Lockdown study sheds light on Pasifika achievement in education

12 May 2020

Learning at home under lockdown has tested parents up and down the country as they attempt to support children’s online learning, but Pasifika families also have additional challenges to navigate.

  • Tufulasi Taleni

    Pasifika Kai-ārahi at the University of Canterbury’s (UC)’s College of Education Health and Human Development, Leali’ie’e Tufulasifa’atafatafa Ova Taleni is passionate about Pasifika students’ achievement.

Learning at home under lockdown has tested parents up and down the country as they attempt to support children’s online learning, often while juggling work and other demands. Maintaining schedules, trying not to overload the broadband and finding workspace for everyone’s activities are just some of the jigsaw pieces parents are trying to fit together.

While each family has its own challenges, Pasifika families have additional cultural considerations that have been highlighted by staying at home to eradicate Covid-19.

A team from Evaluation Associates (EA) moved quickly to explore how home-based, school-led learning was impacting Māori and Pasifika students and parents, and whether inequities in the educational system were exacerbated by lockdown.

Pasifika Kai-ārahi at the University of Canterbury’s (UC)’s College of Education Health and Human Development, Leali’ie’e Tufulasifa’atafatafa Ova Taleni, was invited to join the study due to his years of experience in education and his passion for Pasifika achievement.

The study, School-led learning at home: Voices of parents of Māori and Pasifika students, interviewed 134 parents of Māori and Pasifika students during the first week of lockdown. For Taleni, it was a unique chance to hear the voices of Pasifika parents.

“The study showed that one of the main fears of Pasifika parents during this time was that their children would not meet curriculum expectations and achieve their qualifications,” he says. “Many parents were already caught between having very high expectations of their children to achieve at school and fearing the loss of their cultural identity and language. Schools have made incredible efforts to adapt to this unique situation, however the way schools teach is not always culturally responsive and this came into focus even more during lockdown.”

There were other concerns revealed by the study. Pasifika parents who had not been through New Zealand’s school system themselves felt anxious about having the knowledge to support their children’s learning. They worried about their children’s social isolation during lockdown, about a lack of guidance from schools, not having the time or energy to support home learning and inadequate access in terms of devices and internet connection.

There were, however, also many positives to home-based, school-led learning. Pasifika parents experienced more time and connection with their children and a better understanding of their children’s learning. They adapted learning to better incorporate their culture, and they created a more culturally and spiritually-oriented learning environment for their children.  

These are important lessons for the New Zealand education system to learn from. The study concludes by asking questions that will help schools to better address inequities, incorporate cultural beliefs and communicate more effectively with Pasifika parents. 

Taleni and co-authors Dr Melanie Riwai-Couch and Ally Bull will also share their findings with teachers and the Pasifika community at the Schools webinar: Learning from lockdown – the voices of parents of Māori and Pasifika students this Thursday 14 May at 7.30pm (register here).

It’s another way for Taleni to address what has proven to be an intractable issue, with Pasifika achievement remaining below the national average, despite gains made in recent years.

Taleni’s PhD into the impact of effective leadership for Pasifika students, currently underway, takes a multi-pronged approach, gathering data from four different groups: school principals, effective community leaders across Aotearoa, indigenous group leadership in Samoa, and UC education students who have been to Samoa on the Pasifika Education Initiative, Samoa-based Malaga. His PHD comes under A Better Start – National Science Challenge, Literacy and Learning Theme, which Director of UC’s Child Wellbeing Research Institute Professor Gail Gillon is leading.

Through the Pasifika Education Initiative, Samoa-based Malaga, Taleni has taken a group of UC’s student teachers to Samoa since 2016. It’s one of the best initiatives he has developed and led, he says. “When I retire that is what I will look back on with the most satisfaction, because of the amount of learning that occurs to help future teachers of Pasifika students make a difference for Pasifika achievement. The students stay with families in the village, participating in cultural activities and this truly makes a difference to their cultural soul.

“I still get messages from past students who tell me how much it increased their cultural confidence and competence as they started working with Pasifika students and families as teachers in the New Zealand education system.”

UC alumna Dr Melanie Riwai-Couch (Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Kuia) led the School-led learning at home: Voices of parents of Māori and Pasifika students study, which was co-authored by Ally Bull, Brenda Ellis, Kerry Hall, Jane Nicholls, and Richard Watkinson from EA and Leali’ie’e Tufulasifa’atafatafa Ova Taleni from UC, with a foreword contributed by UC Professor Māori Research Professor Angus Macfarlane.

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