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Pasifika giftedness

Giftedness and the Pasifika student 

Connecting with students.

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, do take a part in the way in which a student's giftedness is appreciated or expressed. For Pasifika students, who often walk between two cultures anyway, their giftedness at church or in a family situation might not be appreciated at school, but 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 be able to cater 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 the process and be active participants within it
  • ensuring that parents and students trust in the facilitator/teacher leading this process.

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

Identifying giftedness at St Paul's College
Geraint Tagaloa, a teacher at St Paul's College, outlines how he uses cultural identifiers for giftedness and how applying these identifiers helps him to cater for the students he teaches. 

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.

Community engagement – a critical factor for success
Mangere Bridge School developed gifted education schoolwide, using a culturally responsive and inclusive approach to change. Integral to this was the identification of needs, and the co-construction of learning to best meet these needs within the local school community.

Natasha Low discusses her involvement with the Pasifika achievement coordinator in the Digi Advisor project. The project affirmed the initiatives the school had in place to support Pasifika learners.

Cultural identifiers

After consulting with Pasifika community groups about Pasifika giftedness, ten cultural identifiers were developed to help schools redefine their identification processes.

These are:

1. Adaptability

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

different worlds.

Different worlds different experiences
Many students from the Pacific have to move between different worlds. In this video, Pasifika 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

 A lot of gifted and talented Pasifika students will have some kind of religious background and regular church attendance.  They value the chance to use their own knowledge and experience to benefit others, and to use skills they have gained from the church, such as leadership, at school.

4. Commitment to excellence

Pasifika students strive to excel for their family and community first, before looking for personal achievement.  

5. Relationships

Pasifika parents encourage their children to use their talents to create and maintain positive relationships. 

Semisi Hau.

EDTalk – Pasifika Giftedness
Semisi Hau, a talented year 13 music student at Aorere College, talks to Togi Lemanu, Pasifika e-learning facilitator, about his learning journey so far and his aspirations for the future.

6. Resilience

Gifted Pasifika students are continually encouraged by their families and community to persevere and show determination, and to see setbacks as opportunities to aim even higher.

The head girl of Auckland Girls Grammar School describes the resilience she needs to get through her studies and extra responsibilities, while valuing the motivation her parents give her to succeed.

7. Lineage/Birthright

Gifted Pasifika students 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
This Tongan Epsom Girls Grammar School student articulates how family and cultural values are used as a foundation to accelerate her learning and achievement at school.

8. Language fluency

Many gifted Pasifika students are able to 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 Pasifika students.

9. Leadership

Gifted Pasifika students are seen as leaders once they have served in their church and family. Once other members of the community or village have seen that they show leadership skills, they will be expected to lead.

A student talks about giftedness
This Pasifika student discusses how his cultural identifiers for giftedness contribute to his world as a learner and how his gifts can be used to help others who rely on him as a role model.

10. Representation

The success of gifted Pasifika students in job pathways and career opportunities raise the status and prestige of their parents. Their success is seen as a reflection on the parents’ upbringing and social standing within Pasifika 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 Pasifika communities involved in the processes and policies around giftedness in your school?
  • What could you put in place to mentor, support and extend gifted Pasifika students?
  • How do you show that you are listening to the voices of Paisfika students and parents at your school? In what ways could you change policies and practices in response to those voices? 

Consider the Pasifika students in your school context. Where are you now? What are your next steps?


These tools can help you work with Pasifika communities to create more understanding about Pasifika giftedness.

Recognising Pasifika giftedness in schools

This is a guideline to begin considering Pasifika giftedness within a school context.  The indicators should be used in consultation with your Pasifika community to see if they need to be adapted or added to in order to be able to recognise Pasifika giftedness in your context. It is also suggested that you look at each Pasifika culture present in your school separately to establish traits of giftedness in that particular community.


CORE logo.

Young, gifted and brown — How does giftedness in Pasifika students differ?
This podcast, by Manu Faaea-Semeatu and Anthony Faitaua, is a discussion of Pasifika giftedness, describing how to identify Pasifika giftedness, definitions of giftedness and talent, and ways to use these when setting up a gifted programme in a school.

VLN –  Gifted Pasifika Education
A discussion forum for teachers who are choosing to view Pasifika as gifted students, seeing their cultural strengths, and using their strengths to transition into academic success in the classroom.