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Pasifika communities in New Zealand

Pasifika population

Although we readily use the term Pasifika, there is much cultural and linguistic diversity within the Pasifika population.  In the 2013 census, 7 per cent of the total New Zealand population identified themselves as Pasifika, with 17 other "Pacific peoples" identified. Of this group, nearly half were Sāmoan. The other most populous communities were Cook Islands Māori, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Tokelauan, and Tuvaluan.

After over 60 years of migration to New Zealand, 6 out of 10 Pasifika people are New Zealand-born. This creates a continuum of language proficiency, from those who exclusively speak their first language to those who exclusively speak English, and everything in between.  All of these levels of language proficiency need to be catered for in the classroom.

Pasifika experiences of education in NZ

Historically, Pasifika children have generally achieved less well in education than other groups, particularly in mainstream classrooms, where most Pasifika students are. In the past, this underachievement of Pasifika students and adults has often been attributed to a lack of proficiency in English combined with differing cultural norms. These have been explained by ideas based on a subtractive view of bilingualism, in particular, on deficit thinking about Pasifika people’s bilingualism. Research shows, however, that it is the schooling Pasifika students experience and the degree to which their languages and cultures are valued and included in the teaching and learning process that most determine whether they succeed.

Exploring your practice

Pasifika communities in New Zealand

Find out more about the family and community backgrounds of your students. You can do this in many different ways, including through group and individual work. It’s likely that all your students will find this sharing of information interesting and useful.

Some suggested starters and questions:

  • What is your family background?

The students could explore their backgrounds by having conversations about their own families. Pasifika cultures have histories of story-telling.  It is important to be able use Pasifika ways of communication in classroom contexts. An approach of this kind highlights the combination of ethnicities often present in our immediate and wider families.

  • What languages are spoken in your home?

You could find out more by asking who speaks what languages, in what contexts, (for example, in church), and to whom. Pasifika families in Aotearoa may have more than one Pasifika heritage language in their home, so talking about what languages are represented in a family is a good way to foster communication.

  • Which cultural practices are important to your family?

These may include religious practices. Churchgoing is an important part of life for many (but not all) Pasifika families and communities, and White Sunday often has particular significance.

  • What is your family history?

Students can find out when each branch immigrated to New Zealand, where they came from, and how old they were on arrival.