Beyond Māori boys’ writing: Reading and writing our WORLD [part 3]

This seven-part blog series is based on a symposium presented at the 2017 New Zealand Association for Research in Education conference by a group of student Warrior Researchers from Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, South Auckland.

This is the third post in the series. To start at the beginning of the series, click here. To view all posts in the series, click here.

Reading our school

Foloiola Finau | Year 12 | Hufangalupe | Lotokaiano

Malo e lelei! Ko hoku hingoa ko Foloiola Finau. ‘Oku ou lele mai mei he Hufangalupe mo e Lotokaiano. ‘Oku ou fiefia ke u fakafofonga’i atu ‘a e fanau Tonga ‘oku nau ako he Kolisi Kia Aroha ‘o talaki ‘a e ngaahi lelei ‘oku ‘omi ‘e he ‘apiako mo’oku mo ‘eku kaunga ako.

I am honoured to have the opportunity to “read our school,” Kia Aroha College, and to tell a story that is different from the one that is usual for Pasifika students, like me. I think I am lucky that my parents searched for a school that had a culturally relevant and responsive learning environment that would allow me to learn bilingually in my own native tongue.

First and foremost, Kia Aroha College is a school that says NO to a “one size fits all” education approach, and NO to an education system that institutionalises racism and where a white ideology is “right”!

Kia Aroha College believes that learning is grounded in our students’ cultures. This understanding goes far wider and deeper than “one-off” cultural days or weeks, and involves changes in thinking about how we learn, what we learn, and how we structure our schools. It also involves a critical analysis and understanding of how society works, and how power is used to marginalise some people.

The vision of the NZ government’s Pasifika Education Plan 2013 – 2017 is to see:

“Five out of five Pasifika learners participating, engaging and achieving in education, secure in their identities, languages and cultures and contributing fully to Aotearoa New Zealand’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing.”

In my case, I think that means “as Tongan”!

In the next blog post in this series, Matthew is going to talk about his investigation of the Endorsed Achievement Challenges of 77 different Communities of Learning. I was saddened to see that the majority of these COL believe there is a problem with Pasifika learners’ reading, writing and maths ability, and our NCEA outcomes. How does this focus fulfil that promise (above) for Pasifika learners to be “secure in their identities, languages and cultures“? What is the point of the Pasifika Education Plan if its goals are not being realised?

A 2004 review of national and international research on bilingualism and bilingual/immersion education, conducted for the NZ Ministry of Education, found strikingly consistent evidence that highlighted the advantages of bilingualism. Research has shown that children who speak more than one language have definite academic advantages across all areas of the curriculum. Kia Aroha College has a commitment towards bilingualism. They value the first languages of all students and encourage the use of languages other than English in all aspects of their programme.

Kia Aroha College’s goal is to “Develop Warrior-Scholars.” Our designated-character sets out how we are different from regular state schools. Our Graduate Profiles make clear what success “as” Māori, Samoan and Tongan learners looks like at Kia Aroha College. Tino Rangatiratanga / Self-Determination is our rationale for ‘Why we do what we do’ at Kia Aroha College. Self-determination is about what Matua Graham Smith describes as the ongoing cycle of conscientising, resisting and transforming.

I surveyed 60 current students of Kia Aroha College, in our Samoan and Tongan units. 21 of these students had also attended other intermediate or secondary schools prior to coming to Kia Aroha College. In answer to the question, What is success ‘as’ Māori or ‘as’ Pasifika (or as your own cultural group) mean to you? – 55% were very clear that success was directly connected to their cultural knowledge and their cultural identity.

Success as Māori Pasifika.jpg

The feeling of belonging in Kia Aroha College was confirmed by 99.9% of the Pasifika survey participants, who said that they could be Tongan or Samoan or their own culture all day, every day at school and felt that is really valued. Not only that, but they shared how they felt comfortable in using their own language in any place or any setting throughout the school day.

That is how Kia Aroha College is different from other schools. We help our students to be successful and to become the best they can, not by the reading, writing, and maths achievement percentages ‘of’ those of us who just happen to be Tongan, but by learning ‘as’ Tongan throughout every day. Kia Aroha College’s definition of success and achievement are shown in our Graduate Profile. This is what success ‘as’ Tongan really looks like to us:

Tongan graduate profile

This has worked for me as Kia Aroha College have put their words into action by believing that I deserve the best of both worlds – high standards of achievement, both Palangi and Tongan, together with the confidence and knowledge that I am a Tongan leader. This is who I am and will always be; “Ko e ‘Otua mo Tonga ko hoku tofi’a”.

The first post in this series introduced the Kia Aroha students’ research, and the second post introduced the students’ critical reading of Ōtara, their local community.

Having explored their school context in this third post, the next post presents the students’ critique of educational policies related to their own educational achievement.

To view all posts in the series, click here.

Kia Aroha Symposium 2017

The 2017 Kia Aroha College Warrior-Researchers Group was made up of eight students in Years 12 and 13.

The following six students presented the group’s work at the 2017 NZARE Conference in Hamilton:

  • Jasmine Bellamy | Year 13 | Ngāti Kahu | Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna
  • Foloiola Finau | Year 12| Hufangalupe | Lotokaiano
  • Matthew Katipa | Year 13 | Tainui | Ngāti Whātua
  • Jacob Harris-Kaaka | Year 12 | Te Aupouri | Ngāti Kuri
  • Timitimi Ropata | Year 12 | Ngāti Toa Rangatira | Ngai Tai

Two further students, Aneeva Cherrington-Christie and Harry Seuala, also contributed during the year. The group acknowledge the support of their past principal, Dr Ann Milne, who mentored them through their research.


  1. Thank you Foloiola for sharing your voice and point of view to this vital discussion. I loved reading your blog and thinking about how it might relate to our wee primary school.


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