18 Dec 2013

Inquiry report labelled 'death sentence' for some Pacific languages

5:54 pm on 18 December 2013

The outcome of a parliamentary inquiry into Pacific languages in early childhood education in New Zealand is being labelled a death sentence for some languages and a blow to raising Pasifika achievement.

A majority report by the education and science select committee says the Government has no legal obligation to promote Pacific languages or Pacific-language education.

Submitters describe the report as a triumph of political ideology over the evidence, and both the Labour and Green parties have written dissenting minority views.

Karen Mangnall has more:

Frustration and disappointment are the main reactions from some of the 60 groups and individuals who made submissions to the enquiry. One of them is the Head of Samoan Studies at Victoria University, Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin.

"GALUMALEMANA ALFRED HUNKIN: We're hoping for them to recognise the power of bilingual education is the only logical solution to the problem of failure in the classroom by Pacific students. But the government has conveniently side-tracked the argument and opted to say that they're not responsible for maintaining Pacific languages in this country and as far as they're concerned they can die here."

The inquiry was sparked by a petition to parliament from the Bilingual Leo Coalition, calling for the government to fully fund bilingual education and Pacific languages. An Auckland University researcher, John McCaffery, says the evidence in favour is overwhelming, including a government commissioned report by Professor Stephen May which was given to the select committee.

JOHN MCCAFFERY: It chose not to present any evidence from that report or discuss the findings from that report or even refer to that report. So it looks as though they simply buried the research evidence that didn't fit the ideology. And I think that's a great shame.

Many submissions called for the government to restore bilingual goals and resourcing to the Pacifica education plan. But the manager of Central Auckland's A'oga Fa'a Samoa says there's nothing in the report that indicates the government will take any action to advance languages in early childhood and on into school. Jan Taouma says most of the recommendations are weak and put the responsibility on to Pacific communities.

JAN TAOUMA: We recommend that the government encourage Pacifica communities to encourage their schools to establish immersion and bilingual units. It's not saying we recommend schools develop bilingual units. It's again putting it back on the community. And some of those communities are not set up to know how to go about doing those things, so it's sort of like an out.

The chief executive of Auckland Council's Education Trust, Susan Warren, says the implications are worrying for lifting Pasifika achievement and economic success.

SUSAN WARREN: Because the evidence is really clear, and actually much of it is set out in the report. And yet the conclusions don't take us to the actions that need to happen. So what that tells me is it's a policy block and the policy block is going to get in the way of reaching Pacific potential across Auckland and across New Zealand.

John McCaffery says the evidence to the select committee was clear that communities on their own can't maintain and revive minority languages.

JOHN MCCAFFERY: This was the last roll of dice for Cook Island Maori, Tokelau and Vagahau Niue, and without urgent intervention those languages will cease in this generation. The research evidence on that is very clear. So it is a death sentence, in essence.

The governmentsays it will respond to the report on Pacific languages and early childhood education early next year.