Research reveals complex picture of Pasifika education success in New Zealand

Dr Martyn Reynolds who graduated with a PhD in Education last week, investigated the conflicts between Pacific theory and methodologies and Western educational contexts, with a view to improving policy, practice and outcomes.

His research gives an account of Pasifika educational success that includes acceptance, comfort, participation, resilience and the ability to operate in multiple cultural contexts. It also demonstrates that teachers who are learners can begin to view their classrooms through Pacific concepts such as ‘Va’— described by Samoan poet Albert Wendt as “the space between, the between-ness, not empty space, not space that separates but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the unity-in-all, the space that is context, giving meaning to things”.

Dr Reynolds found that the education of students with links to Pacific Islands in New Zealand needs to be more successful. “We need to think differently about the teaching of Pasifika students and what our role as teachers looks like,” he says. “We need to look at how our teaching is being understood in a Pasifika context: the importance of feeling comfortable in a learning space, being accepted as a person, and learning to walk in two worlds fluently.”

“If we consider Pacific concepts such as ‘Va’ we can reframe Pasifika education and be more successful at looking after our Pasifika students and helping them to be the people they’d like to be in and through education,” says Dr Reynolds.

PhD supervisor Dr Mark Sheehan says Dr Reynolds’ research has the potential to make a difference for teaching Pasifika students. “Methodologically robust and conceptually bold, it has very real strengths in how it engages with theoretical concepts, such as Va, and provides insights into the challenges that Pasifika students face to successfully operate in school settings that are largely framed by western perspectives.”