Discussion and implications

Aotearoa mosaic: valuing cultural and linguistic diversity

The early learning and schooling population in New Zealand is rapidly becoming more diverse. This trend is most apparent in Auckland, which remains New Zealand’s most culturally and linguistically diverse city and region. Migration trends also show that Auckland is poised to grow more diverse in the years to come.

Supporting culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners to achieve and succeed is important for two reasons.

Foremost, equity and excellence for all learners are embodied in Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum and must be applied in practice. Secondly, acknowledging and embracing diversity brings tangible benefits to individuals and society.

To reap this dividend, we must prepare leaders, teachers, and learners to adapt, respond to and mutually benefit from increasing diversity. Although Auckland is the locus of this evaluation, the findings hold relevance for increasing numbers of education providers throughout New Zealand who are welcoming and supporting new migrants, refugees and their children.

Responsiveness to culturally and linguistically diverse learners’ priorities is mixed

Through our work with stakeholders and an evaluation of early learning services and schools, ERO found there is an overall need for services and schools to improve their response to CLD learners.  Most of the services and schools knew who these learners were and had, to some extent, taken steps to respond to their language and culture. However, only 37 percent of services and 58 percent of schools intentionally promoted learning by using a home language or cultural lens to support the learner’s acquisition of the English language, and to promote engagement with the learner, their parents, whānau and communities. 

Yet there are effective practices found across teachers, services and schools

Key features of responsive services and schools included:

  • valuing the learner’s home language and including it in the curriculum to enrich all learners
  • encouraging and supporting learners, their parents and whānau to use their home language
  • proactively engaging and developing authentic relationships with the learner’s parents and whānau
  • strategically appointing bilingual teachers who either spoke the learners’ home languages or another language
  • leaders and teachers sharing their understanding and expectations for improving learning outcomes for CLD learners
  • teachers planning, reflecting and improving their practice
  • strategically resourcing relevant professional learning and development (PLD), reading materials, equipment and learning environments
  • having wide and deep knowledge of community networks and agencies who could support CLD learners, their parents and whānau’s wellbeing.

What did good teaching look like?

Through our evaluation we identified essential knowledge, skills and dispositions for teaching CLD learners including English language learners, and working with their parents and whānau.

The dispositions included:

  • an open‑to‑learning approach: knowing who the learner is, their background, experiences, and interests, as well as knowing their parents and whānau, and learning about their cultural community, is fundamental to responding effectively to diverse learners
  • relational trust: developing genuine, respectful and trusting relationships with the learner, their parents and whānau is a pre‑requisite to engaging learners and whānau in learning
  • empathy and genuine support: showing commitment for CLD learners to achieve and succeed by having high expectations, following through with actions, and following up on learners.

The knowledge and skills were:

  • pedagogical leadership: planning and implementing effective strategies for teaching English as a second language
  • pedagogical knowledge: supporting all teaching staff to obtain a relevant qualification such as TESSOL and recognising the benefits for all learners
  • pedagogical practice: using evidence and research to do better through inquiry and continual improvement of approaches, tools and programmes.

Ways to meet the learning priorities of culturally and linguistically diverse learners  

Valuing linguistic diversity sets the tone for also valuing other forms of diversity, and gives all learners the opportunity to learn more about each other and experience cultural differences (Smith, 2004). 

Culturally and linguistically diverse learners are likely to make faster progress when they are encouraged to process ideas in their home language, and have access to bilingual support, especially in the early phases of learning English. In responsive early learning services and schools, every teacher is a language teacher.

It is important to celebrate diversity through cultural events, storytelling, food sharing, and other activities. However, for this to work substantially and go beyond a ‘heroes and holidays’ or ‘tourist’ approach, services and schools need to employ a variety of methods to meet the priorities of CLD learners.

This evaluation found that at a minimum, all services and schools should consider placing emphasis on the following:

  • understanding the changing demographics in their learning community and responding strategically
  • getting to know CLD learners, their interests, strengths, and learning priorities
  • providing environments where CLD learners and their parents feel safe and comfortable to share their knowledge and experiences
  • developing a curriculum that better responds to CLD learners’ strengths and interests
  • strengthening the curriculum by integrating CLD learners’ languages and cultures, and local Māori knowledge 
  • building teachers’ capacity to identify, monitor and report on the learner’s progress using relevant tools
  • providing appropriate levels of in‑class support to ensure academic rigour and challenge
  • improving the quality of interactions with learners, particularly in large groups
  • carefully planning transitions, making sure learners have a contact person who is known to them, their parents and teachers. 

The evaluation further highlights specific areas for policy consideration. ERO has prioritised the key aspects below.

ERO recommends that services and schools:

  • develop an engagement strategy for getting to know CLD learners, their parents and whānau
  • prioritise the identification of these learners’ strengths, interests and learning priorities  
  • plan and implement teaching strategies appropriate for supporting cultural diversity and English language learning 
  • increase opportunities for all teachers to obtain the TESSOL qualification.                               

ERO recommends that The Ministry of Education:

  • support the development and sharing of language resources, particularly for early learning services, to encourage children and their whānau to use and maintain their home languages
  • review the current provision of professional and learning development, resource materials and tools, given the rapid increase and demand for teaching of CLD learners.
  • ensure that ESOL funding to support CLD learners’ acquisition of English is tailored to their ongoing learning priorities. Evidence gathered from this evaluation aligns with research that shows, depending on their age, CLD learners’ can take between 5‑10 years to learn the English language before they are considered competent (Haynes, 2007; Cummins, 2000)

ERO recommends that the education sector:

  • aim to build a diverse knowledge base for every teacher, with desired competencies in second language acquisition theory and development, understanding the relationship between language and culture, and an increased ability to affirm the culture of the learners
  • promote the integration of the seven ESOL principles into teaching practices to support CLD learners to make both academic and language progress in all curriculum learning areas.