Pacific communities rise to challenge
Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA74b
What impact is COVID-19 having on Pacific communities? Education Gazette talks to a range of Pacific learners, teachers and whānau in Te Papaioea–Palmerston North, Manawatū, about how the pandemic is affecting them.
On Monday 23 March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand would be moving from Level 2, into the highest COVID-19 Alert, Level 4, within 48 hours.
In the Manawatū-Whanganui region, that message was received by a population of just over 250,000, including a population of around 10,000 identifying as Pacific.
In Palmerston North, the Pacific population connects into 10 key groups of Cook Islands, Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Fijian, Tuvaluan, Tokelauan, Papua New Guinean, Rotuman and Kiribati peoples. As the state of emergency messages rippled further into the hearts of those communities, teachers, children and families looked at what it all meant for them.
Preparing for lockdown
One Pacific primary school teacher recalls the days leading up to the announcement.
“Two days before lockdown, everyone was still talking about how far away the virus was and would Manawatū still be safe. Our principal asked us to pack stuff for our students… my team stayed after school on Friday (20 March) and finished around 7.30 at night putting little notes in and little things like coloured pencils, a rubber.
“I had to look at different learners and what was enjoyable for each student. I knew we didn’t have resources, like devices to give out to students.
“I think in my school you’ll be very lucky if 10 per cent of Pacific students have devices other than phones. It’s one thing to have a phone but that’s not a device for learning. So that’s why we did the packs.”
Distributing the packs to students on the Monday (23 March) was a challenge, given that approximately 50 per cent of students were absent. The teachers called every family to collect the packs.
“If only there had been more time, things could have been done differently,” the teacher says. For instance, she would like to have distributed old PE equipment to families for use during the lockdown period.
Food could also have been given out or added to children’s learning packs to be taken home.
“If you think about our families right now, what does it look like when it comes to putting food on the table?
“At school, if you didn’t bring lunch, you can go straight to the breakfast club, and we do notes, so you can get sandwiches, free fruit and milk every single day.”
She recalls two children who would eat half their lunch, leaving the other half to eat on the way home. So the school provided extra sandwiches and apples.
“One came over smiling, holding up the bag and said, ‘My mum’s going to love me; this is for her – this is for her dinner’.
“I know for our Pacific Island families, food is central. And when we don’t have enough, kids will worry for their parents.”
Anticipating online learning
Pacific students and families in Palmerston North share mixed reactions to distance learning.
“Remote learning is working out really well for our oldest daughter,” says one parent. “She’s Year 13, and her mentality is to get through as much work as she can, reading and researching and watching documentaries. She’s going to get all her credits early and leave school to work and save for uni. She’s always had a plan.”
A Year 8 Pacific student thinks she’ll enjoy the flexibility of distance learning.
“We’ve got Google Classroom and the teachers post stuff up if we need something. I miss being able to socialise with people but it’s pretty cool being able to work when you want.”
For other students, however, the preference is still learning kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) and using tuākana-tēina, peer learning.
“It’s gonna be challenging. I’ll need a lot of self-motivation,” shares one Year 11 Pacific student.
Another Year 11 student agrees. “I don’t think it [online] will be that good, to be honest, ’cos you kinda need the teachers there. You can ask straightaway instead of sending a message and wasting 20 minutes. It’s faster. And with your mates, ’cos you can learn off their mistakes as well, or can ask them how they got it.”
One parent intends to integrate distance learning into home life.
“I’m less about the classroom education and more about having initiative. I’m getting them to pretend they’re in a flatting environment. In regard to teaching, I’m not doing that, I just tell them where they can find it.”
Another is concerned about how it will all work.
“I mostly worry about the kids’ education. They’re part of a Community Learning Hub, a STEM programme, which is an important part of their routine.
“With online learning, it’s early days and we don’t really want to push it for the little ones. For our big boy, they have continuity for online learning. Sometimes we’ve had trouble with the internet connection.”
And sadly, for others, with the financial strain of COVID-19 starting to take its toll, particularly for seasonal workers, their children’s distance learning is unlikely to be a priority.
One community member puts it bluntly. “We have been dealing with Pacific families who have had to leave their essential work because they have no one to look after the kids… and so they are down to one pay cheque, but that’s close to minimum wage. They have to pay rent and bills and put food on the table… so the last thing they’ll be thinking about is having the technology or internet to carry on their kids’ learning.”
No substitute for face-to-face Tauloto fakatasi
Julene Duerksen-Kapao, head of teaching and learning at Te Hiringa Alternative Education at the Highbury Whānau Centre, has concerns about teaching disengaged Pacific students in an online environment.
“When students are disengaged, they are hard to connect with at the best of times.
“The success of our learning is all about face to face. Laughter, jokes, banter, the ability to lean in on a conversation, for young people to contribute their own voice and that it’s validated – that’s absolutely valuable.
“One of the success factors is we set a clear plan with timetabled objectives, where we also respond to what happened the night before. If a young person arrives, and something’s broken down at home, it’s acknowledged. We provide a place for them to offload, karakia, we refresh the learning space.”
Julene says it will be a struggle to translate what they’re doing into an online environment, but they will do their best to make do in the short term.
Communication key in early learning
At Malamalama Moni Aoga Amata, a Samoan Language preschool in Palmerston North, when the lockdown announcement came, it was a surprise, but centre manager Tiana Fauolo says her teachers were ready.
“We were really lucky we’d just had ERO in February, so everything was in place, bottles of water, extra supplies, we have lots of onto-it people and parents at our preschool,” says Tiana.
“Communicating on EDUCA, Facebook and Messenger, we shared all the COVID posts, right from the get-go; we did the same for measles. We took up the Ministry’s offers of packages. Everyone’s been communicating. It’s been really good.”
Loto fa’atasi (whanaungatanga) and staying connected with ākonga and whānau via social media, was already well-established at the centre, says Tiana.
Impact on Fakafetuiaga (relationships)
Many Pacific families appear to be relishing the quality time spent within their whānau bubbles.
“The best thing that’s happened for us is family time,” shares one parent. “I worked late, and the kids were eating, showering and going to bed by the time I got home. Now a lot of the time I’m home and my wife is as well. My daughter’s had really good conversations around homework, and Māori and Pacific models of health.
“With both of us working from home, there’s been a little bit of interest in what I actually do.
“It’s been good for us… learning to parent together. Kids get to see a relationship during a crisis, but not in crisis.”
“It’s like a reset button for everyone,” shares another parent. “It’s back to basics; the kids have been learning to cook a meal from scratch with whatever we have, and fold the washing. It reminds me of being back in the islands.”
Another parent of four children is pleased with how things are going.
“I’m amazed at how resilient they are, even when they debrief and have prayers. One thing we do every day is exercise together as a family and it’s really important.”
Tausina ou mātua – Caring for the elderly
However, the close relationships between young and old are likely to tested by self-isolation and physical distancing.
One grandmother sums it up with her experience.
“We dropped some milk off around our neighbourhood; I left some outside our grandchildren’s house, and the little one saw me and started to run towards me. They had to hold him back; he’s two – it was so sad. He was calling out ‘Nana, Nana!’. The look on his face, he didn’t understand.”
Matua (elders) are a key concern for all Pacific whānau right now.
The church – a gathering place for most Pacific communities – is also able to offer practical support for many elderly.
One Palmerston North church was busy right up until the last minute, actioning ioto māfana, fakati akiga, fakafetuiaga he tau magafaoa, and garueagesea (manaakitanga) for their matua, says one of the church’s leaders.
“On the last day before lockdown, I realised we wouldn’t see each other, our oldies, our over-70s for a whole month and I thought, ‘oh my gosh!’ We put together simple care packages and delivered them on the last night, realising we might not see them again. We said, “see you in a month”. It was quite emotional when we said goodbye.
“We set up Messenger for the church, and one person from each family is on there as a representative. The Sunday sermon is on Messenger. Everyone’s putting up photos of their bubbles.”
Going into Alert Level 4: How did you feel?
Education Gazette asks Pacific students and parents how they felt when they heard news that New Zealand would be moving into the highest COVID-19 alert, Level 4, within 48 hours.
“Not good. I can’t do stuff with my friends, play soccer, run.” Year 4 student
“We were all kind of scared. I was at school, it was nearly the end of the day.” Year 8 student
“… cautious, because I was quite sick at the time, I thought I might even have the coronavirus. I just knew I had to be very careful. My mum got my medicine and I’ve gotten better. I’m glad there’s a lockdown. I’m safe. I think I’ll put my guard down when I know there’s a cure.” Year 11 student
“We were at school in the library when the lockdown message came on. It was just crazy it was even happening, I wasn’t sure what to expect.” Year 11 student
“I didn’t take it that seriously, at the time. I didn’t think it would be this bad. I was thinking like chill, hang out with some mates and that, but going through this first week, it felt really long and kind of boring.” Year 9 student
“The Friday before, we’d already told our kids you can stay home, it didn’t take much convincing and it gave us a couple of days to trial online learning, to see what they’d do. We pretty much started planning a week before and started convos around where would my daughter go? We have joint custody. So how would that work?” Parent
“I was working from home, and it probably was the shock first, then it was getting my son home from boarding school in Auckland, to Palmy. It was pretty stressful, not knowing what the situation was with flights. Also getting him to the airport… I looked at booking an Uber, but it kept saying possible delays. In the end the school dropped him off. I was also worried he might catch something at the airport or on the plane. When he walked out the [Palmerston North Airport] door, I almost cried I was so relieved, but I didn’t tell him. Now after a week with him in lockdown, I’m like, ‘hmmm’…” Parent
“… the kids had been coughing in the weekend, so we were already self-isolating. As a mum, it’s important for the kids to be safe at all times. Also, one of my boys gets sick in the winter so he was my main concern.” Parent
Supporting Pacific learners with distance learning
There is now information avaliable in a range of Pacific languages on the Learning From Home website(external link) to support Pacific families with learning from home.
Keep informed with the COVID-19 website for Pacific Peoples(external link).