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Double awards win for UC Pacific education specialist

13 November 2023

University of Canterbury (UC) Senior Lecturer Leali’ie’e Dr Tufulasi Taleni has been recognised for his research and impact in the field of Pacific education, winning two national awards.


Senior Lecturer Leali’ie’e Dr Tufulasi Taleni is a trailblazing and award-winning researcher in UC’s Te Kaupeka Ako | Faculty of Education.


Dr Taleni received the Pasifika Community Researcher Award at the Community Research Te Auaha Pito Mata, 2023 New and Emerging Researcher Awards ceremony on 18 October in Pōneke Wellington, and on Saturday 11 October was presented with the Pacific Circle Consortium’s Peter Brice Award at the Consortium’s annual conference, hosted by UC. The latter commended Dr Taleni for his positive spirit, scholarship and humanity. The awards follow Dr Taleni’s doctoral confirmation, making him the first Pacific staff member with a doctorate degree at UC’s Te Kaupeka Ako | Faculty of Education.

SDG 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

He says receiving the awards is “humbling”.

“I am very honoured to receive these awards. It really motivates me to move forward and share this story with our Pacific people, as we need to encourage more Pacific researchers in this area. It is very important in our community for a Pacific person to lead research rather than just be a research participant and a giver of research information.

“This recognition also reinforces the importance of what I refer to in my research as ‘untangling the tangled net’ of issues that contribute to the disengagement and underachievement of Pacific learners. The impact of poor education in childhood is poor health, low paid jobs, unemployment, and poverty.  If children are doing well in school, it will lift their own morale and contribute to looking after themselves. I carry out research because I think of the children – they are at the heart of my research.”

With over three decades of involvement in Pacific education, Dr Taleni has a strong interest in educational leadership combined with his Indigenous Samoan leadership and Samoan epistemology. His thesis, titled ‘O le Fa’atamasoali’iga a Tautai Matapalapala – A Soul-Searching and Far-Reaching Voyage of the Tautai (master navigator) – How and why effective educational leadership can advance Pasifika students' learning, health and wellbeing’ examines the impact of effective leadership in raising engagement and achievement of Pacific learners in New Zealand schools.

Through his research, Dr Taleni has developed the Soalaupulega Samoa framework, which is based on the need for leaders within education, health, and the community to lead action in addressing key issues impacting children, families, and communities.

“Soalaupulega is a deep form of collaboration carried out by Matai (chiefs) who come together to seek solutions to solve threatening issues impacting on the lives of the community. Through my research, a key theme was the need for strong leadership to help schools make achievement for Pacific students a priority and to ensure the school culture reflects those students’ cultural needs.

“I am a strong advocate for our own Pacific people to utilise our Pacific epistemologies, research methodology and pedagogical practices to contextualise our own cultural values and principles.”

Dr Taleni was born in the village of Vaiafai, Iva Savai’i in Samoa and was bestowed the Leali’ie’e Matai (chief) title after the passing of his late father. He left Samoa in 1985 to come to New Zealand, settling in Invercargill and later studying at the University of Otago before joining UC as a Senior Pasifika Education Advisor in 2002.

Since then he has spearheaded a number of developments and initiatives aimed at improving the engagement and achievement of Pacific students, including establishing the Pacific Talanoa Centre, leading and coordinating the Pasifika Advisory Group, and the Pasifika Education Initiative – Samoa Malaga (trip), which enables teachers and leaders in schools and also UC staff and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) students to visit his home village to gain a greater cultural understanding and develop culturally responsive programmes for their students. He has also been involved in introducing the Saili Matagi Pacific course (navigating winds of change in Pacific education) into the UC Initial Teacher Education programme, which will be mandatory from next year.

Dr Taleni’s role in his Pacific community, his family and as Bishop in his church continue to strengthen his motivation and passion in his research work.

“I greatly appreciate UC for supporting my research and my ideas to better support our Pacific students and contribute to the professional development of the next generation of teachers. It is exciting to see aspects of my Solaupulega framework in action and I look forward to the next stage of my research, getting my framework into policy making and schools, and to use it as an audit system by schools so teachers and leaders can inform their own practices.”

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