Learning hubs empower migrant families in Aotearoa

Issue: Volume 100, Number 14

Posted: 3 November 2021
Reference #: 1HAQt9

Ethnic learning hubs in Christchurch have helped migrant parents understand the New Zealand education system, and the initiative will soon roll out in Auckland and Wellington.

Families enjoy some light refreshments at the end of the workshop.

Families enjoy some light refreshments at the end of the workshop.

From an initial 10-week pilot programme of five hubs, there are now seven learning community hubs in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

The learning hubs have supported more than 203 families across 19 ethnicities, representing 306 early learning and school-aged children from 61 early learning centres and schools.

They were established with the broad purpose of supporting continued participation and engagement of ethnic communities in learning opportunities that enhance their wellbeing and achievement. Part of this is providing families with an understanding of the New Zealand education system to enable them to champion learning and education aspirations for their children and partner with schools to support good learning outcomes.

A passionate group of learning hub co-ordinators plays a vital role for the community they are supporting, establishing a programme tailored to community needs and providing information in the language of their participating families.

Filipino communities

At Riccarton High School, the Filipino Learning Community Hub is led by Delia Talili.

Delia is from the Philippines, has been in New Zealand since 2009, and is currently working as an ESOL teacher. She reminisces that such a course would have been invaluable to her when her children first went to school.

The hub pilot evolved from a Filipino literacy and culture class run after school for the burgeoning population of Filipino students at Riccarton High School. It was initiated by Delia and Angela Bland, the head of ESOL at that time.

Delia says the programme was devised after surveying the parents about what they needed to know and determining the best time to hold the sessions.

A commonly suggested topic was the differences between the Filipino and New Zealand education systems in areas such as the curriculum, pedagogic approach and assessment regime; deciphering NCEA; and understanding the social and emotional development of children.

Delia has now co-ordinated two 10-week Filipino Learning Community Hubs at Riccarton High School, one in term 3 last year, and another in term 2 this year. She also co-ordinated the Christchurch East Filipino Learning Community Hub in term 1 – all held on Saturday evenings.

“The beauty of the workshops is that they are done in our first language. There are some speakers in English, but their words are translated into Tagalog. The families are comfortable and feel free to ask questions,” says Delia.

She adds that the programme will make a difference in how parents support their children and equips them with the knowledge they need to raise a ‘New Zealand student’.

Delia Talili, leader of the Filipino Learning Community Hub at Riccarton High School.

Delia Talili, leader of the Filipino Learning Community Hub at Riccarton High School.

Muslim communities

Dr Maysoon Salama is the founder and manager of An-Nur Education and Care Centre and main organiser of the An-Nur Learning Community Hub workshops. Dr Feruz Mohammed also helped to organise the workshops and reported outcomes.

The hubs helped Muslim parents in Christchurch, including those directly affected by the March 15 terror attacks, who are still coping with grief and loss, says Feruz.

The workshops were held on Saturday mornings and mothers, grandparents, working parents and their children all attended, with childcare provided. Two mothers were new to the country, having arrived after their husbands died in the An-Nur Mosque attack.

Many families were refugees, and English was a second language for everyone, so facilitators from the community were on hand to translate material and provide explanations.

The groups were diverse and included Arab, Afghani, Somali, Bengali, Eritrean, Pakistani, Iranian, Malaysian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Indian, Sri Lankan and Singaporean participants.

“Our community was really motivated as the workshops are for the benefit of all of us. We’re improving the parents’ knowledge so they can be a part of their children’s learning,” says Feruz.

Many families attended all the workshops, while some opted to attend specific sessions.

Mothers celebrating the completion of a 'Reading Together' session at An-Nur Learning Community Hub.

Mothers celebrating the completion of a 'Reading Together' session at An-Nur Learning Community Hub.

Empowerment and confidence

The most popular topic was the transition from early childhood education to primary school, which led to the creation of ‘living documents’ for teachers and parents. The parents’ version included some useful transition skills, while the school version focused on supporting Muslim children in primary schools, says Feruz.

“It makes it easier for teachers to help the child settle quickly and gives parents confidence to let the teacher know about their culture, such as how to help in prayer and fasting times,” adds Feruz.

Empowerment and confidence to speak to teachers is a benefit of the sessions, Feruz says, with many parents needing encouragement to overcome shyness and reticence to participate in the life of the school. Cultural responsiveness and being open to relationships with New Zealanders are also part of the discussions.

“We talk about the school schedule, how reporting works, and the right time to contact teachers. Plus, we encourage volunteering at school and showing interest, creating a connection so the child can benefit,” she says.

The topics for workshops evolved during the programme, as parents wanted more sessions on parenting skills and a greater understanding of health and sexuality education in the curriculum.

The latter is an example of the impact the workshops can have.

“Generally, there was confusion and misunderstanding about sexuality education and the curriculum and thinking that the children were getting information that they weren’t supposed to, which led to families pulling their children out of the classes.

“We can see from our feedback that now the families are less likely to withdraw their children from these classes, knowing their rights and responsibilities,” says Feruz.

Chinese communities

Ardour Charitable Trust was established in 2012 by three migrant women and secondary school teachers through their passion for Chinese traditional arts and language and providing migrant and New Zealand-born children of Chinese heritage the opportunity to learn it.

From 2013 to 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the trust held annual Chinese culture camps.

The trust has a vibrant WeChat social media community and its work to foster Chinese culture has been recognised both here and in China.

To set up the Ardour Chinese Community Learning Hub, the Trust surveyed parents in their network about the challenges and concerns they have about the education system, attracting both new migrants and long-term residents to the workshops earlier this year.

Co-ordinator Wendy Higgins says the Chinese community is quite different from other communities in terms of education beliefs.

“When Eastern culture meets Western culture, children do struggle at school and home to meet both expectations. The kids are also struggling with the English language barrier and the culture barrier,” says Wendy.

 The hub sessions took place on a Sunday night, followed by a shared meal, and a different programme offered for the children accompanying their parents.

The material was provided in both Mandarin and English, with interpreters and bilingual teachers.

Framing expectations

Wendy says one of the benefits was a change in the parents’ mindset about their expectations of New Zealand education and how to interpret their own beliefs from their experience in the Chinese education system.

She adds that knowledge of the pedagogy, and what is taught at school and how it is taught, is important in framing expectations for things such as homework.

“If children have any difficulties in study, a lot of Chinese parents, especially mums, have a difficulty to communicate with the school, either because of a language barrier, or a lack of confidence, to express their concerns.

“The workshops gave them a starting point, encouraged them not to be afraid to ask questions, or to question the method, or to ask for help, as without asking you can only make assumptions about the school system,” says Wendy.

Popular sessions addressed wellbeing as a key to success, including three shared workshops on mental health for parents and teenagers.

Another workshop involved three principals – from a high school, an integrated Catholic school and a private school – talking about the education system.

A key benefit was a greater understanding of the resources that are available in the community to help parents support their children, says Wendy.


Parents at the Ardour Chinese Community Learning Hub.

Parents at the Ardour Chinese Community Learning Hub.

Voices from Ōtautahi

The ‘Voices from the Ōtautahi | Christchurch Learning Community Hubs’ report findings show that this locally activated and funded initiative has made a substantive impact on the learning, sense of belonging and relationship building between families and schools.

Much of the success associated with this outcome has been the result of being culturally responsive in pedagogic practice, but also being in true kotahitanga (unity) with the ethnic communities to co-create the learning experiences that make a difference to each community.

The report also outlines how the initiative shows that what does not work is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to improving understanding of, and engagement with, the New Zealand education system. There is a need for specifically targeted initiatives that allow for ongoing benefits, a connected community, and a family’s sense of belonging within their children’s educational journey.

Aspects vital to the success of the programme:

  • Learning Hub co-ordinators must be well-resourced, have strong organisational skills and be well respected by the community they are serving.
  • Venues for learning hubs should be readily accessible by the attendees and be responsive to their cultural and religious needs.
  • Learning hub composition and content must be co-created with the communities they are serving.

Aspects important to the success of the programme:

  • The composition of the learning hubs should take into consideration how different practices and beliefs within a faith may affect attendee engagement.
  • Additional funding should be provided to offer specific support for whānau from refugee backgrounds.

Ongoing considerations:

  • Development of a culturally responsive framework that supports the needs of ethnic and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities as they engage with the New Zealand education system.
  • Engagement with local iwi at the early stages of creating future learning hubs to co-develop content that is authentically bicultural and honours our partnership under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

 More information on the Learning Community Hubs project is available in the ‘Voices from the Ōtautahi | Christchurch Learning Community Hubs(external link)’ report.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:15 AM, 3 November 2021

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