Pasifika cultures are strongly acknowledged in the New Zealand Education system, and I applaud the movement of the times to keep up with the growing population of Pacific nations in New Zealand. We have made gradual steps to be culturally inclusive. However, we are still behind the eight ball on sustaining our Pasifika identities, cultures, and languages in schools.
What's a future focussed education for Pasifika?
Let's ask the question, What does a Modern Learning Environment (MLE) look like through a Pasifika lens?
Having my Pasifika hat, primary teacher hat, and e-learning practitioner hat on simultaneously, makes me curious about where Pasifika learners will fit in the education model in the 21st century. By no means am I an expert in this field. However, knowledge and understanding needs to be developed from a Pasifika stance to inform pedagogy behind this idea of MLE.
For the past 40 years, I have lived in two separate worlds. I understand the rules, the laws, the education system—basically everything to do with being a New Zealand citizen — I get that. I know how to behave in an environment where I need to abide by New Zealand laws and systems. But then, when my world is seen through a non-Pasifika lens, it changes, as does my behaviour.
For forty years I have lived in this world where environment is just physical space; but I am most comfortable when surrounded by my parents, families, and my community. Someone once said to me, “schools are about people, not just buildings”. This concept captures the idea of open spaces, personalised learning, and working independently in the new 21st Century environment. It,is a positive shift in the right direction to engage our Pasifika learners that will encompass all the goals, targets, and actions from the Pasifika Education Plan. Why? Because I believe the modern learning environment can be unstructured, more mobile, and have less constraints. There could be less pressure to perform at our own pace, and an environment created that can easily be adapted to personalised learning.
But, what about a future framework for Pasifika?
The emerging question for me is, how do schools use the space—virtual and physical—more effectively to engage our Pasifika students in a modern learning environment? To do this, we can follow the wise words of an old Samoan proverb, “Fofola le fala, ia tatou talanoa”—Spread the mat and let’s engage in a conversation.
How does e-learning raise Pasifika achievement, engagement, and participation aligned with the Pasifika Education Plan? I have been pondering about this for a while. I grew up the old-school way—teacher directed, with ability groups, desks set in rows, etc. Although I just made it through the schooling system with some success, I can only thank my peers for their support and visa versa. My way of getting through was being part of a community, not being independent. My peers and I attended the same classes, we had the same teachers at high school, and we passed and moved onto university. Things changed when some of the boys found other interests, and I was left to see through university on my own. By that time I was 20, and the word, “independent”, took on a whole new meaning for me.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and the idea of support is there, but in the digital form of e-learning. Pasifika students can currently ubiquitously seek support from their peers through Facebook, Instagram, text messages, mobiles, Skype etc. The accessibility of instant support is how we roll in the Pasifika world.
I use my 15-year-old daughter as an example. She is a Facebook, Instagram, texting compulsive-obsessive-nutter, (but in a controlled manner, because, as parents, we still believe in rules). After many parent interviews with her school-teachers, it always leads to one common academic theme: “Has potential, but lacks confidence”. It’s very common in the Pasifika world. Without that support around you, you stay in your shell and become disengaged.
My daughter is a gifted sportsperson, (as in the stereotype that most Pasifika people are!), but I have seen her work hard on her homework and catch up on any missed work due to sports commitments. She puts in the effort by going online with her peers, where she can comfortably ask questions, and engage in discussions about her assignment tasks—things she may feel uncomfortable with in a classroom if put on a spot.
The Pasifika old world can be part of the new
Networking, in the sense of my world—being part of a community, should be exploited by any means of connecting with others in a digital world. I believe, the shift from the traditional workbooks to e-learning can raise Pasifika engagement, participation, and achievement, all under the Pasifika Education Plan. The inevitable question is how? I believe the turning point for our Pasifika learners is now, more than ever before. We need to develop a sense of cultural best practice in schools, and beyond the four walls. Many of our Pasifika elders are currently e-capable, not to the point of empowering, but at least at the emerging phase. Engaging with our Pasifika parents, families, and community is more accessible than ever before. Due to no, or little, evidence on raising Pasifika achievement through e-learning, I am being urged to commence some background research (watch this space!).
Using the modern to strengthen the good from the old
Will a Modern Learning Environment and e-learning strengthen the identities and languages of Pasifika cultures better than before? Some things in a digital world should never change, in my opinion. As a New Zealand-born Samoan, I struggled to keep my identity during my early schooling years because we didn’t have anything remotely Samoan, let alone a cultural group, until my final year at high school—form seven (Year 13). The only times I connected with my Samoan culture, were at home, in my community, and at church. I don’t want my children to have the same struggle.
One of the positive shifts for the past 20 years is the inclusion of Pasifika preschool language nests. My children were able to continue to learn their identity, culture, and language through their preschool years. However, when they moved onto primary school, and they not only started on the wrong foot, but, eventually, lost their first language. The only time they can revisit their language is in the senior levels in some high schools that offer Samoan language as part of NCEA. In between those years are cultural festivals of dances, singing and stage performance.
My daughter has been involved in the Specifically Pacific Cultural Festival in Christchurch for the past 2 years at her high school. It has strengthened her identity again as a proud Samoan. During that two-week period, and the build up towards the festival, she walks tall, proud, and Brown. When the festival ends, it’s back to the normal school routine, and the New Zealand way of learning.
So, with what lens should we be looking at MLE for Pasifika?
E-learning tools such as Skype conferencing for learning Samoan language or any other Pasifika nation languages should be used more effectively to build that network of community online. The way of the future of sharing and collaborating resources is something our Pasifika communities have been doing for years, just as in the old proverb "it takes a village to raise a child". Maybe we do it better than most?
It's all very well imposing one's own cultural view of a modern learning environment, but maybe the New Zealand education system should focus on a future-focused education that can incorporate how Pasifika communities view Modern Learning Environments and e-learning through their eyes.