at school to be able to think critically from a different standpoint. We think critically and question critically to gain understanding and clarity — rather than to challenge the status quo for the sake of it.
At high school and tertiary education
In my first year of high school, I learned how to play the piano. By year 12 I was teaching piano to other young girls at my church. I attained a Grade 8 Trumpet practical certificate through the Trinity College London, and went on to complete a Bachelor of Music degree. Most recently, I completed a Master’s in Professional Studies in Education in 2013 about connecting gifted Pasifika students with their musical talent. This dissertation has been synthesised into an article that will be published in the forthcoming first edition of SET this year.
I am currently embarking on a PhD in Education in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, at the University of Auckland. The research focus is on Pasifika students’ perceptions of factors that contribute to success in NCEA.
Drivers in education for Pasifika children
It is fair to say that growing up in my household was like growing up in a boarding school, because learning was interweaved with the demands of daily living, with the demands of high expectations, and being the best reflection of the family. In Pasifika families, it matters where you come from. If something happens — good or bad — the first question that is asked is, “Whose child is that?” You would either incur the wrath of your parents or their absolute pride, based on your actions and deeds. This is still one of the great incentives for success: that Pasifika children engage in with their parents — we do what we do to make our parents proud.
I developed cultural identifiers for giftedness by canvassing Pasifika parents at the school I was teaching in, to ensure that notions of giftedness from Pasifika perspectives would be included in the school’s gifted and talented programme. As a result, there were some Pasifika learners who were identified as having both domains — being identified as gifted through cognitive models and the cultural identifiers for giftedness (Faaea-Semeatu, 2011).
For further reading and information about cultural identifiers for Pasifika giftedness you can read the following article that inspired my Master’s research. Coincidentally, this article has been adapted by the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) PLD provision within the Te Toi Tupu Consortium, and is currently being used to identify gifted Pasifika students in Aotearoa:
Faaea-Semeatu, T. (2011). Celebrating Gifted Indigenous!Roots: Gifted and Talented Pacific Island (Pasifika) Students. Papers from the 11th Asia Pacific Conference on Giftedness, Sydney, 29 July–1 August 2010. Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented/Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Also available at AAEGT – Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented.
Podcasts about being young, gifted, and brown:
- Young, gifted, and brown series by Manu Faaea-Semeatu and Anthony Faitaua: a series of 7 podcasts about the young, gifted, and brown.