Teu Le Va: Relationships across research and policy in Pasifika education

Publication Details

Teu le va is a tool primarily for educational researchers, to help them plan and implement research that contributes to the development of effective policy and practice in respect of Pasifika students in our schools.

Teu le va emphasises a number of principles or practices, including the need for: researchers to directly involve Pasifika learners, their families, and communities, and teachers as practitioners, in the development of research proposals or plans; ongoing collaboration between researchers and policy-makers; collaboration among researchers from different organisations and groups in order to build a sound knowledge base; ensuring that any research undertaken is relevant for a range of audiences (eg, parents, communities, teachers, policy-makers); all research, development and policy-making in Pasifika education to have a firm focus on student success: realising potential and identifying opportunities.

Author(s): Airini, Melani Anae and Karlo Mila-Schaaf with Eve Coxon, Diane Mara & Kabini Sanga

Date Published: July 2010

Putting the Principles into Practice

How to look after collaborative relationships

The va and the need to teu le va are relevant to all contexts, times and environments in which policy, practice, research, and community actions are taken for optimal outcomes for Pasifika learners. As shown in Figure 1, commitment to teu le va confirms that positive links between family and learner(s) are essential to the work of policy, practice, community and research.

Figure 1: How commitment to teu le va can influence learner outcomes

Figure 1: How commitment to teu le va can influence learner outcomes

Six practices have been identified primarily for supporting collaboration across research and policy-making. These create the necessary step-up in ways of working together towards greater education gains by and with Pasifika peoples. The Teu le va approach to looking after collaborative relationships means researchers and policy-makers will:

  • engage with stakeholders in Pasifika education research;
  • collaborate in setting the research framework;
  • create a coordinated and collaborative approach to Pasifika education research and policy-making;
  • grow knowledge through a cumulative approach to research;
  • understand the kinds of knowledge used in Pasifika education research and policy-making;
  • engage with other knowledge brokers.

These six practices are described in more depth in the following pages.

Organisational and individual commitment to understanding the Teu le va approach and implementing the actions of Teu le va is essential.

Practice one: Engage with stakeholders in Pasifika education research and policy-making

This practice concentrates on ensuring discussion occurs with those directly involved in or affected by Pasifika education research and policy-making, namely:

  • Pasifika learners;
  • their families;"
  • teachers as practitioners;
  • Pasifika communities;
  • the research community and research organisations;
  • policy-makers.

Taking a collective approach to knowledge generation requires relationships leading to shared understandings of the standpoints of and inter-relationships between all stakeholders.

Learners and their families as the centre of all Pasifika education research and policy-making

"Learners: beyond the deficit view."
Symposium participant, 2007

Research has informed us that how teachers see their students directly influences how they work with them, what they expect of them and, subsequently, what children/young people learn. When teachers, principals and schools see learners' experiences as gifts to be shared with others, strengths on which to build curricula, and opportunities for celebration, then positive learner experiences and outcomes will be achieved (McIntyre et al, 2001).

Families: forming communities of learning

Communities of practice, as Wenger (1998) points out, pervade our everyday lives and activities at home, at school, at work, and at church. They are the informal assemblages of people, relationships, practices, artefacts, rituals, symbols, conventions, stories and histories to which we belong and give shape. It is important to distinguish these from the formal institutions in which they often reside. Research has shown that families as communities of learning are characterised by deep connections between everyday and schooled knowledge and practices and the ways those connections are explored as the foundation for enhancing learning and teaching (Gonzales et al, in McIntyre et al, 2001:120).

The formation of a learning community is never simple or straightforward. Gonzales states that it is necessary to move beyond simplistic, unilinear attempts to bridge family/household knowledge and school knowledge. Rather, there needs to be an acknowledgement that all knowledges have elements of abstract/concrete, theory/practice and particular/universal. He further asserts that forming families as learning communities should become an exercise in drawing from these multiple knowledge bases in a way that is accessible to learners.

It is essential that research and policy strengthens Pasifika families to support educational participation and achievement of Pasifika learners. One of the most critical endpoints of Pasifika education is the social and economic advancement of Pasifika peoples and a greater range of choices for them to participate fully in wider New Zealand society. Harnessing the expectations and educational aspirations of Pasifika parents and supporting Pasifika learners to realise achievement must be the primary driver for Pasifika education research. Research has shown consistently that Pasifika parents (and caregivers) value education. Almost all (98.4%) Pasifika students in a recent study reported that it is important to their parents (or caregivers) that they do well at school (Mila-Schaaf et al, 2008).

Teu le va encourages research relationships that are holistic, inclusive and flexible enough to encompass dialogue with both the learner and their families. This necessitates interaction between policy-makers, researchers, and families throughout the research process. In this way, policy solutions derived from such research become open to the inclusion of families.

Teachers as critical practitioners

"We know things have to change, but how do you change what goes on between a teacher and child in a classroom; what happens between a parent and a child; what happens within a child's head?"
Symposium participant, 2007

Effective research will engage teachers during the research process, communicate evidence so that it is useful for them, and develop relationships with teachers so as to be able to engage in constructive problem talk.

Evidence shows that quality interaction in education settings can positively influence student outcomes, accounting for up to 59 percent of student achievement variance (Alton-Lee, 2003; 2004).

Any Pasifika education research project or policy that is developed must recognise that what goes on between a teacher and a learner in a classroom is critical to any drivers for change.

Research examining professional development identifies that: "Not surprisingly, teachers needed to understand new information if they were to change their practice" (Timperley et al, 2007:44). Involving teachers in research and development and developing knowledge that can be used and taken on board by teachers requires cognisance of their realities and needs. Site-based research has been suggested as one way of ensuring research is developed that is applicable to teachers and local settings.

Pasifika communities and research: guardians and sharers of knowledge

"Listen to those at the interface, who have strong links to grassroots experiences - they must inform research and policy."
Symposium participant, 2007

In the New Zealand context there are diverse communities of Pasifika knowledge (eg, church, chiefs, ethnic-specific, Pacific-generic, New Zealand-born, Pacific Island-born, and also by gender, age, class, geographical-based considerations within New Zealand, and so on). The Teu le va approach acknowledges the value of knowledge that is exchanged and that these diverse communities of knowledge are to be respected and valued. The research process will enable them to make informed choices regarding the sharing or not of these knowledges, as in some instances esoteric and community knowledge may have to remain protected.

In support of "Education's role in building social capital, with a focus on communities determining their own development goals and means of reaching them", Coxon (2007) advocates "People-centred educational development in which relationships and active participation by all stakeholder groups are recognized as key".

Community development in the context of Pasifika education research is the process of supporting community groups to identify education issues, facilitate genuine community involvement in research processes and consequently experience increased empowerment and knowledge as a result of their activities. Applied research methodologies may be one way of strengthening community involvement.

The value of incorporating the lived experiences of Pasifika communities into the knowledge production process should not be undervalued. Members of Pasifika communities are often able to make deeply insightful and practical contributions to the knowledge production process. Community perspectives tend to cut to the bones of issues and can provide astute and perceptive responses about the feasibility, applicability and success of projects in local settings. Meaningful engagement also moves beyond the notion of Pasifika communities being the passive consumers of information (much of which can be lost in translation) to the realisation that they must instead be included as active agents in developing knowledge that they themselves value and desire.

The research community and research organisations

It is essential that Pasifika education researchers ensure that their research adds value to the work of policy-making. Through knowledge of the process of policy development they can advocate for more engagement, collaboration and sharing, and more effective interventions that, based on evidence, can be confidently recommended for improved Pasifika education outcomes.

This can only happen in an environment that enables such an approach to research. Teu le va will be most effective where funders of research value such relationships and reward sound research methodologies or infrastructure.

A collective approach to research may not be fully viable in every research and development scenario however. The Teu le va principles provide a way of working generally. It is hoped that researchers and their organisations find these principles useful in thinking about practice and assist in transferring research into knowledge that is widely shared - leading to positive outcomes for Pasifika learners.

Policy-makers as knowledge synthesisers

The policy-making process combines evidence and political process. Researchers need to understand that their research findings may be mediated by policy advisors who often draw upon multiple pieces of research and other information to substantiate policy advice. Within this process, there is a sifting and weighing of different research products and deliberations. Not all research stands up to this kind of interrogation. Research needs to be methodologically robust and of high quality to be considered for inclusion in policy-making. The Teu le va approach makes it clear that a paradigm shift needs to occur so that researchers and policy-makers interact in a dynamic process of sifting and weighing, divining and describing new knowledge and directive action necessary for improved Pasifika education outcomes.

Boston et al (2006:186) identify the need for policy-making processes to change in response to addressing social diversity, by, for example, accessing more in-depth data, placing a greater reliance on robust qualitative research to balance quantitative data, analysing social 'problems' from a broader range of disciplinary perspectives, and taking into account more diverse research projects which are premised on different assumptions, methods and analytical techniques. Boston et al also critique the current approaches to consultation and participation around policies that affect communities which work to silence some voices and promote others. The Teu le va approach addresses these concerns by creating spaces for policy-makers and Pasifika researchers to work together to build knowledge that improves outcomes for all stakeholders.

In 1999, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, through its Pacific Directions Framework, sought to provide evidence-based data through a rapid, intense and comprehensive series of Pasifika community consultations and reciprocal feedback with ministries/government agencies. The Framework's synthesis into eight regional programmes culminated in a Building a Shared Vision for our Community, An Intersectoral Approach To Pacific Capacity Building Cabinet paper. The Cabinet subsequently approved some 80 percent of the 460 initiatives presented in this paper by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs (Macpherson and Anae, 2008).

For research to be useful to policy-makers, Anae (2007), and Boyd (2007), suggest it should employ:

  • methods that stand up both nationally and internationally;
  • methodologies that are replicable;
  • methodologies that demonstrate a thoughtful dialogue and synergistic exchange between quantitative and qualitative knowledge;
  • methodologies and methods which where possible address the cultural complexities of not only the multi-ethnic nature of Pasifika communities, but also the intra-ethnic nuances of the diverse groupings and identities of Pasifika peoples in New Zealand;
  • evidence-gathering methods and communication tools that help multiple audiences to understand the logic and potential of the research, and the sector to take ownership of the issue, the research, and the policy solutions.

The ability of policy analysts to incorporate research into policy development is critical to improving the translation of research into policy. This need not be a linear process whereby research precedes policy. Rather, the Teu le va approach will create collaborative, encompassing and dynamic processes for action. It has been noted that research methods on their own rarely give precise or complete answers to policy questions; therefore, a major element of expertise lies in positioning, combination and interpretation (Georghiou, 2005).

The responsibility of policy-makers and programme funders, to teu le va and to collaborate in their relationships with research/researchers is critical. Policy should not be made in a vacuum.

Practice two: Collaborate in setting research frameworks

Pasifika priorities in education should be a joint and collaborative area of concern for researchers and policy-makers. Lavis (2005) points out that seeking an understanding of the full range of questions asked by the users of research can help identify useful knowledge needs, or gaps. In addition, it has been the experience of researchers that when funders are involved in shaping research questions in topical areas, and are briefed on results, they are more likely to implement results (Howden-Chapman, 2005). Using the Teu le va approach will support shared discussions that lead to consensus about what the big problems are, and promote essential conversations at all levels of the research-policy-making process. Moreover, this communication will enable exchange and engagement throughout the research process.

Collaborative relationships and processes must remain dynamic. Time spent to understand the 'lie of the land' and develop processes that will make sense, is time well-spent. Any process used in one time may not be the process to be used two years from now, or in another context. It is about understanding how things happen within a research context or a policy circle, and at the same time understanding how to be responsive.

Practice three: Create a coordinated and collaborative approach to Pasifika education research and policy-making

"[A] strategic approach will be required in order to prioritise where further research resources should be directed."
Coxon et al (2002:138)

A national research agenda for Pasifika education research that aligns with the Pasifika Education Plan 2009-2012 and addresses Pasifika priorities in education is needed. Despite the fact that many educational studies (especially those that compare different ethnic groups) produce negative statistical pictures for Pasifika students, knowing this is fundamentally empowering as it is also a beginning point for pursuing potential and increasing educational opportunity.

Rigorous, defendable, replicable research findings are powerful tools for Pasifika communities, even if the contents of these may be challenging or disputable. However, future research must be strengths-based and not deficit in orientation. In addition, non-Pasifika groups should not be set as desirable bench-marks for Pasifika students. This means, given the statistical pictures we are presented with, a requirement for research that does not only lead to improvements across the board - whereby existing inequalities remain entrenched - but produces some kind of positive change for Pasifika students (Alton-Lee, 2007).

A coordinated approach to research requires a good understanding of what different institutions, organisations, research groups, researchers and government agencies are able to contribute to Pasifika education knowledge development. It requires a willingness to cooperate through relationships across agencies and organisations. In this way, each person is able 'to do their bit' and understand how this feeds into supporting common goals and interests.

To begin the process of a coordinated approach to Pasifika education research and policy-making we should start with the question 'What do we need to know (most) to give effect to The Pasifika Education Plan 2009-2012 and other Pasifika priorities in education? This could include an update of the scan of Pasifika educational research carried out by Coxon et al in 2002 to map the sector and gauge Pasifika education research expertise; it could also include noting 'gaps' in this research and identifying needed/future research areas. This kind of work needs to be led in a spirit of collaboration between all Pasifika education research stakeholders with a shared vision and willingness to focus on Pasifika priorities.

The Teu le va approach would support exploration of the following areas identified by participants at the symposium which represented the first step in the development of this Teu le va document:

  • exploration of the benefits of centralised education research funding in relation to Pasifika education research;
  • development of a national Pasifika research agenda that aligns with The Pasifika Education Plan 2009-2012 and other Pasifika education priorities and promotes collaboration;
  • clarification of what types of Pasifika education research ought to be a priority - currently there is a shortage of research specific to Pasifika students at all levels of schooling;
  • identification of necessary research funding, for projects and for expanding research capabilities and capacity;
  • commitment to research that is strengths-based and not deficit in orientation. Non-Pasifika groups should not be set as bench-marks for Pasifika students. Given the current statistical pictures, research should not just help contribute to improvements across the board (perpetuating existing inequalities), but should, as well, help produce some kind of acceleration for Pasifika students (Alton-Lee, 2007);
  • utilisation and consolidation of the "…valuable but inaccessible and fragmented research literature in education about approaches that enhance or undermine social and academic outcomes for diverse learners" (Alton-Lee, 2004:2). Emphasis should be placed on strengthening the use of evidence-based approaches in both educational policy and practice, using a fit-for-purpose methodology. This approach and other appropriate methodologies necessitate collaborative processes between researchers, policy-makers, and educators.

Practice four: Grow knowledge through a cumulative approach to research

Coxon et al (2002), in a report commissioned by the Ministry of Education's Pasifika Research Framework Team as part of The Pasifika Education Plan,2001, identified the current range of information and findings related to Pasifika education issues across the sectors, from early childhood education to post-compulsory/tertiary education. The report helped identify research needed to improve achievement for and with Pasifika students.

Key issues identified by the report included: the need for more research regarding inequitable access to and participation in education for Pasifika learners throughout all educational sectors and inequities in their learning outcomes; limitations of pan-Pacific/Polynesian targeted research; the need for more sophisticated methodologies; more research investigating gender differences in educational experiences throughout all sectors; and a more coordinated approach to Ministry project evaluations.

New research directions identified in the report were that there should be: more focus on school and the classroom, and the structures and processes of teaching and learning; more ethnic-specific research and qualitative research and/or research which combines both qualitative and quantitative approaches; best practice strategies and the identification of educationally successful Pasifika perceptions and experiences; research which explores the full range of language and literacy issues; and finally, research which addresses transitional experiences within and between education sectors.

In addition, in their report Coxon et al (2002:137–138) urged that professional development aimed at boosting Pasifika education researcher capability in contract research design and implementation be developed.

Their report findings signal that a strategic approach is required in order to prioritise where further research resources should be directed. Future research should build on previous research, rather than simply repeating what has already been investigated. It is important that previous research is evaluated critically in order to explore alternative understandings and approaches that can contribute to new knowledge about what will make that necessary difference to Pasifika education outcomes. A key initiative would be the completion of a meta-analysis of what has happened since the original (2001) Pasifika Education Plan was implemented to identify gaps in research and contribute to development of a strategic research plan. Questions to ask could include: What research has been carried out? What educational policies have been developed? What is the extent to which policy has informed research, and vice versa, in the raising of Pasifika learner achievement?.

Pasifika learner achievement?. That is to say, the need for researchers not to reinvent the wheel but to extend the nature and extent of our knowledge base by identifying problems in existing research, for example; and, indeed, to create new research foci/projects/knowledges in order to advance research and policy knowledge and understanding and positive educational outcomes for Pasifika education research stakeholders.

As well as building on previous research we also need to think about what that means for information that has not been generated with the above considerations in mind. What is needed is Pasifika educational research that can both contribute immediately to policy because it is shaped by identified information needs, and also the need to undertake research in areas that may become of interest to policy through influence.

Practice five: Understand the kinds of knowledge used in Pasifika education research and policy-making

In the education research enterprise the kinds of knowledges used are from different perspectives and for different purposes. Moreover, education partners and communities operate at different knowledge levels (Pinedo, 2005). The ability to transfer knowledge requires an understanding of the 'receivers' of this knowledge, and being able to understand their knowledge needs and speak their knowledge-language. An understanding that different stakeholders frame knowledge differently assists with producing research that has resonance and relevance to all groups. Partners in research-to-policy links have different:

  • knowledge drivers;
  • knowledge preferences;
  • information-seeking processes;
  • knowledge expectations.

Table 2 sets out ways in which each Pasifika education partner can have a different approach to knowledge and different knowledge-needs. Recognising and being aware of the knowledge standpoint is useful when thinking about ways of collecting, analysing and translating information so that it has resonance and applicability for others. This is especially important for Pasifika researchers who must teu le va all partners in Pasifika education research. This includes ensuring that research agendas take into account existing policies, and policy strategies and frameworks, as well as advocating for front-end input into developing those policy frameworks.

Table 2: Matrix of Pasifika education knowledge frames (adapted from Pinedo, 2005)


Research Policy Teachers/
Community Learners
Knowledge drivers: Questions Solutions Tools for practice Tangible improvements Individual success
Knowledge preferences: Complexity Simplification Ease of application Grounded/ Understandable Resonates/ Useful/ Helpful
Information seeking via Scientific literature, critical investigation Anecdote, network, experts Learning from doing, peers Experience, learners, parents, communities, teachers, traditional or inherited knowledge Parents, teachers, peers, community
Knowledge expectations (bottom line): True/ Not true Feasible/ Not feasible Useful/ Not useful Makes a difference/ Does not make a difference Feel successful and learn/ Do not learn or feel successful

Practice six: Engage with other knowledge brokers

The Teu le va approach makes it clear that stakeholders in Pasifika education are knowledge brokers. This fundamental shift confirms that the valuable knowledges held by Pasifika learners, families, and communities, and by the research community and policy-makers, are essential for transforming the Pasifika education landscape to address priority areas.

Knowledge brokers are individuals or organisations who play a role in developing synthesis between research, knowledge and policy (Pinedo, 2005). They are people who can facilitate direct exchange between researchers and user groups, as well as match knowledge with user groups. Knowledge brokers help people synthesise and translate knowledge, come to agreements, clarify information needs, set agendas, find common goals and support evidence-based decision-making (Pinedo, 2005).

Essentially, knowledge brokers are bridges between the divides of knowledge cultures. They learn to synthesise knowledge and provide advice based on scientific evidence, theory, practical information and other forms of expertise (Pinedo, 2005).

Identifying that everyone is a potential knowledge broker and that they are able to transmit information within their own distinctive knowledge frames, using their own knowledge, is important to bear in mind. Knowledge synthesis, brokerage, transfer and translation also gain from a collective approach. To recognise that everyone is a potential knowledge broker enhances the capacity of relevant Pasifika communities to access and use research, to understand knowledge and to be empowered and transformed by it. The key action element in this aspect of Teu le va is to find, share with, and grow other knowledge brokers.

Which Pasifika methodologies to use for Pasifika research?

Western research methodologies dominate current research in New Zealand. However, over the last few years, three types of Pacific cultural models, guidelines and competencies have been developed in New Zealand - those which have been funded by government ministries and agencies focused on a bottom-up approach in seeking Pacific worldviews and epistemologies (eg, Pasifika Education Research Guidelines, Anae et al,2001; Ministry of Health's National Pacific Cultural Competencies, 2003; Health Research Council Guidelines on Pacific Health Research, 2004; Waitemata District Health Board's Pacific Models of Mental Health Service Delivery in New Zealand, 2004); those which are top-down devised by Institutions themselves (eg, Practitioner Competencies for Pacific Alcohol and Drug Workers Working with Pacific Clients in Aotearoa-New Zealand, 2002); and those which have developed in an ad hoc fashion by practitioners - educationists, health practitioners, researchers, and others.

These Pacific models, concepts, metaphors, some of them pan-Pacific and some ethnic-specific, are used as models to be emulated in the various fields, disciplines, organisations, and institutions. The guidelines funded by government ministries, health research councils, city councils and district health boards have been developed to improve culturally appropriate research outcomes for Pacific peoples and communities. The cultural competence frameworks, decreed by Acts of Parliament (eg, Standards of Cultural Competence for Psychologists registered under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, 2003) are largely developed by institutions, groups, and agencies in the hope that they reflect the skill, knowledge and attitudes necessary for effective cultural practice. It is hoped that research projects using these guidelines and cultural competencies will provide robust evidence to persuade policy-makers to shift their policy-making clout from a mainstream, 'one-shoe-fits-all' approach to addressing specifically Pacific or ethnic-specific issues (Anae, 2007).

Moreover, in order to provide the most robust research framework for the particular context of any given Pasifika educational research project, it is essential that researchers are aware of and are able to show in their research proposals that they have navigated, with a focus on fit-for-purpose, through both 'traditional' western and Pacific research methodologies as part of their consideration/application of the Ethnic Interface and Cube Models and the Teu le va approach.


  1. Footnote 11 briefly describes this symposium.
  2. See Anae, 2007.
  3. This was the joint NZARE/Ministry of Education symposium Is your research making a difference to Pasifika education? held in Wellington, November 2007 (refer Executive Summary and footnote 11).
  4. Coxon et al note in their report that this is with the exception of SEMO and AIMHI.
  5. See Action section, p.33.
  6. Tamasese et al (1997); Pulotu-Endemann (1997); Koloto (2001); Teremoana Maua-Hodge (2000); Mitaera (1997); Helu-Thaman (1992).

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