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Improvements needed to help Pasifika people in NZ education

Improvements needed to help Pasifika people in NZ’s education system

December 18, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) student who will receive her doctorate at graduation in Christchurch this week says there is a need for principals and senior teachers to seek a better understanding of Pasifika people and Pasifika education.

Tanya Samu says her PhD thesis found that education practices in New Zealand do not align well with Pasifika people’s experiences, expectations and aspirations of education.

``I became concerned about the way educators use key terms in the New Zealand education system, such as diversity and Pasifika.

``I was not sure we were all clear enough about what we meant by these terms. I wondered if we meant slightly different things and if so could we be at risk of talking past one another?

``I could see a risk of limited and partial understandings of Pasifika people as a multi-ethnic group in New Zealand society. I felt concerned about unintended simplification and misapprehension of Pasifika learners and their communities by education policymakers, teachers and researchers.

``As part of my research, I studied national education policies on one hand and Pacific/Pasifika women’s motivations for participating in education on the other.

``In many Pasifika cultures, women carry high status roles as sisters, mothers and aunts. More Pasifika women than men have careers in education. More men need to be involved in education.

``Not surprisingly, I found there are differences between the Ministry of Education’s understanding of education for Pasifika people and the perspective of some Pasifika women.’’

Samu says education success for Pasifika people in New Zealand may be a shared aspiration between the ministry and Pasifika people. But the state’s perspective is driven by the demographic and socio-economic location of Pasifika peoples and its efforts to develop a knowledge economy.

She says Pasifika aspirations for education success are anchored in cultural values and perspectives drawn from their families, faith and places of origin on the one hand and Pasifika learners’ negative perceptions of their location within schools and tertiary education.

A shift in mind set on the part of decision-makers is needed looking at Pasifika people as a growing economic and voting power and building more innovative economic perspectives.

``It appears for many young Pasifika people, one of the realities of identifying as a Pasifika learner involves responding to values and beliefs related to skin colour, to being brown. This needs to be examined more closely.

``If educators were to play closer attention to the voices of Pasifika they may be reassured to find that culture does count but startled to find that perhaps, so does race.

Samu says her research was carried out to challenge complacency, provide alternative perspectives, deepen insights and strengthen understandings in the education system to help the development of Pasifika people.

Her supervisor Professor Peter Roberts says Samu is a leader in the Pasifika community and her thesis will add significantly to contributions she has already made. 

``Her thesis breaks new theoretical ground in its exploration of discourses on Pasifika education and I am confident it will become a key resource for scholars in this field of study.’’


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