Guidance for teachers working with Pasifika students in secondary schools

New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association / Te Wehengarua (PPTA) guidance for working with Pasifika students.

Guidance for teachers working with Pasifika students in secondary schools

ppta website icon Link to the Pasifika teachers' webpage

1. Introduction

Pasifika students make up an increasing proportion of New Zealand's secondary school population. This booklet is intended as a guide for teachers. The NZ Curriculum states the school curriculum will... "ensure that the experiences, cultural traditions, histories, and languages of all New Zealanders are recognised and valued. It will acknowledge the place of Pacific Islands' communities in New Zealand society, and New Zealand's relationships with the peoples of the South Pacific".

2. Pasifika people

Pasifika people living in New Zealand represent at least 22 different cultures and speak an even greater number of languages. Therefore the term "Pasifika people" does not refer to a single "nationality" or "ethnicity" but is a collective term for a diverse range of people from the South Pacific region. The 1996 census showed that Pasifika people include a higher proportion of those aged under 15 than the national average.

Most Pasifika peoples live in Auckland, Wellington, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Manawatu-Wanganui and Canterbury.

3. Pacific Islands students

Pasifika students come from Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Tokelau, Fiji, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Kiribati. Use of the word "Islander" ignores the diversity of Pasifika peoples.

Awareness of the rich variety of Pacific cultures is essential for teachers working with Pasifika students.

Students of Pacific Islands origin currently make up nearly eight percent of the school population in New Zealand. One hundred and thirty-six schools now have 30 percent or more students of Pacific Islands origin on their rolls.

The Education Review Office has a special unit (Moana Pasefika) to report on the education of Pasifika students.

Issues for Pasifika students include:

  • Language difficulties (English is usually the second language at home).
  • Lack of Pasifika language resources in schools.
  • Limited access to books, time and study space at home.
  • Pressures unique to social and cultural circumstances.
  • Family, church and community responsibilities and duties.
  • Parents' unfamiliarity with curriculum and assessment.
  • Dynamics of classroom discussion and debate.
  • Mismatch of teaching and learning styles.
  • Cross-cultural confusion.
  • Low level of effective advocacy by parents.
  • Lack of mentors.
  • Differences between home and school codes of conduct.
  • Misunderstandings arising from negative questions (e.g. "Didn't you see Mere yesterday?" may be answered as "Yes". This means that the person did not see Mere yesterday. In other words, by saying "yes" the person agrees with the questioner.)
  • Discrimination and racism.

Teachers can show support by:

  • Demonstrating awareness of Pacific Islands history and cultures.
  • Participating in staff professional development.
  • Recognising the different languages and cultures of Pasifika students and encouraging correct pronunciation of students' names (e.g. in Samoan the "g" is pronounced "ng" thus Faga is Fanga NOT Farga)
  • Encouraging the use of Pasifika languages.
  • Keeping parents informed about school matters.
  • Welcoming Pacific Islands families' participation in schools.
  • Affirming Pasifika students.
  • Encouraging pride in identity and diversity.
  • Supporting Pacific Islands speech and performing arts festivals.
  • Working with the Komiti Pasifika and the Pasifika teachers' network of the PPTA.
  • Using greetings in Pasifika languages (e.g. Talofa (Samoan), Malo elelei (Tongan), and Kia orana (Cook Islands Māori).
  • Promoting suitable mentoring programmes.


Offer Me Encouragement at Every Opportunity

where I come from:
large family
church commitments
financial hardship
language barriers
lack of confidence
at school
I hide in the background
struggling to understand.
So please try to understand what I have written
what I have tried to express.
Offer me encouragement at every opportunity
help me to express myself freely.
my reluctance to approach
my reluctance to take risks
my reluctance to challenge the confident culture.
Offer me encouragement at every opportunity
Empower me
so that I can learn.

By Lino Nelisi
- from Many Voices, 1999