Initiatives to improve Pacific students' engagement
ERO found a wide variety of strategies introduced to improve students’ engagement. Schools mainly focused on developing cultural understandings, relationships, support programmes, transitions strategies and leadership opportunities.
Many schools, particularly in Auckland, participated in local cluster-based professional learning and development as part of Ministry of Education schooling improvement projects. These initiatives reflected the particular ethnic mix and social environment in each community. At the same time, schools that were working towards giving effect to The New Zealand Curriculum found that their preparation for this helped in increasing Pacific students’ engagement in learning and in the life of the school.
Initiatives to improve classroom practices and student engagement generally involved increasing teachers’ knowledge and awareness of Pacific cultures. Some schools referred to the integration of ‘Pacific pedagogies’ into teaching and learning. Teachers were expected to use Pacific languages (as in greetings), resources and content (integrating aspects of Pacific cultures) in the classrooms and around the school.
In a decile 9 school, eight percent of whose students were of Pacific ethnicity, a focus group had been formed to discuss how the school could promote understanding of Pacific culture in the school. The group included a Pacific teacher, Pacific parents and a Pacific student. The feedback and ideas from this group contributed to school planning and curriculum development. This approach produced a school climate in which Pacific student engagement remained at a high level.
Many schools offered Pacific cultural activities and performing arts. School leaders felt that students were more likely to gain a sense of belonging in a school when prominence was given to Pacific groups. Students experienced success and were able to take on leadership opportunities in the cultural activities.
In a decile 3 secondary school with 26 percent of the roll Pacific, many students from a range of ethnic groups participated in the Polynesian Club organised by senior Pacific students. All junior students took part in a Pasifika Day organised by seniors, with National Qualifications Framework credits available for this leadership role. A Pacific student chaired the college council. Pacific students enjoyed the opportunity to share their culture with other students in the college.
Pacific students in a decile 10 secondary school were also fully engaged in the life of the college, even though they comprised only four percent of the roll. They held leadership positions, including that of head boy, as captains of sports teams and in a range of cultural activities.
Pacific students were similarly well represented in leadership roles in a decile 6 secondary school with 11 percent of the roll Pacific students. The student representative on the board in 2008 was of Pacific ethnicity, and Pacific students were on the student council each year. Pacific students were strongly involved in school sport teams and in music groups in the school, such as choir, band, and the barbershop chorus.
A decile 6 school, where Pacific students comprised 15 percent of the roll, had maintained a high level of Pacific student engagement since their last review. Pacific contexts were evident in the curriculum, school routines and events. Pacific arts, crafts and stories were part of the everyday life of the school. Pacific students had leadership opportunities and were encouraged and supported to be role models for their peers. Relevant professional readings were readily accessible for staff and reading resources in Pacific languages were available for use by teachers, students and parents. Pacific parents were personally invited to school events and activities and were actively involved in.
In some schools the main development focus was on providing additional Pacific teachers and/or teacher aides to support Pacific students and their families. Some boards funded an additional staff member to fulfil a coordination, specialist or liaison role for Pacific students and their families. In these schools pastoral care networks were seen as important contributors to student engagement.
Initiatives to improve student language and communication skills were evident in a few schools. Teachers and leaders in these schools recognised that some of their Pacific students lacked fluency in English and in the language of their families’ countries of origin. Programmes included: setting up a student-run radio station that broadcast in Pacific languages as well as English; establishing bilingual units; and employing interpreters.
A few schools were operating playgroups on school property. This brought parents and young children into the school on a regular basis. Schools introducing playschools on their site aimed to help Pacific students and their parents become familiar and comfortable with the school environment, its people and its systems. They also wanted the children to socialise and learn with other children before starting school.
Homework centres or classes were in place in five schools, four of which were secondary schools. These were staffed by teacher aides and/or teachers, who supported and encouraged students with their learning.
Some schools invited high achievers from Pacific communities to speak to students. The fields these role models had gained recognition in and the experiences they shared with students showed possibilities and pathways to which Pacific students could aspire to.
Effectiveness of student engagement initiatives
Many schools did not know what impact their initiatives had on Pacific student engagement. Others reported in general terms about improved teaching, student engagement and achievement outcomes. In ERO’s 2009 report, ERO also found that most schools had only generalised or anecdotal evidence about the impact of their initiatives to improve student engagement.
In a few schools teachers and leaders provided specific data as evidence of engagement. This data was collected and analysed showing either:
- improved retention of Pacific students to Year 13;
- Pacific students reporting through school surveys increased satisfaction and enjoyment from being at school, determined;
- Pacific student achievement targets being raised every year; and/or
- increased popularity of Pacific language course options.