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Pacific success in tertiary education


3 May 2013

Pacific success in tertiary education

Why do some Pacific students do well at tertiary education, while others find it more difficult to complete their qualifications?

This was one focus for Victoria University researcher and education lecturer Dr Cherie Chu, who looked at identifying, understanding and sharing educational practices in tertiary institutions that benefit Pacific learners.

The research, which was funded by the Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, identified three key factors that led to success for Pacific in tertiary settings.

“This included family support and personal commitment, positive teaching and learning relationships that recognised cultural identity, values and aspirations,” says Dr Chu, “as well as commitment from the particular institution to provide significant Pacific role models, a strong and supportive leadership and actively engagement with the Pacific community.”

Dr Chu spent two years talking to 51 staff and 119 students at five tertiary institutes around New Zealand, including Victoria and Otago universities, the Manukau Institute of Technology, Pacific Training Institute and Whitireia New Zealand. Along with two PhD students, Ivy Samala Abella and Seann Paurini, Dr Chu interviewed staff and students of varying ages and gender from a range of academic disciplines in both degree and diploma courses.

Her research focused on the positive. “So much of the research over the past 30 or 40 years has been about the negative, looking at non-participation rates of Pacific students, those who drop out of tertiary study or who don’t complete their qualifications. I wanted to understand and appreciate what tertiary institutions are doing well for Pacific learners.”

Data was gathered using the Talanoa research tool, which allows for a more informal, unstructured interview format by developing collaborative relationships between people.

“The Talanoa process allows for participants to share their stories, realities and aspirations in a more culturally appropriate way than if they were in structured focus groups. Talanoa is increasingly being used as a research method by Pacific researchers across New Zealand.”

Dr Chu says the research has far-reaching implications for both students and tertiary institutions.

“The one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work anymore. Institutions need to ensure their staff, policies and teaching better reflects students’ culture and relationships. When Pacific learners are empowered as confident learners, they are successful.”


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