Pacific language teachers have appealed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to reverse a decision not to fund Pacific-language bilingual units in schools.

A new 10-year Pacific education "action plan" has dropped a commitment to "growing Pacific bilingual and immersion education pathways" and replaced it with "an initial focus on needs arising from the Covid-19 pandemic".

The change means that the 40 schools that have units teaching in Pacific languages will continue to have no state funding for teacher training, books or other resources.

Funding for the Tupu series of reading books in Pacific languages was stopped by the former National Government in 2010, and a Labour Party 2017 election promise to "re-establish support for Pacific languages including reinstating funding for the Tupu series" has not yet been implemented.

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Fa'atili Iosua Esera, principal of Sutton Park School in Māngere East and president of the Samoan Language Teachers' Association Fagasa, said the 2010 funding halt was meant to be only temporary.

"It was supposed to be a pause, but it's been a very long pause," he said. "I feel that they have let us down."

He has written to Ardern, Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Associate Minister Jenny Salesa warning that Labour should not take Pacific voters for granted in next month's election.

"We will continue to mobilise our Pacific communities to exercise their right to vote in the coming election," he told them.

"Nothing can be taken for granted in any election. However, in the likelihood that Labour is returned to the Beehive to lead government for the next three years, I would like to ask that a review of this plan be done."

Maliana Koli Taufalele, leader of Sutton Park School's Tongan bilingual unit (right), had to create her own teaching resources for students such as Ilaisaane Fainga, 12 (left). Photo / Michael Craig
Maliana Koli Taufalele, leader of Sutton Park School's Tongan bilingual unit (right), had to create her own teaching resources for students such as Ilaisaane Fainga, 12 (left). Photo / Michael Craig

The head of Sutton Park's eight-class Sia Ua Tongan bilingual unit, Maliana Koli Taufalele, said she and her other teachers personally create most of their reading resources, tests, model answers and learning progressions.

They see the results in students who reach Year 8 fluent in both Tongan and English.

"Our students who go on to Southern Cross [high school] do carry on. When the students come up they are doing really well compared to other students," she said.

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Esera said teaching students in their own languages was "a proven way that can actually lift their performance".

"It's basically common sense. You can't learn in a language you don't know," he said.

Shirley Maihi's teachers have to paste Pacific words over the English words in English readers so they can teach in Pacific languages. Photo / Dean Purcell
Shirley Maihi's teachers have to paste Pacific words over the English words in English readers so they can teach in Pacific languages. Photo / Dean Purcell

Shirley Maihi, principal of Finlayson Park School which has nine Samoan classes, five in Tongan and one just started last week in Kiribati language, said her teachers had to rewrite English texts.

"We are taking the English books that are provided to schools free and then pasting over the English words the words for whatever language we are making the book for," she said.

Jacqui Tutavake of Richmond Rd School, whose Samoan-language unit was one of the first established more than 30 years ago, said the school had been waiting for support "for a very long time".

"This is a big blow for all of us and for our children," she said.

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Richmond Road School principal Jacqui Tutavake with Samoan bilingual unit students from left: Syria Fa'avae, Braxton Tautiaga, Boston Tautiaga, Arizona Tautiaga. Photo / Supplied
Richmond Road School principal Jacqui Tutavake with Samoan bilingual unit students from left: Syria Fa'avae, Braxton Tautiaga, Boston Tautiaga, Arizona Tautiaga. Photo / Supplied

"The education system is not set up for our learners, and this was one way that we could think, 'Great, we have actually got some forward movement'."

However, Salesa said she plans to make "an announcement on funding for Pacific bilingual and immersion education in the next few weeks".

"Prior to decisions about Budget 2020, no new funding had been exclusively earmarked for Pacific bilingual and immersion education," she said.

Jenny Salesa plans
Jenny Salesa plans "an announcement on funding for Pacific bilingual and immersion education in the next few weeks". Photo / File

"The Pacific Education Action Plan points out one of the Government actions currently unde rway is to 'progress work on a ministry policy on Pacific medium education, to guide future investment'."

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