Best practice for teaching Pacific learners: Pacific Evidence Brief 2019

Publication Details

This Pacific Evidence Brief sets out what is known about what works and what does not work in supporting Pacific learners to succeed. This will inform ongoing efforts to enhance equity, excellence, belonging and wellbeing for Pacific learners through the education system.

Author(s): Ministry of Education.

Date Published: July 2020

Executive Summary

The Best practice for teaching Pacific learners executive summary can be downloaded in ten different Pacific languages:

Purpose of education

One of the key objectives of the education system is to help every child and young person to attain educational achievement to the best of their potential (Education Act, 1989). Accordingly, the participation and achievement of Pacific learners is fundamental to meeting the objectives of the Act. However, there have been long-standing concerns that, while gains have been made, significant disparities remain.

Pacific peoples in New Zealand

New Zealand has a large and diverse Pacific population, of whom almost two thirds are born in New Zealand. The population of Pacific children and young people who can attend early childhood education and schooling is significant and increasing, and predicted to reach 20 percent of the school population by 2050.

In 2018, there were 1840 FTE teachers (about three percent of the total) who identified with a Pacific ethnicity in the New Zealand education workforce.

Pacific learners are achieving

Achievement data for all learners has been improving over the last decade, with Māori and Pacific learners showing the greatest gains. Some Pacific learners are achieving very well and this is occurring among learners in both primary and secondary schooling. While this is promising, the rate of progress has flattened out in recent years.

. . . but the system is also failing many Pacific learners

Notwithstanding overall gains over the last decade, Māori and Pacific learners are still experiencing significant disparities in achievement. While many Pacific learners are successful in education, on the whole, the system does not support their success as well as it does for other groups of learners. The inequities are most marked at NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance (UE). In 2018, 28 percent of Pacific 18 year olds had not yet achieved NCEA Level 2 (the minimum level considered suitable for readiness for life outside school). Less than a third of Pacific learners attained UE while over half of European/Pākehā did.

Overall, higher school and tertiary education qualifications are associated with a range of indicators of social and economic wellbeing, including improved labour-market opportunities, higher incomes and living standards, lower risk of long-term welfare receipt, and improved health outcomes. This means that disparities in NCEA qualification attainment contribute to longer term social and economic disadvantage in the labour market and elsewhere.

Key messages – we can do better for Pacific learners

Key messages from the research are that:

  • there are some excellent initiatives and pockets of effective practice, many co-constructed with Pacific communities, but they are not widespread
  • implementing evidence-informed good practice, based on existing knowledge of effective pedagogy, and culturally responsive pedagogy in particular, significantly enhances outcomes for Pacific learners’ wellbeing and achievement
  • efforts need to be informed by the evidence about what works – too often well-intentioned efforts are ineffective and can do harm
  • racism in both overt and less conspicuous forms pervades the education system and is a significant barrier to the wellbeing, belonging and achievement of Pacific learners and their families
  • low expectations and incorrect assumptions about the capabilities and motivations both of Pacific learners and their families impede the development of good relationships and the use of effective teaching strategies
  • inequitable opportunities in many different forms accumulate across the school years for Pacific learners
  • further research is required to strengthen knowledge and experience about good practice
  • sharing innovation to improve achievement requires strong leadership and significant sustained resource.

Key areas to focus practice for improvement:

  1. Respecting and valuing identities, languages and cultures is critical
  2. Home-school partnerships are highly beneficial
  3. Appropriately high expectations drive good pedagogy and achievement
  4. Culturally responsive pedagogy is a key strategy for lifting achievement

This brief will be of interest to leaders, planners, practitioners and researchers in identifying evidence- informed good practice, practices that are not supported by the evidence and may even do harm, and for enabling discussion about the best way forward to support the achievement of Pacific learners. It also identifies some key gaps in our knowledge and understanding, and suggests possible future research priorities.

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