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Pacific giftedness

Giftedness and the Pacific learner 

Any of the students in your class could be gifted – the ability to be a high achieving, creative, and complex thinker does not have cultural or economic boundaries.

Cultural nuances, however, contribute to the way in which a student's giftedness is appreciated or expressed.

For Pacific learners, who often walk between two cultures, while their giftedness at church or in a family situation might not be appreciated at school, it is a huge part of who they are and how their giftedness is expressed outside the school gate.

Identifying giftedness

For many schools, identifying gifted students is the first step to catering for them within the classroom and in extra-curricular settings.

Factors to consider when establishing cultural identifiers include: 

  • using the context of the student’s own culture and community to build programs of learning
  • acknowledging that the context for gifted behaviours is foremost within the family and community
  • encouraging parents to understand and be active participants in the process
  • ensuring that parents and students trust in the facilitator/teacher leading this process.

Identifying giftedness at St Paul's College (3:40 minutes; internal video)
Geraint Tagaloa, a teacher at St Paul's College, outlines how he uses cultural identifiers for giftedness and explains how applying these identifiers helps him serve his students.

Adapted from Faaea-Semeatu, 2011, Celebrating gifted indigenous roots: Gifted and talented Pacific Island (Pasifika) students

Involving the community

Pasifka giftedness can only thrive in a culturally responsive setting. This means inclusive classrooms that acknowledge the influencing factors of family and community, and the need for connection between them and school.

Giftedness (2:18 minutes; internal video)
Gifted and Talented Coordinator Natasha Low discusses her involvement in the Digi Advisor project.

The project affirmed what Pacific initiatives the school already had in place to support Pacific learners. Natasha and her colleague Stephanie, who also took part in the project, gained confidence about how to engage with the Pacific community.

Cultural identifiers

Celebrating Gifted Indigenous Roots: Gifted and Talented Pacific Island (Pasifika) Students (2011)
Taemanuolo Faaea-Semeatu's work explores ten cultural identifies. You can download a PDF of the full document. His findings can help your or your school to review your understanding identification processes.

To pinpoint the cultural identifiers, Faaea-Semeatu worked with the parent community of Rutherford College and consulted other Pacific communities and teachers from the Auckland region. 

The ten cultural identifiers that follow are adapted from Taemanuolo's work.


1. Adaptability

Students move between worlds depending on where they are and who they are with, for example, adapting to Pacific or New Zealand ways of thinking and doing.

Different worlds different experiences (5:43 minutes; internal video)
The clip highlights a variety of viewpoints on the range of different contexts and worlds that Pacific students inhabit.

Many students from the Pacific have to move between different worlds. Pacific people from different cultures and walks of life describe how they bridge the gap.


2. Memory

Students are able to recall and recite customs, protocols, and family history.


3. Church affiliation

Many gifted and talented Pacific learners have a religious background and regularly attend church. They value the chance to use their own knowledge and experience to benefit others, and they use skills they have gained from the church, such as leadership, at school.


4. Commitment to excellence

Pacific learners strive to excel for their family and community first, before looking for personal achievement. 


5. Relationships

Before looking for personal achievement, Pacific learners first strive to excel for their family and community.

Semisi Hau.

EDTalk – Pasifika Giftedness (3:17 minutes; video on external site)
Semisi Hau, a talented year 13 music student at Aorere College, shares his learning journey and his aspirations for the future.


6. Resilience

Families and community continually encourage their gifted Pacific learners to persevere, to embody determination, and to see setbacks as opportunities.

Resilience (2:33 minutes; internal video)
The head girl of Auckland Girls Grammar School describes the resilience she needs to get through her studies and extra responsibilities.

She strives to succeed and credits her parents for the motivation and drive she has to do so.


7. Lineage/Birthright

Gifted Pacific learners are able to relate to family traditions which highlight obedience, respect, and humility. These students endeavour to excel and maintain connections that will advance their families, village links, and community status.

Lineage and birthright (3:29 minutes internal video)
A Tongan student at Epsom Girls Grammar School student discusses two specific cultural identifiers: lineage and birthright that pertain to her upbringing from her family.

She tells how family and cultural values are used as a foundation to accelerate her learning and achievement at school.


8. Language fluency

Many gifted Pacific learners can speak, understand, or write in their mother tongue. Others, especially New Zealand-born Pasifika, may be more fluent in English.

Identifying a students’ language fluency may affect how the school caters for the needs of these differing types of gifted Pacific learners.


9. Leadership

Once they have served in their church and family, gifted Pacific learners are seen as leaders. Likewise, once other members of the community or village have seen Pacific learners show leadership skills, they will be expected to lead.

Charismata Vili talks about giftedness (2:56 minutes ;internal video) 
Charismata discusses how his cultural identifiers for giftedness contribute to his world as a learner and how he uses his gifts to help others who rely on him as a role model.


10. Representation

The success of gifted Pacific learners in job pathways and career opportunities raises the status and prestige of their parents. Their success is seen as a reflection on the parents’ upbringing and social standing within Pacific communities.

Adapted from Faaea-Semeatu, 2011, Celebrating Gifted Indigenous Roots: Gifted and Talented Pacific Island (Pasifika) Students

Discussion questions

  • How do you identify gifted students at your school?
  • What steps could you take to ensure that you are using cultural identifiers?
  • In what ways are Pacific communities involved in the processes and policies around giftedness in your school?
  • What could you put in place to mentor, support and extend gifted Pacific students?
  • How are you gathering Pacific parent and student voice?
  • In what ways could you change policies and practices in response to those voices?


Identifying Pasifika giftedness
Links to an external site that is a good starting point for considering what giftedness can look like in a school context.

It provides downloadable PDFs of key documents helpful for identifying Pasifika giftedness, guidance on planning for gifted learners, and ideas about how you can work with Pasifika communities to create more understanding about Pasifika giftedness.


Young, gifted and brown
A series of seven podcasts, by Manu Faaea-Semeatu and Anthony Faitaua, that explores how giftedness in Pacific students differs.

The pair discuss Pacific giftedness and cover a range of topics including:

  • how to identify Pacific giftedness
  • the definitions of giftedness and talent
  • ways to set up a gifted programme in a school.