AN EDUCATION SUPERHIGHWAY: PACIFIC ISLAND STUDENTS IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand’s education system is not providing positive outcomes for many Pacific students. It needs to change, says Nicholas Tuitasi, the Pacific Engagement Advisor, for the Tamaki Campus of Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
“As a Pacific community, we have been here in New Zealand for more than sixty years yet, in terms of education achievements, we are still way down the bottom,” Mr. Tuitasi told the Samoa Observer.
A 2007 survey by the Ministry of Social Development on young Pacific islanders revealed three reasons they felt that is so.
“First they said some Pacific people don’t understand the education system,” recalled Mr. Tuitasi. “Second is that many parents aren’t equipped to parent us here. They have come with a roadmap from the islands but none of those streets exist here in New Zealand. That is why we’re lost.
“And third, a large number of churches sap resources, time, money and energy.”
Mr. Tuitasi identifies with the survey’s findings. He knows all too well having failed through the school system in the late 1970s early 1980s. He ended uprepeating his fifth form year and then leaving Avondale College with only two school certificate subjects, and no qualifications.
“As I look back, we had all the school opportunities available to us,” he said. “But I didn’t have a game plan on how to use education properly. Although we were getting a lot of encouragement from our parents, drumming to us ‘school first, school first,’ it didn’t really break down to anything tangible.”
Nearly thirty years later, Mr. Tuitasi has achieved many things.In his latest role, he says that change must happen for Pacific children to succeed at school.
“We have to make real changes otherwise we will continue to underachieve. If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
And now, as the Pacific engagement advisor for T.W.O.A., he has been working on a plan he believes will make those changes happen. For the past two years, T.W.O.A. has been working at creating a Pacific education superhighway through the school system.
“We hope to pilot this model in the Mangere area,” said Mr. Tuitasi. “And if it works well, I am confident it can be replicated in other New Zealand areas, and possibly a model for overseas countries as well.
“I’m now considering the 55,000 people living in Mangere of which 64 percent of them are Pacific. I have looked at the 19 schools here that educate our kids and so far identifying obstacles stopping Pacific students from succeeding in the current system.”
At the secondary school level of the proposed superhighway, “Once we have identified all of the obstacles, we will invite those principals and board members to come to a fonowhere we can discuss and implement solutions.”
The main aspect Mr. Tuitasi wants changed is for Pacific students to make Science, Technology, English and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) compulsory at all three levels of the N.C.E.A. curriculum.
Currently, S.T.E.M. is compulsory only at Level-1. And Mr.Tuitasi noted thata high percentage of Pacific students drop S.T.E.M. subjects after Level-1 in favour of “Physical Education, performing arts, and other subjects, although important for our students thinking outside the square, these are consideredsoft options by Universities and future employers.
“And that’s one of the main differences, where many palagi kids are coming out of High School with real qualifications linked to well-paid careers, while many Pacific kids are merely finishing, with a collection of credits.
“As much as those things keep our kids entertained, it keeps them down when it comes time to look for a job. When employers compare a collection of credits in multiple disciplines, against a student with S.T.E.M., it’s an uneven playing field for our students.”