Tertiary learning provider Training For You is taking a proactive approach to supporting Pasifika culture in the early childhood education space.

Training For You Tutor, Michaela Newman, teaches the New Zealand Certificate in Early Childhood Education and Care, Level 3 programme to adult learners at the Ingestre St campus.

Her experience of raising Pasifika children in New Zealand has led her to become an advocate for Pasifika culture.

Although cultural awareness across all diversities is an important aspect of the programme, Pasifika is particularly close to her heart.

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To punctuate Samoa Language Week (May 24-30), Newman enlisted the help of Pacifica transitions coach, Siitu Hawley of SENZ Training & Employment, who recommended an associate, Lia Connor, to visit the Training For You campus and share her knowledge with Newman's ECE learners.

Connor is a facilitator and consultant, guiding Pasifika awareness in mainstream education. With her business Pasifika Education Journeys, Lia supports non-Pasifika teachers working with Pasifika children, mainly in the primary sector. Born in Samoa, Connor was raised in New Zealand, but has a combination of Samoan-born and raised siblings, and New Zealand-born and raised siblings.

Experiencing this multicultural upbringing within her own family, she has firsthand appreciation for the multi-faceted perspectives that shape Pasifika lives.

Connor spoke to ECE students about the importance of establishing genuine, sustainable relationships with the parents of Pasifika children, to gain understanding of their cultural values.

She shared her personal story first — establishing the talanoa — to open the discussion.

She demonstrated how "becoming vulnerable" is key to forming authentic relationships with Pasifika families.

"Cultural competency is about relationships. It is important to develop honest, open, reciprocal relationships."

For relationships to be genuine and sustainable, she encouraged students to "unpack themselves" first — to figure out their own story, so culture and values could be mutually shared.

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Connor had advice for the students when thinking about the culture of their future ECE environments, and how those cultures are demonstrated to visitors: "Whatever you put on the wall (posters, decorations) needs to be active and alive. It needs to be seen happening — being put into practice. Try to create an environment where visitors can feel the culture and values."

When it comes to the Samoan language, Connor many educators tend to avoid practicing it for fear of offending if they get the pronunciations wrong.

She encouraged students to give things a go, "and make plenty of mistakes" rather than putting it aside.

Her visit to the campus was co-ordinated to support Samoa Language Week, but Connor encouraged students to use their Pasifika learning resources all year round, emphasising again, "Keep them active and alive."

The 20-week ECE course at Training For You provides an introduction to the knowledge and skills involved in the education and care of infants, toddlers and children in New Zealand. Students gain practical hands-on experience in a local ECE environment to develop their potential as early childhood educators. The course also provides essential learning for those who want to move on to higher education in the subject. It is fees-free for on-campus students in Whanganui.

Michaela Newman said Connor's visit helped her students to gain a better understanding of culture, and they enjoyed the opportunity to get another perspective of what culture looks like in an ECE centre.

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"Under the Te Whariki framework, we teach bicultural practices in early childhood education. But for best practice, we should aim for a multicultural approach."