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Chu-Fuluifaga, C.; Reynolds, M. New Zealand Pacific Education and Research. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 24 June 2024).
Chu-Fuluifaga C, Reynolds M. New Zealand Pacific Education and Research. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2024.
Chu-Fuluifaga, Cherie, Martyn Reynolds. "New Zealand Pacific Education and Research" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 24, 2024).
Chu-Fuluifaga, C., & Reynolds, M. (2023, May 30). New Zealand Pacific Education and Research. In Encyclopedia.
Chu-Fuluifaga, Cherie and Martyn Reynolds. "New Zealand Pacific Education and Research." Encyclopedia. Web. 30 May, 2023.
New Zealand Pacific Education and Research

Pacific (Pasifika) education in Aotearoa New Zealand refers to the education of people who have links to Pacific Island Nations and are part of a Pacific diaspora, located in Aotearoa New Zealand. The field includes pedagogy, policy, research and practice.

Pedagogy Teacher Education Va/Vā Education Policy Migrant Education Pacific Education

1. Pacific Migration to New Zealand

A country of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) is a bi-cultural state framed around the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, versions of which were signed by representatives of some Indigenous Māori groups and the British Crown. Despite disputes, there have been moves in recent years towards a national vision of two peoples, Māori and non-Māori [1]. Non-Māori with migratory links to Pacific Island Nations ‘sit’ on the ‘Crown’ side of the Treaty, but there has been a history of Māori/Pacific aggregation in both educational research and practice [2]. In this context however, honors Māori and Pacific as distinct peoples.
The presence in NZ of Pacific peoples as a diaspora is complex but increasingly significant. In the 2013 census, the Pacific group represented 7.1% of the total NZ population [3]. The NZ Pacific population is fast-growing, with numbers projected to rise from 344,400 in 2013 to surpass 0.5 million people in 2026–2031 [4]. The family is a central unit in Pacific migration, which for many is partly motivated by the desire or obligation to support family in the place of origin [5]. A consequence of continuing linkages is the presence in the land of settlement of cultural understandings and practices indigenous to the place of origin. Thus, as a diaspora, Pacific migrant communities encounter new contexts in which to exercise what they know. One such context is formal education in NZ. Pacific cultures have evolved over a number of generations, which has led to educators needing to be increasingly culturally skilled to make Pacific diversity a strength in their classrooms and other educational spaces.

2. Pacific Education

‘Pacific’ in the context of Pacific (or Pasifika) education is a contested umbrella term [6], employed circumspectly here to signal the strength of connection that Pacific peoples may find together, while acknowledging the diversity that a collective approach can conceal. Most teachers of Pacific students are of European origin [7], placing priority on authentic, power-sharing [8] partnerships that are inter-cultural. Power-sharing partnerships require teachers who have European cultural roots and who work in schools and an education system that have been set up on European models, to explore understandings of what Pacific peoples value and to find means to enact their priorities in education.
Pacific education as a field perhaps formally emerged at the Lopdell House conference of 1974 [9]. This took place in Auckland. The field has developed in areas such as initial teacher education programs with a Pacific focus [10], ‘for Pacific by Pacific’ early childhood provision [11], bilingual educationl [12], gifted and talented education [13], thinking about learning environments [14] and digital education [15]. Pacific education literature addresses early childhood [16], primary [17], and secondary education [18], as well as the non-compulsory tertiary sector [19]. Adult education is also a concern [20].

Recent research in the field has progressively valued aspects of Pacific life; Pacific languages [21], knowledges and concepts [22][23][24], and voices and experiences [25][26][27]. The literature also pays attention to notions of culture, context and respectful configuration of relationships with the past. A pertinent starting point is to pay attention to relationality - the state of being related - through relational space, va or vā. Various understandings of this concept can be found in Samoan [28], Tongan [29] and other Pacific traditions of thinking, particularly those from the eastern Pacific region.

Pacific education needs to change. That Pacific students have been poorly served by education in NZ [30] is seen through in achievement [31], curriculum representation [32] and students' experiences [33]. Despite recent developments such as the Pacific Education Action Plan [34], Tapasā [35], a resource for teachers, and the Talanoa Ako suite of resources [36], all the result of community consultation, the field waits for more evidence of wholesale educational re-thinking in Pacific education [37]. Thus, it remains pertinent for Pacific education research to interrogate the nature, means and scale of changes needed to provide Pacific students with an education that meets family and community needs and aspirations. That is, an education that offers ‘success as Pacific’ rather than system-defined ‘success of Pacific’ students [38][39][40][20]. Pacific education remains a priority area for the NZ government, including through targeted COVID 19 educational support and as an aspect of 'cultural capability' professional learning and development, although this is often framed through Māori education.

Historically, the voices of Pacific communities have not been well represented in education. On-going professional development about Pacific cultures and students has been neglected. A strengths-based approach to Pacific education honors the potential of Pacific parents and communities to contribute much as Pacific indigenous knowledge and wisdom holders. Gorinski and Fraser [41] highlight the negative effect of differences in values, beliefs, assumptions and experiences between Pacific homes and educational institutions against the backdrop of a mono-cultural schooling model and point to a general failure of education to consult Pacific parents. Chu, Glasgow [42] identify discrimination, cultural discontinuity, and consistent lack of consultation with Pacific parents as issues in Pacific education. Recent literature [2][43] suggests little positive relational change between schools and Pacific peoples, although Pacific parents are willing and able to contribute to their children’s progress [2].

3. Training Teachers and Culture

As teachers go about their work, they are presented with a wide range of resources which they are required to know and act on without much socialization. One of these policy documents, Tapasā [44], subtitled a ‘Cultural Competencies Framework for Teachers of Pacific Learners’, was developed in partnership with diasporic Pacific communities to educate teachers. In addition, Rimoni, Glasgow [45] provide an account of the values held by Pacific educational practitioners to help teachers navigate. From a professional learning perspective, success in teaching needs to be described not in terms of teacher mastery of new strategies, often called competencies, but in relation to the impact that changed practice has on Pacific students. As described by Reynolds [46], the upskilling of teachers in NZ has been influenced by global movements to teach diverse students effectively [47] that centre on student and community assess.  Examples of asset-based approaches in the Pacific context include Si’ilata [48][49]. Teachers work in varied settings in NZ, and there can be no assurance that any specific approach to teaching will have the desired outcomes for the diversity of Pacific students [49]. Little research has examined the development on the ground of local and authentic partnerships between European-origin teachers and Pacific communities through PLD based on Pacific voices, nor the kinds of PLD capable of upskilling teachers to meet their responsibilities in this field.
Potentially fruitful avenues for Pacific education research in the future include expanding existing attention to classroom processes to embrace institutional aspects of education, and the relationship between these layers of education; the potential of immediately relevant school subjects such as Pacific Studies to provide motivation in education; the ways teachers can adapt national assessment strategies to meet the needs of specific groups of Pacific students in their classes; ways of amplifying Pacific students', parents' and communities' voices in educational discussions; and mechanism for translating small scale research initiatives into wider change initiatives that include accountability for providing success to Pacific students in Pacific terms.


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