Culturally sustaining education through Tapasā framework

Issue: Volume 101, Number 13

Posted: 12 October 2022
Reference #: 1HAWxL

Individualised professional development for teachers of Pacific learners is helping schools to build cultural competency and address inequity.

Tapasā PLD for kaiako and tumuaki is helping to achieve the vision for Pacific learners, their families and communities.

Tapasā PLD for kaiako and tumuaki is helping to achieve the vision for Pacific learners, their families and communities.

In the north Waikato town of Huntly is a small school, notable for several reasons. St Anthony’s Catholic School has a roll of just 48 yet is ethnically diverse with 75 percent of ākonga identifying as either Māori, Pacific or Asian (Filipino). It’s a community united by the Catholic Christian faith and a shared understanding of financial hardship.

Against this backdrop, principal Dr Kevin Kannan prioritises ākonga wellbeing as fundamental to engagement, saying the philosophy that he and the staff live by is that ‘a happy child, is ready to learn’.

When Covid struck, Kevin was quick to apply for help from Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Innovation Fund.

“I said, ‘Look, I really need to look after the Pacific children. Inclusiveness and cultural identity are very important to them, and we need to provide arts, crafts, music and so on to keep them going during the pandemic.’”

Early this year, Kevin explored further support for Pacific learners through Tui Tuia | Learning Circle (Tui Tuia), University of Auckland’s education PLD provider, to offer free professional development to unpack the Tapasā framework.

Culturally responsive

Tapasā, a cultural competencies framework, is a tool that can be used to build the capability of teachers of Pacific learners across the education sector.

Tapasā Professional Learning and Development (PLD) is designed to support leaders, teachers, kaiako and boards of trustees to engage with Pacific learners, their families and communities in culturally sustaining ways. Tui Tuia and Tautai o le Moana – Wayfinders of the Ocean are the two providers contracted to deliver Tapasā PLD.

“I grabbed the opportunity straight away,” says Kevin. “I invited [Tui Tuia lead facilitator] Tofilau Niulevaea Siliva Gaugatao to our school right from term 1. Siliva said, ‘Kevin, this would be lovely because your teachers are of non-Pacific ethnicity and you have so many Pacific children, and your school takes such good care of them pastorally.’

“They have come in twice a term. For the first visit, Siliva brought the team from Auckland University, and they did full classroom observations in each room. They honed in on the concept in terms of professional standards teaching criteria and industrial management, how teachers cater for their Pacific children.”

Kevin says Tapasā reminds him of Te Kotahitanga, a research and PLD programme that helps teachers better support ākonga Māori learning and achievement by creating a culturally responsive context for learning.

Te Kotahitanga is a beautiful document about having good relationships with ākonga Māori,” says Kevin. “Tapasā is the same for Pacific learners. It’s four years old now and it is great to have PLD to help educators support Pacific learners.

“In my experience, Pacific families are blessed with two things: one is they have great dignity for work and the second is that they and their aiga have a place in their hearts for education. They want their children to do well.

“If people are serious about Tapasā, and principals like me take the opportunity to have the framework unpacked to their staff, then all second-generation Pacific children in this country will have no educational achievement and progress problems at all 40 years from now.”

St Anthony’s Catholic School in Huntly has a roll of just 48 with 75 percent of ākonga identifying as either Māori, Pacific or Filipino.

St Anthony’s Catholic School in Huntly has a roll of just 48 with 75 percent of ākonga identifying as either Māori, Pacific or Filipino.

One fits one

Yvonne Lim, the director of Tui Tuia, says the Action Plan for Pacific Education (APPE) is a strategy to ensure learners, families and communities enjoy educational success as Pacific.

“Building Pacific cultural competencies across the education workforce is one of the APPE’s key objectives.

“We know that the education system can do more to ensure equitable outcomes for all learners and their families. Tapasā PLD supports teachers’ journeys towards better understanding the identities, languages, and cultures of Pacific peoples.”  

Tui Tuia has a collective expertise in Pacific education, led by Tofilau Niulevaea Siliva Gaugatao and Dr Tanya Wendt Samu, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. Both have been studying and developing teacher education initiatives based on Tapasā since its release in 2018.

“Underpinning our approach to delivering Tapasā PLD is that it is informed by Pacific knowledge, ways of being and approaches to practice that are research-informed, led by a teacher’s strengths and empowering for all participants involved,” says Siliva.

“Our approach is flexible, responsible, and reflective, in other words, ‘one fits one’. We will tailor the initiative to the strengths and needs of individuals and groups of teachers and leaders and their learning journeys.

“Our hope is our Tapasā professional learning and development initiative will be a transformational tool to uplift and support teachers and leaders across the education sectors to achieve the vision for Pacific learners, their families and communities.”  

Hearts and minds

Tautai o le Moana is the educational arm of the New Zealand Pasifika Principals Association.

Director Helen Varney says Tapasā could be seen as just “another framework” until it is brought to life through the hearts and minds of educators who understand and want to action their ‘Why’.

Tautai o le Moana, through Tapasā, are engaging schools to take on – what is, for many – new knowledge; a journey that is helping them develop a critical mass of shared knowledge, respect and ‘feeling’ for their Pacific communities, and Pacific nuances resulting in actions that will improve the educational pathway for their learners.

Principal of Dominion Road School Lesley Mitchell is working with Tautai o le Moana to strengthen leadership capabilities. A key element of this journey for Lesley and staff is to effect positive change for learners of Pacific heritage.

“About 36 percent of our students identify as Pacific as their first ethnicity. This does not take into account any who have not identified as Pacific as part of their second ethnicity. Tongan is the biggest ethnicity when it is broken down further. Our goal as a school is to ensure that we are culturally responsive and ensure equal opportunities for learning for all children,” says Lesley.

Tautai o le Moana believes that growing and strengthening a Pacific lens is a crucial element to the success of kaiako in and through Tapasā.

“A key pathway is strengthening community partnerships (Turu 1) – recognising, valuing and engaging with their Pacific community. Pacific communities are the experts and are critical partners in growing this lens. Understanding and acknowledging the ‘va’ and respecting that their learning journey must include close connections with aiga and whānau,” explains Helen.

At Wesley School, principal Lou Reddy sought to further strengthen their journey through Tapasā.

Lou says they “want our students to lead through their cultural strengths. We hope that the Tapasā framework is a way to help us as teachers to set the environment and actions to do this reliably.”

At Wesley, talanoa is a key element of the connection kaiako have with aiga. The conversation, chat, sharing of ideas and talking with aiga about learning has shifted there.

“Talanoa is child led and in the language they choose. They themselves translate to their teacher. They discuss what they have learnt and future learning goals. Students have an awareness and knowledge of their identity and culture. They are teachers and leaders.”

Waikowhai Primary School teachers strengthening their Pacific knowledge through Ei Katu making.   

Waikowhai Primary School teachers strengthening their Pacific knowledge through Ei Katu making.  

It starts at early learning

The approach is striking a chord for kaiako at Hastings early learning centre, Taokotaianga Apii Kuki Airani Hastings Inc (Takah). Centre manager Kimiora Joel and her team have had two sessions with Tui Tuia and feel greatly encouraged by the support.

“We loved the team coming in to see where we needed help. We talked about our understanding of Tapasā and what we wanted to know, and we loved how they listened to us, they wanted to understand where we were coming from,” says Kimiora.

“They’re helping us with our centre goal, which is strengthening our relationships with our wider community. They are helping us to see from a Pacific perspective using Tapasā as the tool to support us. They helped us break down the framework so we can deliver it to the children and reach out to our Pacific parents.

“In our wider community the consistency of engagement is not there and the Tapasā PLD team is helping us with that.”

Tapasā PLD is co-delivered by Tui Tuia Learning Circle and Tautai o le Moana Trust(external link). Schools who want to join should contact one of the providers or email

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:07 pm, 12 October 2022

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