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Road to nowhere for Pasifika languages in education, warns languages expert

New Zealand government policy that ignores the personal, cultural and educational benefits of Pasifika languages to school children with Pacific heritage will leave those children monolingual in English.

That’s according to A.U.T. University languages expert, Associate Professor Sharon Harvey, Head of the School of Language and Culture at A.U.T.

Language and Culture at A.U.T. She says that the government’s Pasifika Education Plan 2013 – 2017 and comments by the Minister of Education Hekia Parata make it clear that the teaching of Pasifika languages in primary schools will not be resourced by government even when schools have substantial numbers of Pasifika learners and the impetus to offer bilingual education.

“Many education systems internationally support the learning of three or more languages to a high level of proficiency but in New Zealand we do the opposite.

“Many of our children come into school with proficiency in, or access to, two or more languages and leave with only one - English.

“The banning of Maori in New Zealand schools throughout much of the 20th century led directly to the demise of the language in all domains.

“The lack of support for and recognition of the importance of Pasifika languages to Pasifika students for their personal, cultural and social identity, as well as educational achievement is having the same effect on Pacific languages and communities.

“The relentless emphasis on reading, writing and mathematics through National standards has meant a stronger and stronger focus on English in all but Maori medium schools.

“There is no recognition that bilingual education and gaining literacy proficiency in languages other than English has strong crossover effects for students and may well raise educational performance in all their languages.”

Assoc. Prof Harvey says the paper Languages of Aotearoa/NZ released last year by the Royal Society of New Zealand summarises the positive learning and identity effects of young people becoming proficient in languages other than the dominant societal language.

“This effect is likely to be even more pronounced for Pasifika students learning their family and cultural language.

“In New Zealand we are effectively operating an English-only policy in schools that are not Maori medium. This is a travesty for generations of Pacific learners in particular.”

Assoc. Prof Harvey supports the call by Human Rights Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy for a National Languages Policy.

“A national languages policy would help us discuss and debate our language needs and responsibilities in a principled and informed way without placing languages in competition with one another.



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