Pacific students empowered by community-run homework study centres

Issue: Volume 102, Number 13

Posted: 5 October 2023
Reference #: 1HAce8

Pacific community groups in Hamilton are facilitating homework study centres for Pacific learners, with the view of expanding their knowledge and boosting their confidence in classrooms.

Pacific learners at Malamaatu STEAM Academy are empowered to take the lead in their academic pursuits.

Pacific learners at Malamaatu STEAM Academy are empowered to take the lead in their academic pursuits.

For many Pacific learners, the preservation and celebration of their language, culture and identity are not just matters of heritage, they are crucial elements that contribute to their holistic wellbeing, academic success, and sense of belonging.

Pacific community groups in Hamilton have been fostering these elements in their weekly evening homework study centres for Pacific learners. Parents and their learners from different schools, backgrounds and walks of life unite in a shared passion for academic excellence.

We visited four Pacific homework study centres in Hamilton – Malamaatu, a STEAM academy led by Dr Sangata Ana Kaufononga and Tevita Kaufononga under the Waikato Tongan Community Charity Trust; Kaukauola Study Programme (KSP) managed by Veitomoni Siufanga; and centres led by the Fijian Society Community and Kiribati Waikato Association Incorporated – to hear about the power of community and the pathway that Pacific focused learning environments create for success in education.

A model example of community

In the vast expanse of the Pacific Islands, a tapestry of diverse cultures and communities are interwoven by many shared values, one of which is collectiveness.

In the context of homework study centres, the Pacific value of collectiveness finds a natural and powerful expression. These centres, designed to support students in their academic pursuits, embody the essence of collectiveness by fostering an environment of collaboration, shared learning and mutual support.

Preschoolers at the Fijian Society Community homework centre enjoy their Vosa Vakaviti class.

Preschoolers at the Fijian Society Community homework centre enjoy their Vosa Vakaviti class.

“This homework centre has been running for several years, it was a true labour of love for our aunties who started it with their own money. To me they’re the model example of community. They started this and we’ve now carried it on,” says Naomi Vuataki, a parent and volunteer at the Fijian Society Community’s homework centre.

The homework study centre, which has preschoolers through to secondary students in attendance, has been a vital vessel for the Fijian community in Hamilton to further invest not only in the education of their learners but also in their identities as Pacific youth.

“The sociality aspect of this homework centre is so important, when they [the learners] come together they bond – they’re building their own community. They’ll start helping each other out, being here is encouraging that relationship to form organically, we know that our Pacific kids need that. They need a little bit of fun, they need to feel welcome, they need to have pride in their identity and the learning happens alongside that,” Naomi says.

Naomi emphasises that the active engagement of parents in the homework centre has only strengthened their efforts in providing for their learners. “Our parents all help, whether or not they serve on the committee. They’re always pitching in to help in the kitchen or they’ll sit in the classes with the kids, so it’s a whole community effort and I know that’s the key to making this [homework centre] work well.”

The Fijian Society Community hopes that the homework centre encourages their learners to stay true to their roots, their communities, and their aspirations. Naomi concludes, “We want to put all our effort into shifting our kids out of negative narratives and statistics, so that they become better and stronger than those who have come before them. We do it while being proud Fijians.”

Sense of belonging

Students attending these homework centres say that they aren’t just for schoolwork, they also serve as safe spaces where they feel accepted and important. This in turn has boosted their confidence and motivation in their studies.

Year 11 student Kolinia, who is attending the weekly STEAM Academy held at St John College called Malamaatu, says, “Just having other Pacific Islander people here makes you feel as if you’re home, you feel more welcome, and you just feel more comfortable and in a safe space to grow and learn.”

Lavelua, Year 12 student, also feels the difference in the way these learning environments have affected her approach to learning.

Parent volunteer sharing their cultural knowledge with young learners.

Parent volunteer sharing their cultural knowledge with young learners.

“It’s different to learning in school because we feel more bonded together as Pacific Islanders, we feel more comfortable to seek help compared to school where we just stay quiet and keep to ourselves.”

Malamaatu, a homework centre that primarily focuses on science and mathematics subjects at secondary school level, has seen the number of Pacific students attending almost quadruple despite only being established this year.

Teacher and volunteer Harnesh Prasad says that he has seen positive improvements in his students’ work because of the environment and opportunities that Malamaatu provides.

“They’re not getting the same out of the opportunity that they get in usual classroom situations here because they are usually a bit too shy or not confident enough to ask questions. But here [Malamaatu], I’ve noticed that they speak up more because they’re comfortable.”

The centre has instilled a sense of assurance in its students, motivating them to pursue their academic aspirations in STEAM fields with confidence, not only through their teachings but also in their name.

“Something I really enjoy about this homework centre is the message in the name, it’s called Malamaatu and to me I feel like I use it as an encouragement,” Kolinia says.

“Malamaatu means, for me, to shine bright wherever you are, and I feel like shining bright within this academy means to use the wisdom that these tutors have taught you, [the schoolwork] that your peers have helped you with, so that wherever you go you shine bright.”

Students and parents learning together

Kaukauola Study Programme (KSP), a homework centre established in 2010, has been moving from strength to strength over the years, supporting over 70 students who attend in person and a further number of learners who attend tutorials online from across the country.

The centre’s mission is to empower Pacific learners to reach their full academic potential and to encourage effective parental engagement practices. KSP runs regular parent workshops to help support their roles in educating children.

KSP manager Veitomoni Siufanga says that having the parents present at the centre, whether it be through preparing warm healthy meals for the kids or assisting with their Education Perfect online lessons, all contributes to the success of the learners and the centre.

Parent volunteer at Kiribati Waikato Association Inc homework centre supporting one of the many young learners in attendance.

Parent volunteer at Kiribati Waikato Association Inc homework centre supporting one of the many young learners in attendance.

This same notion is also shared by the homework study centre run by the Kiribati Waikato Association Incorporated, which only established itself earlier this year.

Their homework centre currently has over 50 students attending. They have found that parents’ engagement with their kids’ learning at their centre has taught them more about the schooling system in New Zealand.

“We’re not only helping the kids here, but we’re also helping to educate the parents too. Our parents don’t all speak English fluently, so having them come here with their kids has helped with their understanding of the school curriculum and what level of learning their kids should be achieving for their age group,” says Beniteti Robuti, president of Kiribati Waikato Association Incorporated.

Karokoua Kareaua, who is a parent of four students attending the Kiribati community homework centre, says that he was elated when he heard the news of the centre being established.

“I’ve seen here [at the homework centre], that this is the main foundation for my kids and as a dad I’m supportive of my kids’ education and will do what I can to help them achieve their goals.”

Brighter opportunities for the future

Presently, these homework centres have been supported by the Ministry of Education Pacific Education Support Fund. However, in discussing plans to sustain their efforts for the future, homework centre leaders express unwavering confidence in their community’s ability to collaborate and ensure the continued success of these centres.

“If you run something that you know is very useful for your community, you want to run it permanently. So, our big goal for the future is to find our own space for the homework centre,” says Beniteti.

Many of the attending students, parents and facilitators all believe that this extra care in education will only light a brighter pathway for Pacific success.

“I know this kind of programme contributes a lot to the future of our kids and I’m hoping that it just gets bigger and bigger,” Karokoua says.

Pacific learners from different secondary schools working together on their homework at Malamaatu STEAM academy

Pacific learners from different secondary schools working together on their homework at Malamaatu STEAM academy

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:47 am, 5 October 2023

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