education.govt.nz

Revitalising vagahau Niue strengthens learning

Issue: Volume 100, Number 7

Posted: 10 June 2021
Reference #: 1HALgr

Students in New Zealand’s first Niue language bilingual unit are finding courage, confidence and community through cultural connections.

Students of Aotearoa's first Niue bilingual unit are gaining confidence in all aspects of school life through celebrating their Niuean heritage.

Students of Aotearoa's first Niue bilingual unit are gaining confidence in all aspects of school life through celebrating their Niuean heritage.

Stepping from a cool, blustery morning into the buzz of Room 13 at Favona Primary School is like stepping into sunshine. Students and teachers are dressed in bright Pacific prints of orange, yellow and pink, they wear flowers in their hair and long strands of yellow shells called kahoa hihi. Teacher Joylyn strums the guitar and the children sway gently as they sing the welcome hymn – this is ‘Good morning’ Niue-style.

The Niue bilingual unit opened in February this year and is the first of its kind for students in Years 2, 3 and 4. For teacher Mele Nemaia, a Niuean national who has taught at Favona for 35 years, it is a dream come true. 

“We have always been an inclusive school; we have many cultural groups and we have been attending Pacific festivals for a long time. Most of the staff are Pasifika.

“I have been dreaming of this [a bilingual unit] for an exceptionally long time and it is just a joy to see it in action; we’re excited and overwhelmed. There is a wonderful feeling of community, and a great sense of pride,” says Mele.

Transformational progression

Mele says the impact on students’ learning and growth has been transformational. 

“We can see their achievement progression already and they are growing in confidence. They are more involved in the school community; they are confident to perform in assembly or put their hand up to be a peer mediator. We are so proud.”

Teacher Joylyn Ikiua leads the children's literacy learning.

Teacher Joylyn Ikiua leads the children's literacy learning.

The students’ families are actively involved with the school and very supportive of their children’s learning. In fact, many of the parents who are New Zealand-born Niuean, are learning their language, Vagahau Niue, alongside their children. 

There are about 30,000 Niuean people in New Zealand, and most of them – 77 percent – were born here and have become disconnected from their language and culture.

“Fewer than seven percent can converse in Vagahau Niue, so we are actually doing service to our Niue language by being able to revitalise the language,” says Lynn Pavihi, associate principal.

“Yes, the language is declining rapidly, but by starting a bilingual unit we can help to change that.

Multiple benefits

“There are so many benefits and perks for our students if they are able to immerse themselves in the Niue language,” says Lynn.

“They’re able to build relationships with their Niue peers and their families. They’re able to make connections, and they’re able to apply the learning from class to what they do in everyday life.”

Research tells us that bilingual students learn most effectively in additive bilingual environments, where their bilingual skills are recognised and valued, and where their first or home language is used to access teaching and learning.

This is because the existing language capabilities, knowledge and skills of students provide the starting point for further language development and learning in both a first and second language.

Bilingual learning environments can also support learners to learn and develop skills in their heritage language.Maintaining and growing learners’ bilingualism sets them up for success in education by supporting strong language capabilities and academic achievement.

Enhanced educational outcomes

“By recognising, valuing, and using the Pasifika languages of our students in teaching and learning, even in English medium contexts, we can significantly enhance the language and educational outcomes of Pacific learners,” says Lynn.

“Favona School holds our cultures, our customs and our values very highly; we’re very blessed at this school to have a wealth of knowledge with a lot of resource teachers who speak their first language. It’s one of the reasons why parents bring their children here, we really promote and uphold different cultural values of all ethnicities.”

The school has a roll of 370 students, most of whom are Māori and Pacific, and has long held a special spot in the community’s heart as a “Niuean hub”, she says.

The 23 students in the unit are of mixed descent.

“They don’t have to be Niuean so long as the family understands that the child will be learning Niue cultural aspects and customs just like any other bilingual unit, and that we’re really promoting the whole idea of being a positive role model as a Niue student.”

Contextualised curriculum

Students follow The New Zealand Curriculum with topics contextualised within a Niuean framework.

Students relish being able to learn all aspects of the curriculum within a Niuean framework.

Students relish being able to learn all aspects of the curriculum within a Niuean framework.

“When it’s literacy time, the teacher uses the Vagahau Niue language and when it comes to topic or inquiry, they contextualise it to Niue,” says Lynn.

“For example, they’re currently run on Matariki, so the class is learning what that looks like for our Māori people, and also what it looks like for the Niue people.

“Teachers are extending the children’s knowledge about yam harvesting in Niue and how important this aspect is to Niue culture. Children then become experts and can share their knowledge with their peers and with their families,” adds Lynn.

When it comes to Niue Language Week, Lynn says a lot of the focus will be around what it means to be a Niue person, what identifies someone as a Niue person, and why being a Niue person is an important part of their life.

“When you’re passionate about it, the children will see it, and the ripple effect is that children become engaged, they become eager and this whole reinforcement makes them feel that it’s cool to be Niuean,” she says.

“Where else do students get to learn a Niue war dance or learn a fakamatalaaga and stand up at assembly and you know, instead of doing the whole ‘Welcome to Room 6 assembly’ they use their own Vagahau Niue language? It’s amazing.”

Positive feedback

Feedback from the community has been very positive and the school is fielding enquiries from families beyond Favona, where two-thirds of the community are Pasifika. One family reported that their daughter feels more affiliated to her Niue side and now sings the family prayer at home.

Niuean students who are not in the bilingual unit – those in Years 1, 5 and 6 – are not left out. Twice a week, all Niue students gather to mix and mingle as a community, learning dances, songs and cooking together, says Lynn.

“They can stand tall and proud and identify themselves as a true Niue student and uphold the Niue values; all the Niue cultural values that drive a Niue person to be a successful citizen of New Zealand.”

Families are very supportive of the immersion learning. Pictured from left is teacher aide Luana Bennion, associate principal Lynn Pavihi, Niue matua/helper Malama Fotuaga, teacher Joylyn Ikiua and grandparent Feoaki Heaki. In front is parent Brenda Talima.

Families are very supportive of the immersion learning. Pictured from left is teacher aide Luana Bennion, associate principal Lynn Pavihi, Niue matua/helper Malama Fotuaga, teacher Joylyn Ikiua and grandparent Feoaki Heaki. In front is parent Brenda Talima.

What is additive bilingual education?

Additive bilingual education values and recognises the bilingual language competencies of learners and the advantages to learners and families of being bilingual.

The focus of these programmes is to maintain and grow the bilingual capability of learners.

Further resources:

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

Posted: 8:45 am, 10 June 2021

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts