Select Committee hearing on early childhood and Pasifika languages

Last week the Education and Science Select Committee had a very privileged experience hearing from a number of Pasifika communities and individuals about their support for learning in their heritage languages. Although the Government restricted the inquiry to early childhood education (ECE) and Pasifika language issues, the submitters painted a broad and holistic picture of all levels of education needing to be culturally responsive. The Select Committee was also fortunate to hear a number of school groups sing beautiful sings in Pasifika languages to remind us to hear and to experience the heart of the matter.

The ECE Inquiry heard that Pasifika communities are fighting hard for their bilingual pre-school and primary school language-based models. They already know the difference it makes to learning, and to language retention, if children are taught in their mother tongue. Research shows that a number of Pasifika languages are at risk because of colonisation and migration. We heard from speakers of Samoan, Rarotonga, and Niue languages in particular but we were made aware that there are other languages and other communities which are also struggling.

All the submitters said that resources to build language capacity were crucial. They felt that the leadership from Government had deteriorated because Pasifika bilingualism is not valued for its contribution to the education of the children. Despite the clear research, the latest school curriculum does little to promote learning in Pasifika languages. Many people mentioned the loss and absence of school books and tools to help children learn in their heritage languages. Some university students came to tell us that their identity, as well as their education, had been compromised by the misguided discouragement of their heritage languages.

All the submitters urged us to train and resource qualified teachers as well as support elders who had a role to play in language education.

I found it ironic when Government members of the committee suggested that learning a language was a choice issue, as if French or Mandarin was as relevant as the Pasifika languages. After all, we are a Pacific island nation, we have the largest Polynesian city in the world, and we know we are failing those children and their right to their language. Only a monocultural and monolingual dominant majority could be so unhelpful. The norm around the world is to support unique languages because when you do cultures not only flourish but children have the best possible start in life. Let’s hope we can make some change via this inquiry because these dedicated communities need urgent recognition and resourcing!

22 Comments Posted

  1. I love the idea that English will soon be the universal language So it might, but since each country and area puts its own dialect onto the English they speak, it will be a case of the Tower of Babel. In other words soon the English spoken by one group will be nonsense to another group. Listen to the Commonwealth short story entries round Christmas and hear stories read in English by people from various backgrounds, some of them I cannot understand and I am English by birth.

    Surely new immigrants could get together at the weekends to re enforce their native tongue, the Chinese NZ ers have always done this. I know of one Auckland school with over 42 different ethnic groups, there must be a single language for most lessons, though there could be an hour or two a week where their native language speakers teach their own languages.

  2. I think that if you have a group of parents who want to make this happen, want to be involved in their children’s learning, then it is worth supporting.

    Welsh and Yiddish aren’t exactly international languages either, but it is apparently acceptable to learn them.

    What seems to happen is not so much they are caught between cultures, but are comfortable in both. Certainly, they cannot avoid learning English.

    Then there is the learning of yet another language. This is the real long-term value. Some of our local children, fluent in te Reo, also had the opportunity of learning Japanese from several young Japanese people over the years – they were much quicker at grasping it than the monolingual children. They already understood how to use the patterns of language. This has been noted in many instances around the world.

    Mandarin will be easier for these kids than it will be for those who know only one language.

  3. Yes Janine, and I had misgivings about saying what I said, because the value of learning for the child is a different thing to the value of the language to the grown-up.

    The logic of the problem is inexorable. The problem for the children is that they are caught between the cultures. Should we support this? Maybe. I am mindful of that difference and I am willing to put children ahead of pragmatism in this.

    However the actual value of the Pasifika “language” to the grown-up is still not much different from zero.

    So I cannot fault the logic of the value to the child if the language is used to promote learning. I do however, give a failing grade if it becomes an attempt to keep the culture and language alive. I do not think we can actually afford to do that.

    I say that regretfully, but the costs could be much MUCH higher than the merely monetary costs of trying to do it. I am willing to accept the child’s claim on our effort, but that is where I stop and where I think the party MUST stop… because past this point (and this is what I fear even with the child’s claim on us) we will be painted as having completely lost the plot on sustainability, choosing as a party, again, to pursue purely social agendas instead.

    At which point our share of the vote dissipates, our ability to implement policy evaporates and any chance (if we have any chance) that we can actually accomplish anything else, goes up in smoke.

    I very very much fear that outcome here. I will go along with the practical use of their milk-language to help children learn, but I think there needs to be a very distinct limit set, so we as a party, are not drawn too far out of position.


  4. We’re talking about education, not commerce. Some years ago, Gordon Dryden and Lesley Max did a tv series on how babies and children learn. It was fascinating research and one of the major findings was that children learn everything better if in their first few years they can learn in their own language. Their research covered Spanish-speaking children in the USA and Arabic-speaking children in Scandinavia among others.
    These Pasifika parents are asking for support for learning, not for the government to take it over. They are a sizeable minority and participating in the education system is good for them and for their children. There are already some Pasifika language nests in Auckland and Learning Media produces resources in those languages – not that difficult or expensive to do, actually.
    As for Photonz comments – no-one is asking the government to provide education in all the languages of all immigrants, just support for one proactive group. Stay calm.
    BJ, it’s not often I disagree with you but this is one area where I do. Education and language are more my field than yours I think and there is plenty of research to back up the value of this.
    In London I believe there are something like 40+ different language newspapers now. When I was teaching there a long time ago, there were none but there were a lot of immigrants from a great number of countries. I was teaching 12-13-14 year olds whose second language was English and they were bright kids who learnt fast. Knowing more than one language, whatever it is, is a huge advantage – providing you are not being made to feel inferior about which language it is.
    My grandson (at two and a half) is extremely fluent in English, fairly fluent in te Reo Maori and is learning Spanish. He loves books and is teaching himself to read and count. With help on all fronts.

    Give kids more opportunities, not fewer, and don’t tell them their culture is inferior to someone else’s. That is not useful for anyone.

  5. Andrew – I wasn’t really trying to make any particular point. Just thought it was funny.

    This country being an isolated island means that IF we want to make things rather than import them, we have to make the imports cost as much as the stuff we want to build. That’s not really negotiable, that has to be the end result of whatever policies we put in place or we can’t make stuff here.


    So we have to ask whether we want to make stuff here


    live solely off the trade surplus from farming, which ain’t big enough for a lot of imports.


    suppress wages to third-world levels to be competitive with the Chinese.


    Any of those 3 are actually “sustainable” and thus acceptably “Green” on that narrow measure. Not equal in terms of societal balance, but that measure hasn’t been considered yet. It’s our society, we CAN choose.

    (Simply selling off everything that isn’t nailed down to balance the trade for a short while is not sustainable.)


    The point is, that people living here have a requirement of actually continuing to live. If you are a new graduate you have pretty limited resources in terms of capital, and few opportunities unless you are a genius inventor. Even most geniuses are not particularly inventive, and the ones who can in fact bootstrap a new business are VERY uncommon. Who will invest in your startup when you can point to no experience, no proven market, and nothing more than a bright idea that has to compete against all the bright ideas coming out of the geniuses in China, and Japan and the USA with the SLIGHT additional problem that there is no manufacturing base here to build on?… meaning that just about everything you build WITH is imported.

    The first rung of the ladder you want them to climb is located somewhere between the 3rd and 4th floors of the building. Good luck with that.


    So to make up for our lack of manufacturing base we ship our grads overseas. They WANT to leave now, because they see (if not the reason, certainly the reality of) the situation here.

    Fixing it means making things here. Making things here requires some fairly significant changes in the exchange rate and the import-export equations. THAT is what we need to do so that graduates find themselves in an environment where they have a shot at making their own jobs, and our industries have jobs waiting for them in this country.


    – Wendy (at Macro Economic Trends and Risks (METAR))

  6. bjchip,

    I think the Asians are fast converting to English too? It’s a more efficient language.

    Also: For the sake of making a point in relation to your link; if universities were so “enriching” in their courses those young geniuses would make their own jobs, and jobs for others. Instead they just cry out to be taken care of.

  7. It is important to our children who are Pasifika children! No language is “unimportant” to its particular race of people – children included. It is the expression of WHO THEY ARE…

    I really don’t think trading- and- economics- above- all, can, nor should, continue to be the dominant emphasis into the future, as oil and transport-potential lessen; self-sufficiency will surely become the goal everywhere. Any unnecessary, and luxury goods will be OUT – and good-riddance!

  8. It is important to our children who are Pasifika children! No language is “unimportant” to those of its particular race of people, children is the expression of WHO THEY ARE..

  9. Now seriously.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with this.

    I have to agree with Photonz, and to a degree (and apart from his CHOICE of the dominant language)… Andrew.

    There is an REASON for Te Reo, the treaty of Waitangi is in two languages, and the nation officially recognizes both. It is fit and proper that if a nation has two languages, both of them get taught.

    Pasifika isn’t covered by that condition.

    It IS just another language and it is NOT as relevant to our children’s future as Mandarin Chinese… or Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Hindi or Russian… considering our non-English-Speaking trading partners.

    A list of which our schools struggle to cover half of.

    If you are a Pasifika speaker anywhere (except on your native island), you are disadvantaged by not knowing other languages and you are NOT advantaged by learning more and better Pasifika. Part of this is simply that the Pacific is an Ocean, its net population doesn’t even show up in the top 100 because most of it IS ocean and the population of Micronesia is Microscopic.

    So when rapid communications in the last century advanced to the point where those islands became part of the rest of the world, the preservation of their unique languages and cultures became a losing proposition.

    PARTICULARLY when they (Pasifika speakers) move off their islands.

    We may have more of them concentrated here than in any other place, but that does not justify resources used on languages that are not useful to their own speakers HERE and eventually doomed everywhere (unless civilization collapses and the islands are again isolated).

    Not logical. Not rational. Not (at least for THIS Green) supportable.

  10. ” Stop funding soon-to-be-extinct and totally impractical and primitive second languages.”

    Daffodils bloom, sure, but then they die! Stop planting them!

    Thank you.

  11. Once all languages are dominated and exterminated by ENGLISH, English will then be the mother tongue of all peoples, and all peoples will steadfastly agree that it’s a wonderful thing that we can all understand each other so easily, and without the tedium and difficulties associated with pissing around with a second language.

    May the revolution begin. Stop funding soon-to-be-extinct and totally impractical and primitive second languages. Thank you.

    And listen to Alan for inspiration:

  12. We could triple the number of teachers currently at our local school and still not have one for every native language of every kid.

    Even during a recession, education spending has been increased by $2,000 million dollars or 20%.

    But would spending billions more to teach a huge variety of native languages in every part of the country be the very best use we can find for scarce education funding?

  13. Pray it’s not too late to turn back the tide…help our bilingual unit’s survive. Pacific Children being proud of their culture, not having to compare themselves with their palagi, Asian or Indian kiwis because they understand that we are all different. When children grow up not comparing themselves to others, they thrive in their own self belief that they can do anything they put their minds too…that they are equally capable. They are not afraid to take risks. That they can make a difference. This leads to pushing themselves through higher education, higher goal aspiration, higher career choices. They get involved in their community. They reach out to help others, because they know they can make a difference and they are sure and confident in themselves. It’s start with home, then sharing the same cultural and even Christian faith with their friends in their school friends and teachers. Knowing that what they have at home is valued also by the next community they spend most of their time with…their school. It’s a warm and safe environment to be themselves. May God bless Richmond Road School with their special bilingual programmes…Maori, French…and Samoa. These children will grow up with a love for languages and cultures…not just their own but respect for others as well.

  14. KIWI:- I imagine there’s an assumption that private schools, funded and supported by parents in the higher-income brackets, shouldn’t need extra funding provided by lower-income taxpayers; yet on the other hand, there are somewhat-less-well-off parents who go without and sacrifice a lot in order to send a child to a private school….
    I would say that all moneys from all taxpayers should be used (i.e. in terms of the Education allocation) to provide for all children in this country, of whatever race – except that ideally (as with Superannuation,) those individuals, schools etc who really don’t need it, should be big enough to forgo it! (I did say ideally!) If I were a millionaire – by whatever means -helping support my child’s school – or over 65 – there’s no way I would accept extra taxpayer-sourced funding, or $300-odd a week Super!
    In our country where everything is ‘supposed to be done OUR way’,(which alienates even Maori methods of doing things -which could well be better than “our” ways in some aspects)- the efforts of immigrant families to maintain their own language and culture – ways that are important to them – entirely by their own effort, when they might be struggling anyway, could only serve to isolate them further. Already some good Muslim families, for example, say they are forced to ‘keep to themselves’ because they don’t want their daughters seduced by alcohol, and sex etc. It’s a balancing-act alright, trying to help enough but not too much, whether it’s white or coloured children or adults, New Zealand born or immigrants…

  15. @ NS – The parents of kids that go to private schools also pay taxes but Greens and Labour rant and rave whenever there is any Govt funding that goes to private schools.

    But you want those same taxpayers to pay for…

    Why are the families and communities not able to deliver the cultural needs? Why does NZ put so much pressure on schools to do everything – mums and dads have to take ownership too.

  16. John, surely most immigrants are paying taxes, which helps toward paying for our teaching of English in schools!
    As in Christchurch, where I don’t believe we will make progress while leaving a huge section of the population behind,so we can’t move forward as a nation unless we find ways to cater for the needs of all cultures here. The (until now) prevalent feeling of suspicion and unease about anyone or anything different from white and middleclass is fading, and MUST GO. There’s no excuse for the old attitude that “as long as ‘these people’ become like us and do as we do, we’ll all get along and be ‘One People'” Grossly unfair, unimaginative and boring!Any idea that one race or religion is ‘superior’ to any other, is dangerous, as history shows! We are all in this life together,and enjoyment and appreciation of our differences is a good start towards working together for the benefit of ALL. Would we like being forced to speak, say, Chinese (or any other) and not able to speak English – our own language? Life is difficult for immigrants; we need to work together and help to maintain their own languages and cultures as well as ours!

  17. Oh, come on! I fully support Te Reo, but you can’t be seriously suggesting that the NZ tax payer should be paying for teaching in all immigrant languages? Surely each country should be supporting its own language.

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