Executive Summary

A leai se gagana, ua leai se aganuu…A leai se aganuu, ua po le nuu

When you lose your language, you lose your culture, and when there is no longer a living culture, darkness descends on the village (Samoan proverb).

International research on bilingualism notes that high quality bilingual education provision is effective in supporting students’ learning outcomes. The work in the revitalisation of te reo Māori over the past 30 years within the state school system has forged a path for schools to equally look to supporting the teaching and maintenance of Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands, Niuean and Tokelauan heritage where their communities have reflected these Pacific language groups. The 2013 Census revealed that the overall number of Pacific people in New Zealand who speak their heritage language continues to decline. A renewed focus on Māori and Pacific bilingual education at both local and national levels is much needed.  

The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) positions Pacific languages as having a special place in New Zealand, in the wider learning area of learning languages.[1] Learning a language also contributes to children and young people taking their place in a multicultural community, and supports the wider well-being of the community and New Zealand. However, there is limited evidence about how Pacific bilingual units support Pacific children and young people to succeed, as culturally-located learners, in the New Zealand education system.

The Ministry of Education and ERO have a joint interest in understanding how Pacific bilingual units can effectively support Pacific learners’ educational achievement and success. This report has focused on the current state of Pacific bilingual units in New Zealand: their philosophy, curriculum, teaching, assessment and transition practices, tracking of learners’ pathways and outcomes, and the support they receive. The findings from the report will inform our understanding of effective models for Pacific bilingual education, and provide insights into enhancing outcomes for Pacific learners.

The Ministry of Education and ERO identified 30 schools (see Appendix 1) across New Zealand, although primarily in Auckland, who provide Pacific bilingual education. ERO briefed these schools about the survey and subsequently invited them to complete a questionnaire and follow-up interviews. Twenty-five schools completed the survey, of which twenty-two had Pacific bilingual or immersion education units, overwhelmingly in Samoan.  

ERO found that Pacific bilingual education programmes were somewhat idiosyncratic. They tended to be developed locally, and were resourced out of schools’ baseline funding. Schools expressed a general philosophy regarding the importance of Pacific languages, culture and identity, but were less likely to have developed an approach focused on bilingualism and informed by research literature and best practice. Finding appropriate resources was often a challenge, particularly for assessment. School support for transitions into and out of bilingual or immersion units varied, but there was an overall challenge around identifying and accessing meaningful bilingual pathways in senior secondary school and beyond. The level of Pacific language immersion also tended to decrease as students got older. Further support could help to address some of these challenges, provide a more strategic and consistent approach across schools, and contribute to more fully realising the benefits of Pacific bilingual education.

[1] Ministry of Education (2007) The New Zealand Curriculum, Learning Languages, page 24.