Pasifika ECE services struggle to find fluent teachers

Pasifika early childhood teachers are warning that the supply of teachers who speak Pasifika languages is drying up because the English-language standard for entry to teaching courses is too high.

Children celebrating Samoan Independence Day in Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Leilani Momoisea

Many Pasifika immigrants were failing to meet the standard, level 7 in the IELTS English test, or were too intimidated to even attempt it, they said.

Education Ministry figures showed about 700 early childhood centres used Pasifika languages at least some of the time, including 130 that used them more than half the time.

The manager of several Pasifika services in South Auckland, Lanuola Moe, said it had become much harder to find qualified teachers who spoke Pasifika languages.

“It‘s very difficult to find fluent speaking Pasifika educators especially registered teachers. We just don‘t know how else to source, we‘ve gone through the Education Gazette and nobody‘s applying.”

There were a lot of competition for teachers and too few Pasifika-speakers were training to enter the profession, Ms Moe said.

The president of the association for Samoan preschools, Dr Pafitimai Sala Fa‘asaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota, said many Pasifika women who wanted to become early childhood teachers had to pass the English test because they were immigrants and had not completed their secondary schooling in New Zealand.

“The younger generation don‘t find ECE attractive, but there are those who are little bit more mature, in their late-30s, who want to go back into a career now that the kids are a bit older but they can‘t get in merely because of the fact that they were not born and schooled here, but they‘ve lived here for over ten years.”

Dr Tagoilelagi-Leota said the requirement of level 7 in the IELTS English test was too high for a course that started at the equivalent of level 5 of the qualifications framework.

“For goodness sake, 6.5 is for postgraduate. Now how can you expect someone who‘s coming in at level 5, year one, to get IELTS level 7 which is beyond postgrad,” she said.

Teachers should have good English, but it should be measured at the end of their course, not before entry, Dr Tagoilelagi-Leota said.

She said it was ironic that the supply of Pasifika teachers was drying up at a time when the Education Ministry was emphasising the importance of recognising children‘s language and culture.

The manager of communications and participation at Wellington Kindergarten, Caroline Mareko, said the IELTS test was too hard.

“Some of our staff in the association that have looked at the test said they wouldn‘t pass it and they were born here,” she said.

Ms Mareko said the Education Council, which set the standard for teachers, should consider a different English test.

The Education Council said it had already refused requests for a change to the English standard for teachers who would work in Pasifika language settings.

“In our view, students entering an initial teacher education programme need to have sufficient English language to be able to participate and succeed in that programme.

“In addition, teachers need to be able to communicate with their peers, participate in professional development and understand and use research in their inquiry. In our current settings, these activities require a strong command of English,” it said.