New research shows school literacy projects in the Pacific succeed when relationships, indigenous expertise and culture are prioritised

Participants after the Kwatea-wela ceremony at the New Zealand High Commission office in Solomon Islands
Institute of Education

A new research report was launched on Tuesday 23rd of November by the Institute of Education of USP, which identifies critical factors underlying successful school literacy projects in Pacific countries. Investment in relationships of reciprocity, respect for culture and use of indigenous methodologies were among the key factors identified as essential for projects to succeed in raising literacy learning outcomes at schools and for sustaining gains over time.  

Associate Professor Rebecca Jesson and Associate Professor Kabini Sanga, in giving an overview of the study, identified what they considered to be the highlights of the work conducted.  Jesson shared about the use of “weaving” to articulate the information they had received, so rather than a ‘linear’ form of reporting, they had to consider different elements/ strands about language, literacy learning, the classroom, teachers, pedagogy, engagement etc, and brought them together to weave meanings.  Sanga highlighted that in order for all of these good works to be sustainable, it has got to “speak to the heart”.  After many years of engaging in this development space, to witness this moment of affirmation was most empowering and exciting for him.  He said, “I am excited at the creation of new paths while still being on this journey.” 

The report, entitled Literacy Research: People and Context, was launched through gift giving ceremonies held simultaneously in Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Tonga. Drawing on cultural protocol in each country, the report was gifted by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the respective Ministries of Education and those who participated in the research.  

In Tonga, a Luva ceremony was held, involving New Zealand High Commissioner Her Excellency Tiffany Babington, and attended by the Tongan Ministry of Education and Training CEO Dr. Tangikina Moimoi Steen and her staff. In Tongan, Luva means gifting from the heart.  

In the Cook Islands, an O’ora ceremony was held, hosted by the New Zealand High Commission First Secretary, Mr. Okesene Moananu and attended by the Cook Islands Ministry of Education Secretary Ms. Danielle Tungane Cochrane and her staff. In Cook Islands Māori, O’ora is the offering of a gift back to the community as a symbol of aroha (love) and tu akangateitei (respect).  

In the Solomon Islands, a Kwatea-wela Ceremony was held, hosted by the New Zealand High Commission Counsellor, Ms. Kate Bradlow, and attend by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Human Resource Development Permanent Secretary Dr. Franco Rodie and members of the Fellowship of Faithful Mentors (FFM). In Gula’alla, East Mala’ita, kwatea is a generic term for gifting. In some North Mala’ita languages, wela is a term for child. In the case of this ceremony, the report is seen as a child, a gift, a treasure, a heritage, a successor and one requiring care, love and to be nurtured and supported for it to mature and flourish.  

Speaking at the gift giving (luva), Her Excellency, Tiffany Babington said she was  “very glad to be supporting such important work because improving education outcomes is a high priority for New Zealand in our support for the Pacific.”  She went on to say that “NZ supports the purpose and approach of the Pacific Regional Education Research Framework – growing the Pacific’s research and evidence base to more deeply understand Pacific contexts and world views… an approach which emphasises the importance of respect for the mana of each nation.”  She reflected on the importance of cultivating quality relationships, embedding Pacific-led solutions, frameworks and approaches, and also voiced their need to grow in their own knowledge of these approaches. 

Mr. Okesene Moananu, First Secretary, NZ High Commission in the Cook Islands and Ms. Kate Bradlow, Counsellor, NZ High Commission, Solomon Islands, both spoke highly of the report and its intentions.   

In response to the gifts, the representatives of the Ministries and Departments of Education from the various islands, spoke of how pleased and honoured they were to receive the report.  CEO Steen from Tonga shared how pleased she was at seeing some of the positive impacts of TESA and was waiting to see the results of the latest PILNA, to see more of those impacts.  Ms. Danielle Tungane Cochrane (Head of Education Ministry, Cook Islands) was thankful that this project (which she had thought was an ambitious one) had brought people together, and now, she was looking forward to resolving the unresolved challenges together.  Dr. Franco Rodie  (Permanent Secretary, MEHRD, Solomon Islands) expressed his delight at this report, thanking the researchers for a job well done.  Rodie reciprocated the gift (kwatea-wela) with a traditional ornament of shell money (tafuli’ae) from Mala‘ita Province and a young coconut shoot to symbolise hope for the future. 

The report was commissioned by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and undertaken by the Institute of Education of USP, working in partnership with researchers from the University of Auckland and the Victoria University of Wellington. The research explored three school literacy and leadership projects delivered in Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and Tonga over 2015-2021. Each of the projects were funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and were implemented by a consortium involving IOE, University of Auckland and in Solomon Islands, the Fellowship of Faithful Mentors.  

Each of the projects achieved strong results in improving student literacy learning outcomes, strengthening school leadership, and enhancing school-community partnerships. The research utilised Pacific research methodologies including talanoa and tok stori, and worked collaboratively with project participants and stakeholders, to determine the key factors that contributed to project success.  

The key findings from the report are that successful literacy projects are those which emphasise: relationships of respect and reciprocity, promotion of local expertise and indigenous knowledge, use of culturally appropriate methodologies, and a focus on collective learning and legacy creation as critical factors for success. The report found that by working in these ways, the projects enabled teachers, school leaders and communities to adopt practices appropriate for their contexts and effective for increasing students’ literacy learning, and to sustain these practices beyond the end of the projects.  

The publications can be downloaded from below:

The Associate Dean Pasifika of The University of Auckland, Dr Jacoba Matapo shared a poem during the event. The title of the poem is Will you journey with us? and can be accessed from here.

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