Friday 23 June 2017

Call for more Pasifika educators in special education

There is a need for more Pasifika teachers in inclusive and special education contexts. KATE BLEASDALE talks to two teachers pursuing a career in this field and looks at the importance of Pasifika teachers in special education.

Raising Pasifika student achievement is a key education priority, highlighting a need for more Pasifika teachers, including those working with children with special education needs.
This is important to help improve communication and engagement with Pasifika families, based on a better understanding of their needs. Students are more likely to engage when their needs are addressed from a cultural and social context and where cultural values, beliefs and practices are understood.
Denise West works as a Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) and identifies as Cook Islands Māori. She is currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching (Learning and Behaviour) through Massey University with help from a Special Education study award.
“Having Pasifika teachers is necessary in this field because we have a personal insight – we’ve lived it,” said Denise. “We have that understanding because we know what it’s like with the language barrier and different customs.”
Denise has a passion for helping Pasifika students to achieve: “You need to recognise students as individuals and value their contributions, as well as recognise their potential.”
Vivita Rabo agreed on the benefits of having more teachers understanding and sharing their students’ cultural background.
Vivita moved to New Zealand from Fiji four years ago and started working as an educational associate for the Kelston Deaf Education Centre.
“Deaf education is a special aspect of special education, it is an area I am very passionate about; I get a huge amount of satisfaction being a Pasifika working with deaf students from Pasifika and Māori backgrounds,” she said.
Vivita is also studying and is in her final year of a Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching (Deaf and Hearing Impairment) through the University of Canterbury.
“It has been a professionally stimulating journey for me as a teacher from Fiji, going through the ranks and obtaining the opportunity to train as a teacher of the Deaf.”
Fitting the study in
Both Vivita and Denise are studying part-time while working.
Denise acknowledged the juggling act that comes with balancing work, study, and home life on a daily basis, and said it is important to be organised. She said support for her study comes from her work colleagues, cluster manager, and lecturers.
Denise said her lecturers compare finding the right balance of study and other responsibilities to how someone should approach a smorgasbord: “You can’t eat too much or too little; you have to find the right balance. They remind us about that regularly.”
Vivita said it means she’s had to make some sacrifices, but is confident they will make for long-term benefits.
“It develops me professionally and the motivation to be a qualified teacher of the Deaf makes me more than willing to work hard and achieve this.”
Special Education study awards and scholarships
The applications round for all 2014 Special Education study awards and scholarships opened on 1 June.
Each year, between 150 and 250 new awards and scholarships in this field are allocated by the Ministry of Education.
The Ministry wants to increase the number of applicants and awardees from people who identify as Pasifika or Māori. Entry will be prioritised for teachers who either speak te reo Māori or any Pasifika language, or who have Māori or Pasifika cultural background or experience.
This is in an effort for the Ministry to build a Māori and Pasifika specialist workforce that better matches the needs of the children they work with.
There are seven categories of study awards:
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Complex Needs (CEN)
  • Early Intervention (EI)
  • Hearing Impairment (HI)
  • Vision Impairment (VI)
  • Learning and Behaviour (RTLB)
  • Special Teaching Needs (STN)
  • There are also four scholarships available for the 2014 round:
  • Educational Psychology postgraduate study
  • Educational Psychology internships
  • Sign Language Interpreting (SLI)
  • Speech Language Therapy (SLT)
More information
Applications for the Special Education study awards and scholarships close on 12 September. For more details, see the information on the Ministry’s website: