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Speech To Pacific Island Early Childhood Education

Speech by Mark Gosche
Minister of Pacific Island Affairs
to the Pacific Islands Promotion of Early Childhood Education
Thursday 18 May 2000
Nafanua, 49 Rosebank Road, Avondale

Kia Orana, Ni Sa Bula, Taloha ni, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Halo Olaketa, Ia Orana.
Kia Ora, Talofa Lava, Greetings – Malo e lelei.

I would like to thank you for inviting me here today and apologise for my late arrival. And I would also like to particularly thank Le'autuli'ilagi Malaeta Sauvao who I had the pleasure to meet when I was in Samoa last month attending the Fagasa Conference.

A key priority for this Government is overcoming the social disparity gaps between Pacific Island people and other New Zealanders.

The Prime Minister Helen Clark's commitment to this has already seen her set up and chair a Cabinet Committee whose sole task is to look at closing the gaps.

We are already working on introducing income related rents by the end of the year which will see low-income tenants in state homes paying 25% of their income on rent.

Other priority areas are health and education.

Early childhood education is of particular interest to me and I am very concerned about the thousands of Pacific children who are missing out.

You will know that around 35% of all Pacific three-year-olds miss out on early childhood services compared to only 10% of non-Pacific youngsters.

Because of this many of our children are disadvantaged from the very beginning of their school life. They arrive at school starting from scratch while many of their schoolmates have a head start because they have already been exposed to early childhood education.

Our children need a secure foundation for their educational and social development. Preparing our youngsters for the road ahead is vital to their future and our future as Pacific peoples.

I am a staunch supporter of initiatives that help children to speak their own languages.

When I was at the FAGASA conference I told delegates that I was living proof of the challenge that lay before them.

A growing number of New Zealand Born Pacific People do not speak our own languages.

The 1996 Census reported that forty six per cent of all New Zealand born Samoans – revealed that they could not speak Samoan.

And I must say that I was one of them.

That's because I was one of thousands of New Zealand Born Samoan children who missed out on learning Samoan.

To my father in the fifties there appeared no reason or choice – employers, teachers and officials said we needed English, not Samoan. Many parents made the same difficult choice because New Zealand saw no value in our culture and our language.

But there is a better way forward where our children can live and succeed in both worlds.

I do not want any more of our children missing out on learning their language because the Government is not doing enough to help.

And I am committed to making sure that we do as much as we can to ensure that our languages are supported.

A few weeks ago the government showed its commitment to Pacific children and their education when we announced an extra $3 million for early childhood education.

Because of that decision nine new Pacific early childhood centres – turned down by the previous government – will now get the go ahead to open. More than 250 Pacific youngsters may be soon be getting the head start they have been missing out – they will be moving out of basements and garages and into appropriate facilities.

I am convinced that this is a first-hand example of closing the disparity gaps.

Of the immediate injection of more than $3 million – around half will go to Pacific early childhood centres and the rest will go to centres in areas where many of our families live.

No doubt many of you would have seen on the news recent comments by the leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

As the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs and as a Pacific person I was not prepared to let her comments go unchallenged.

When I first heard them I immediately thought of my own family and community. I thought of people like you who work every day to give our children the kinds of opportunities many of us never had. I thought of my own father who never learnt to read yet worked three jobs to make sure that all of us went on to tertiary study.

What I wanted to tell Mrs Shipley was that Pacific people are not criminals – Pacific people and community workers are heroes.

Ia Manuia.


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