Literature review on the experiences of Pasifika learners in the classroom

Publication Details

There are new challenges for education systems in knowledge societies. All learners need to be well served by their education to develop the requisite capabilities and sense of belonging and wellbeing to succeed and contribute to wider communities. This requires a responsive, future-focused education system, based on high expectations for successful outcomes amongst diverse learner groups.

Author(s): Dr P. Bruce Ferguson, Dr. R. Gorinski, T. Wendt Samu & Dr D. Mara

Date Published: June 2008


This literature review has provided a focus for harnessing new resources and energies, and prioritising what is required for a step up in system performance for Pasifika learners. Whilst the literature illustrates the first steps that need to be taken, there is no one discrete solution to effecting sustainable change in terms of Pasifika learner social, cultural, and academic achievement outcomes. Change, however, can be achieved in a relatively short time frame through a focused and co-ordinated approach to policy design and implementation. Such an approach would invest in research-informed teacher professional learning to build a coherent knowledge base. If such an investment was also focused on the identified areas for maximum leverage of Pasifika learner outcomes-effective teaching, learning, and assessment, productive learning partnerships, and how culture counts-then the achievement of a step up in system performance for Pasifika learners would indeed be a realisable goal in the short term.

The 'Diversity Pedagogy' typology and the Pasifika Adaptation (2007) of Sheets' (2005) diversity framework provided a broad and useful tool for analysing the literature pertinent to this study. In each of the seven dimensions utilised for organising the literature-cultural distinctiveness, identities, communication, indigenous and heritage languages, co-constructed classroom contexts, culturally responsive pedagogical practices and contexts, and assessment and evaluation-there was evidence of the need for teacher professional learning to be a central lever in realising maximised social, cultural, and academic achievement outcomes for Pasifika learners. Such professional learning must necessarily focus upon fostering teacher attitudes, knowledge, skills, and practices that will acknowledge, value, nurture, and build upon the cultural capital that Pasifika learners bring from their diverse and unique nations.

In many respects, these dimensions are consistent with the 10 characteristics of quality teaching identified in Alton-Lee's (2003) best evidence synthesis. As Alton-Lee noted, quality teaching is defined "as pedagogical practices that facilitate for heterogeneous groups of students, their access to information, and ability to engage in classroom activities and tasks in ways that facilitate learning related to curriculum goals" (2003, p. 1). The salutary reminder by Alton-Lee (2003) that up to 59 percent or more of the variance in learner performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes provides an urgent and central professional challenge for educators to manage simultaneously the complexity of learning needs of diverse groups of Pasifika learners (Alton-Lee, 2003).

A single-minded focus on maximising the achievement level of every learner in our education system is required to achieve the ideals posited in Sheets' (2005) typology of diversity pedagogy and Alton-Lee's (2003) best evidence synthesis. It involves a commitment to the belief that students from all backgrounds and ethnicities are capable of success. It also necessitates an understanding that culture and identities are relevant in effective teaching and learning contexts, and that culturally responsive practice is an imperative, not an option. An acknowledgement and commitment to nurturing relationships with families/caregivers and communities is critical to the development of an education system that succeeds for Pasifika learners.

A step up in system performance for Pasifika learners is realisable. It is dependent, however, upon the unreserved commitment of all key stakeholders and prioritised resourcing and investments for addressing the critical change factors and issues identified in this literature review.

Only as research, development, and professional learning initiatives that address these issues are prioritised will the ideal of equitable achievement outcomes for Pasifika learners be realised in  New Zealand's schools.

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