Shadi Club supports language and culture

Issue: Volume 100, Number 8

Posted: 30 June 2021
Reference #: 1HAMgT

Young children from Iranian and Afghani backgrounds in Auckland have the opportunity to learn about Persian culture and Farsi/Dari language through a monthly programme that aligns with the principles and learning outcomes of Te Whāriki: Early childhood curriculum.

Members of the Shadi Club, which aims to share Persian culture and language with young children in their community. Photo credit: Ava Studio, Auckland.

Members of the Shadi Club, which aims to share Persian culture and language with young children in their community. Photo credit: Ava Studio, Auckland.

A group of community leaders has developed a programme to promote Persian culture and Farsi/Dari language among their pre-school children.

Safoura Banihashemian and Dr Mojdeh Owlad from the Auckland Farsi School initiated the idea of the Shadi Club (Shadi means joy). Dr Parisa Tadi, a lecturer in Early Childhood Education (ECE) at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), joined them to lead the programme based on Te Whāriki.

“We have always been interested to see how we could support the migrant and refugee communities – it’s our personal interest and obligation to the community,” she says.

Since moving to New Zealand, the group has wanted to introduce young Persian children to their heritage language and culture and address community needs.

The Shadi Club was born after last year’s Covid-19 lockdown.

“These children have Iranian/Afghan roots; most are born in New Zealand. For us, there were two main points. There was the need from the community for the young children to have access to Farsi books and be in a Farsi-speaking environment. Secondly, we felt it was necessary to support the Persian community’s understanding of early childhood education in New Zealand,” explains Parisa.

More than 20 families regularly attend the club, with parents and older siblings often joining in with the activities.

“From the start, we aimed to promote an educational programme. With
Te Whāriki as the main framework, we can focus on the funds of knowledge the children bring, by valuing their heritage language and culture. Young children enjoy learning language and culture through play with their parents’ collaboration and active participation,” she says.

Local curriculum

The Shadi Club builds a local curriculum by integrating the community’s knowledge, interest and desires into local resources and the environment.

“Each month we have a specific focus. For example, in June, the focus was on the Persian culture and how children can greet in Persian culture following the Strands of Communication (Mana Reo) in Te Whāriki and fostering the relationship with their parents and community. We look at how we can say a Persian phrase in
New Zealand Sign Language, or te reo Māori,” she explains.

“As bilingual or multilingual children growing up in New Zealand, it’s important for them to be aware of their heritage, identity and background. That is, who they are and where they come from. This leads to a sense of belonging and making connections between Aotearoa and the country where they are rooted,” says Parisa.

Scaffolding literacy

“Learning oral language – print, pattern and shape in different languages – is believed to scaffold children’s learning of reading at later stages in their educational life – not only in Farsi but in any other languages,” says Parisa.

She agrees with findings published by her former colleagues in the University of Canterbury (Professor Gillon, Dr Sadeghi and Professor Everatt) in 2018, Phonological awareness development in speakers of languages other than English, which emphasises the cross-linguistic benefit for bilingual children.

Parisa also concurs with the findings of a November 2019 report, Research to understand the features of quality Pacific bilingual education: review of best practices(external link) by Professor Stephen May from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Stephen wrote that a more effective model of language learning is underpinned by the interconnectedness of language learning, specifically the way knowledge of a first language supports the development of another language.

“Additive bilingual programmes specifically value and include all the languages students know, as well as aiming for bilingualism and biliteracy. These programmes are found to be consistently more effective in achieving bilingualism and biliteracy as well as wider high-level education for bilingual students,” he writes.

“The more a child is exposed to visual and oral texts through multiliteracy platforms, the more they will be supported in their reading skills at a later stage of their educational life,” says Parisa.

Partnership with families

Parents who attend the Shadi Club feel comfortable to ask questions about early childhood education in New Zealand.

“Migrants are new to the education system of New Zealand. They ask me what their children are learning in early learning centres in New Zealand. They might not know how advanced the early learning curriculum is in New Zealand, or even whether there is a curriculum of early childhood education, because it’s something that is unique here,” says Parisa.

The Shadi Club also helps to build connectedness among Farsi/Dari-speaking families, with extended families often living overseas.

“It’s important for the children to have connection with their extended family, whether they are living in New Zealand or another part of the world. The first thing that enables them to talk together is the language. The other thing is understanding the culture.

“At the Shadi Club, we are creating a ‘Learning Story’, or ‘Learning Profile’ in Farsi. The child can say, ‘This is my name in Farsi, I have two profiles’. Then they can talk and share about who they are with their family members, especially grandparents,” explains Parisa.

Partnership with community

 The Shadi Club offers parents a space where they can connect with the wider community.

“They are coming to the community space, the library – they may live nearby but have never been in the local library so they are getting to know what’s happening in the library and getting information, getting to know the area and the wider community.

“They learn where they can find resources. There was a family with a special-needs child. English wasn’t a barrier, but they were new to the country, and they didn’t know where they could get support. It seemed that Shadi Club was their first contact – I am very glad that I can help my community to settle in New Zealand better.”

The Shadi Club team would like to see similar programmes for other languages and cultures.

“The Arab community approached us and wanted to know how we are planning this programme. I hope we can do these things for other communities because it’s not only about the language of the Iranian community. Our aim is more than Farsi/Dari language  – it’s about connecting communities and bringing the richness of the culture and language to each community.

“A rich multilingual environment that young children are engaged in surely supports them in their literacy [reading and writing] skills at later stages of their educational life.”

Parisa reading with children and focusing on Farsi symbols, print, and features, such as reading from right to left. Ava Studio, Auckland.

Parisa reading with children and focusing on Farsi symbols, print, and features, such as reading from right to left. Ava Studio, Auckland.

Research on the benefits of bilingual education 

There are about 12,000 Farsi-speaking people (from Iran and Afghanistan) living in New Zealand. The majority live in Auckland.

The Shadi Club supports the language, culture and identity of Farsi-speaking children and their families and is a community learning programme that connects people and places to nurture children’s learning. The programme, held at Botany Library in East Auckland, is run voluntarily by the Shadi Club team and a group of Farsi-speaking parents.

To find out more about Auckland Farsi School(external link)

\غش شىي فاث لآعففثقبمغ

In term 3, the Ministry of Education will publish its first educational resource in Arabic – a translated version of Dr Maysoon Salama’s storybook Aya and the Butterfly.

Part of a four-book series, it’s a picture book to help children come to terms with grief, cope with change, and build resilience.

Find out more about Aya and the Butterfly(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:47 PM, 30 June 2021

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