The Pasifika population in New Zealand has the highest growth rate of any ethnic group, however, as the population of our people and the percentages of Pasifika learners continue to grow, there continues to be a low number of Pacific teachers within our education system.
In 2007, Pacific teachers made up only 2.8 per cent of the teaching workforce, while 9.6 per cent of state schools were made of Pacific students and, although percentages of Pacific teachers increased by 24 per cent in 2002, there continues to be a lack of Pacific representation in the teaching sector.
I will acknowledge that we play a role in changing these statistics and that it is up to our own people to influence this change and, as Pasifika people, we must be encouraged by these confronting statistics and help influence change for our own, and for future generations.
But, what the system needs to understand is that these statistics can also discourage Pasifika peoples, whose career pathways are heavily influenced by seeing our own people in the same field. It is also societal views of Pasifika that act as a barrier and discourage some.
Derogatory stereotypes that perpetuate negative stereotypes on Pasifika peoples, labelling
Pasifika peoples as uneducated, lazy, and unmotivated, often making us feel like they do not belong in these spaces.
However, it is what more Pacific teachers in the system can provide that must be vocalised throughout our education system. It is things like a sense of cultural acknowledgement, where we as Pasifika learners would not have to explain why we need an extension because of a funeral in our family, or why we cannot cut our afros because it is deemed as "messy", as there are ceremonial protocols that some of our Pasifika aiga respect and follow.
A push for Pasifika educators also means that Pasifika learners can make important cultural connections to those of similar experiences and values, therefore the system must acknowledge that all educators must understand the importance of cultural awareness and how much impact this can have on the student.
It is also the positive change in Pacific student achievement, which is commonly known to be among the lowest percentages within the statistics that more Pasifika educators can influence, which must be understood to create more job opportunities and inspire aspiring Pasifika educators.
Although the stories of Pasifika migration differ between families, one thing that is commonly shared among our parents and grandparents is the idea that education is the key to being successful in this new land.
Like my Father always says, "tokanga Ki he ako, pea mo lotu", which means "focus on school and church". As a Tongan and as a Pasifika, these are two integral aspects that are embedded into my life and identity.
As part of the Pacific generations today, I have a shared responsibility to continue to insert all aspects of my cultural identity throughout my educational journey and life to help change the system.
I hope to one day become a teacher, one who nurtures the vā between our different Pasifika cultures, one that acknowledges the ethnic backgrounds of all my students, and one who educates Pasifika learners like myself about the importance of embracing our culture and the importance to continue our cultural traditions and practices, as well as educate everyone about who I am, and what it really means to be a Tongan, Pasifika in New Zealand.
You, too, are privileged. Privileged, because as part of the dominant groups of society you are surrounded by many people who look like you. Making you the majority, and I the minority.
However, it is the privilege of my cultural identity that has embedded a sense of humility and respect for my own, through the passing of different stories and traditions that we as
Pasifika educators of society must continue to perpetuate within society and share for
generations to come.
No matter how high I value my identity and my people, it continues to be a part of me that is devalued among society because as a minority in this Westernised culture, our narratives are created by the ideas of the majority.
This is the issue we must address and, as a collective, influence a change to the system and encourage our Pasifika peoples to insert themselves into the system and become educators within all levels of education for all Pasifika learners.
As Albert Wendt demonstrates within The Adventures of Vela, "We can't rewalk the exact footprints we make in the stories of our lives, but we'll hear again our footprints like the lullabies our parents sang us the moment our stories end perhaps out of our footprints our children will nurse wiser lullabies."
• Malia Pole'o is a Wellington secondary student from the Tongan villages of Vaini, Vava'u, Kolovai and Eua.