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Targeted support

Pennie Otto, Lecturer at MIT Tertiary Secondary School, discusses how she has developed a programme based on the Niue language and culture that has lifted Pasifika student achievement at her school.



Fakalofa lahi atu. My name’s Penny Otto, and I am currently a lecturer with Manukau Institute of Technology with the school of secondary tertiary studies which is the tertiary high school.  My work with the Niue language has been quite intensive for the last few years. This year I’ve taken a little bit of break from it. However in 2008 I saw there was a gap at secondary school level. So I approached our principal and he allowed me to start off with, you know, a junior, you know, option class for Vagahau Niue. From that it kinda just snowballed and turned into this amazing Vagahau Niue programme. And then Alfriston College came on board. So I did that for about 5-6 years. The thing with the programme is that we had like one Niuean and the rest were Samoans and Tongans. So in terms of Pasifika achievement, it reached, it reached all the kids. Initially our target was for the Niuean kids, or it was for them. But they kind of, they held back and they weren’t very confident in taking it because they couldn’t speak another language anyway. So what I found is that the confident Samoan and Tongan speakers came into Vagahau Niue because we didn’t have any other Pasifika language and they learnt it really quickly, because of the, you know the commonalities between the languages, and they thrived. They passed. They got a lot of credits. They were performing for Polyfest as well as taking the language component. And they saw it right through from year 10 to year 13. And so it was a really successful programme. And by the end of 2012 we had 120 students taking Vagahau Niue. So yea, huge achievement.

It’s kind of, it’s a bit hard for our kids at the moment because they are multi-ethnic. Right, so you’ve got a lot of Niuean kids who are part Samoan part Tongan. And they start to kinda to draw from their stronger culture and come away from their Niue side and it’s just one of those things that happens with a minority group within a minority group. And so that’s one of the things, and the other thing’s there’s not enough, like, Alfriston college is now the only school in the country that teaches it, so there isn’t any exposure to anyway to Vagahau Niue in secondary school. You’ve got language nests, that don’t potentially feed into any particular primary school. Favona Primary has a programme and so does Koru, but those are after school programmes, they’re not, you know, embedded within the curriculum. And then you’ve got those primary schools that don’t feed into any secondary schools, so it’s yeah, it’s really really problematic.

When you look at the Plan, and you think that the goal is to get 85% you know, NCEA level 2 Pasifika achieving. I know that there is untapped potential within that group of students who who could achieve that if they had Vagahau Niue there to carry them through that. And I saw this happen at Papatoetoe High School. With those kids who were close to passing or nowhere near passing even, they were able to use the credits they got from Vagahau Niue to help push them over that threshold so we had very high success rate for each year level. We had over 90% of kids passing, NCEA level 1, NCEA Level 2, NCEA Level 3 because of that buffer of credits, you know, that was offered to them. And I think Vagahau Niue can provide a bit of a plug for that gap. But nobody seems interested, and I wish people would, yeah, take a bit of interest in it.