Culturally sensitive teachers in the educational context are highly integral to the performance of young children and students, most importantly Pasifika students. From my experience as a Pasifika student, I feel that discussion about culturally sensitive teachers and those who have ‘deficit’ or stereotypical views of Pasifika students have not been prominent in the academic literature, but that the issue of teachers’ perceptions is crucial in the education of Pasifika students. Therefore, the issues I will focus on in this paper are teachers’ ‘deficit’ views and how they affect education progression, students’ mental, physical and emotional well-being, and how detrimental ‘deficit’ views can be on Pasifika individuals’ education.
A teacher is the source of knowledge; students long for knowledge and education from teachers. A teacher ensures all individuals feel secure and safe in the educational environment. All these qualities of a teacher need to be fulfilled to realise a ‘quality education’ for children. The important question is, ‘Are we as educators or teachers fulfilling these needs or aims or even providing each individual with the best education possible?’ Another crucial question is, ‘Are we really culturally sensitive teachers? ‘Growing up in a very diverse and multicultural environment, I have come across a variety of teachers and educators, some carrying a strong passion to provide children with the necessities for a successful future and some who have a passion in the subject they teach and in sharing their knowledge. However, the forgotten question for many teachers is, “Do we really know our students or children? Is it just stereotypical information we see and are we adding our own assumptions?” In my view, culturally sensitive teachers are important because of my personal experience, and more importantly for Pasifika students and Pasifika education in general.
Dilg (2003) has introduced a variety of quality research topics in her book, which I believe is a source that can be used to empower ‘Pasifika education’.
Dilg (2003) has stressed the oblivious environment to be so troubled towards students in education which could also affect education for all. In this case, teacher acts versus student. Dilg (2003) has shown how naming or labelling is an example of how a ‘deficit’ view in a multicultural environment can instantly affect the psychological identity or culture of an individual. Dilg (2003) has written about the ‘quality value’ of significant histories and the history that cultures possess; she stresses the influence this cultural aspect has on today’s classroom learning. This author has also described the challenge for students to be challenging, and has outlined how ‘being oneself’ changes into ‘becoming someone else’. She has explored the power of skin speaking louder nationwide, rather than the power of ‘who I am’, using the example of ‘the influence of Whites’ against ‘persons of colour’ as an indication of just how hegemonic Pasifika people have become Dilg (2003).
In the most critical argument, Dilg (2003) has indicated clearly through her writing that emerging racial identities and cultural values of others should be integrated into self and teaching practice. If integration becomes a more prominent practice or significant value, it will be helpful to educators and students or children in growing to understand who they are; moreover, such integration will keep the value of respect in place. In its critical statements, arguments and views, I feel that Dilg’s (2003) work has demonstrated links to show just how much the environment, teachers and even students can be influenced by ‘deficit’ views. When we, as educators, allow our pedagogy to be radically changed by our recognition of a multicultural world, we can give students the education they desire and deserve. We can teach in ways that transform consciousness, creating a climate of free expression that is the essence of a truly liberatory liberal arts education. (Gibbs, 2006, p. 180)
The concept Gibbs (2006) introduced is called “the culturally responsive teacher”. Gibbs (2006) has annotated the importance of ‘culturally responsive teachers’ in enabling a ‘culturally responsive environment’ for students and young children in the educational context. In this book, Gibbs (2006) has emphasised the view that a teacher who has a deep sense of connectedness with their own philosophies and attitudes, and who has an understanding of themselves and a deep sense of connectedness with and respect for the cultural beliefs and values of another (student or young child), has the attributes of being a culturally responsive teacher with a clear understanding of the wider context.
This expression of quality has been highly demanded by Gibbs (2006) as an ethical educational deliverable that opens an environment where one feels included. The influence of this teaching pedagogy in Gibbs’ (2006) work shows that teachers who take action to see students in their own individual, will reflects towards students’ achievements; nevertheless, such pedagogy opens a space where students can grow to know themselves and can be more passionate about their education. Gibbs (2006) has examined the impacts that immigrants have had in New Zealand. In recent times, research has shown the ‘high level’ of ‘multiple acculturation’ that is occurring. Such influence has been visible in the educational context, where students or children are adapting or merging into the cultural traits or social/educational patterns of their educator; this merging may be caused through the dis-acknowledgment of oneself or the obliviousness associated with a belief that there is just one way of doing things (‘their’ way), by means following the hegemonic views.
Critically, Gibbs (2006) has pointed out that children or students will feel less confident about themselves and will suffer a quality decrease in their academic and social environments if educators are not culturally sensitive. In saying this, Gibbs (2006) has emphasised that it is how we believe that is important, not what we should believe. I believe that ‘deficit’ views — cultural superiority and inferiority and undervaluing the uniqueness of cultures (Gibbs, 2006) — is a current issue that is compelling in Pasifika education. Gibbs (2006) has clearly highlighted the effect a teacher has on an individual and therefore his work is central to my research.
As we have come to understand, Pasifika students have unique beliefs and values as well as cultural practices, which differ from the values of Western society ‘Pākehā’ or ‘Palangi’, as White people are called. In this work, Coxon et al. (2002) have looked into Pasifika education in a wider context, including early childhood education (ECE), primary, secondary and tertiary education, and have raised issues about the ‘affecting’ of students and the effects strategies can have on reviving education for Pasifika students. In all these areas, Coxon et al. (2002) considered presentation of self as important. Such value setting was illustrated by the authors as a quality response a teacher may have
Coxon et al. have established that individualistic learning is occurring in schools but that such focus amongst Pasifika students is difficult, let alone the ability to acquire any sort of learning. The work of Coxon et al. (2002) shows the need for teachers to be open–minded about Pasifika students; an example of open-mindedness can be found in the authors’ belief that communal learning is a cooperative learning strategy that can be used for young Pasifika children (Coxon et al., 2002). Assumptions have been clearly illustrated as a ‘deficit’ view; academic literature (Coxon et al., 2002) has informed the discussion about how assumptions can destroy student willingness to learn or explore. Therefore, there is a pressing need for educators to be affirming and understanding of the Pasifika culture, for it is a defining aspect of the Pasifika student, and understanding of culture can bridge gaps that are provident in Pasifika education.
In this work, May (2002) has shown that maintenance of cultural identity for Pasifika people, having high expectations of Pasifika children and ensuring supportive educational structures will allow them to feel requisite in who they are, given that success in education has been proven. This work (May, 2002) has also shown progress being made through educators being culturally responsive and culturally sensitive; the issue of cultural identity is being raised and has been taken into consideration by May (2002).
In contrast to the previous three sources I have reviewed, May (2002) has remarked on challenges and barriers in education predominately experienced by Pasifika students. In his view, May (2002) believes that the educational approaches towards students who are English as a second language speakers, in this case Pasifika students, have compounded the language problem, and that these second language speakers are not given the justice of a quality education. This ongoing issue has arisen because educational “approaches have tended to adopt a subtractive rather than additive view of bilingualism” (May, 2002, p. 7). May (2002) has stated that second language speakers are pushed or forced to become like first language speakers, or more specifically, are forced to act as ‘Westerners’. In his work, May (2002) has researched literacy and why it is difficult for Pasifika second language speakers to acquire English. He has divined that the effects are carried over in a multicultural environment because rejection comes with the language hierarchy — English and Māori being dominant in the educational context.
May (2002) extracts from the hierarchical issue the importance of having a dominant or national culture (Māori and Pākehā), but also notes the importance of negotiating with other cultures and growing mutual relationships with them. Educational practices based on this concept have been defined by May (2002) as a progressive strategy that can be seen in Pasifika educational research. However, studies taken by May (2002) Dhave shown a huge loss of cultural identity and language of individuals due to acculturation or educational practices, whether those losses may be in terms of the curriculum, philosophy or teaching values a teacher follows. May (2002) expands on such issues, calling for a recovery of children and people’s rights in quality education. I have taken May’s (2002) work into account, because he demonstrates that children are in need of quality education and that it is a central issue for Pasifika second language speakers, especially Pasifika students.
Pasifika education has many positives, but also many negatives. Pasifika students carry values and beliefs, culture and language that are all components of who they are today. Education for Pasifika is complex and difficult to attain in a way that allows harmony of values and expansion in one’s values. The inadequacy of bordering culture in terms of eccentricity is one’s cultural characteristics is pretentious through dynamics of “race, religion, age, economic status, geographic location, gender, sexual orientation, language and political affiliation” (Smith, 2007, p. 23). This inadequacy has been evident throughout my upbringing, as I have experienced a bicultural educational environment.
Bicultural education is defined as “equal partnerships between groups that values and supports cultural diversity” (Sullivan, 1994, p. 195). Though my experience, this definition of biculturalism has not been evident enough, to an extent where there are equal partnerships or values placed on educating Pasifika students. Celebrations and labels of Pasifika cultures were included in classroom practices; however, I felt the inclusions were not part of an environment of equality (Sullivan, 1994). Culture is not a ‘word here and there’: neither is it a label. Culture is important, and therefore, is an everyday ‘lived’ aspect. Another issue is the label educators or teachers give individuals they see as ‘Pasifika’, rather than seeing an individual who has a mass of achievements or potential. The racially equal view is to see each individual as carrying the same characteristics, which is effective in accelerating an individual’s achievement or progression. As Callister (2011, p. 10) has stated, students “[are] not convinced about this form of resource biculturalism … they consider [biculturalism] fair, [when it is] based on performance not on ethnicity”.
All Pasifika students want a fair education, an education that embraces who they are and what values they hold. New Zealand is a multi–ethnic society, as Sullivan (1994) recognises, so multi–ethnic that “children are expected to give up their ethnicity, their culture and their language and to take on characteristics of the dominant culture”, which is the ‘Pākehā’ culture. Pasifika students like me have not been able to embrace their identity; moreover, Pasifika students have not been able to assimilate the ‘strands’ of who they are. Rather, Pasifika students are caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy syndrome, as Sullivan (1994) calls the situation.
The lack of cultural equality places demands on Pasifika students, because they are forced to support the hegemonic structure of society and the educational system, and must accept the fact that they are ‘low-stream’ students (Sullivan, 1994). In addition, educators and teachers are tied to a standard and structured curriculum or philosophy. The questions arising from this predicament are, “Are Pasifika students benefiting from this? Is changing a person and their identity the possible entry fee to New Zealand society? Are teachers looking at the individual students and including their needs? What is important to teachers?” Similar questions have been raised by many researchers and many authors, such as Dilg (2003), who has raised these questions in a context of other countries. Dilg (2003) has raised that issue that as “teacher[s] we need to be sensitive about the issues as it relates to our relationships with students and as it affects the way students relate to each other” (Dilg, 2003, p. 71).
In my experience, I was never motivated or dedicated in a classroom that barely recognised my values and aspirations in life. Being a Pasifika student meant I was not offered any sort of communication or relationship that others (Palangi) had with their teachers, and no relationship could be formed with any Palangi student. Colour of skin became an encountered obstacle that made Pasifika students feel worthless. Such ‘deficit’ views captured me emotionally, mentally and physically. The word ‘Pasifika’ was used to define a particular individual who was brown or who had a difficult name; the use of this terminology or label in the eyes of the teachers meant they saw each student who was ‘Pasifika’ as a ‘low–stream student’ or a low achiever — a label that was in the minds of teachers. Evidence of this type of labelling has been offered by Dilg (2003, p. 75), when she stated, “Students using energy to fend off the slings of prejudice have less energy to devote their studies”. There is a need for educators to “be aware of the considerable diversity amongst people from different island nations, and to be cautious about generalisations, as we have endeavoured to be” (Ferguson, Gorinski, Samu & Mara, 2008, p. 6).
In relation to such issues, Dilg (2003) has stated, “Labels of identification are powerful”, which is true. Thus, culturally sensitive teachers are able to realise that labels affect the educational achievement of an individual, and can “strain and damage relationships and communication” between teachers and their students (Dilg, 2003, p. 71). However, the complexity lies in the school curriculum and philosophy. Teachers are powered by the principles and aims that are written by higher educators. By all means, teachers and the education board must strive to take in consideration the idea of inaugurating a macroclimate of respect and responding to the individual’s values, in an environment where a student can develop their sense of self and realise progressive achievements in education. Educational inequality is a barrier that I believe needs to be worked on to enable Pasifika students to fulfil their dreams and be in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging (Ministry of Education [MOE], 1996).
The second author I selected for the annotated bibliography, Gibbs (2006), has given meaning to the issues. As previously discussed, I believe that such issues can be resolved or fixed upon with ‘culturally sensitive teachers’. Pasifika individuals grow with their culture: “Culture is a way of life, of a discrete group, which includes language, a body of accumulated knowledge, skills, beliefs and values” (Ferguson et al., 2008, p. 7). Culture, as I stated earlier, is a weaving of the strands of an individual, which shapes the behaviour, attitudes and the way an individual is in the current society, a golden foundation of Pasifika people. Teachers tend to forget the value of others and tend to focus on what the teacher as the ‘higher achiever’ can ‘show’ the younger audience. For me personally, is it not the ‘show’ that opens the filter in Pasifika education; it is all about having respect for an individual, and getting to know an individual and their world. In other words, as culturally competent teachers, value must be placed on the “importance of teachers knowing themselves, what they believe, and how they act, so that they may then work more effectively with their students” (Gibbs, 2006, p. 191).
Culturally responsive teachers, therefore, must be consumers of acknowledging the “interpsychological and intrapsychological dynamics which are central in their students” (Gibbs, 2006, p. 183). Actions, however, start within; culturally sensitive individuals will follow quality education and will develop a socio-cultural consciousness of the environment around them and their students. The influences of these actions will not “support institutionalised discrimination to maintain a privileged society based on social class and skin colour” (National Center for Culturally Responsive Education Systems [NCCREST], 2006, p. 5). Knowing a student and building a relationship with them can make a difference in one’s views and can develop a deeper understanding of why students are the way they are. For example, as a Tongan student, I have grown through a silent stage in life, which can be considered an ‘issue’ or an assumption that a particular child is not filtering any information. However, teachers in today’s educational context may not know that silence, “[implies] quite different things in different cultures or circumstances, for example, respect or disrespect, agreement or disagreement” (MOE, 2013, p. 12). The implications of having culturally responsive and sensitive teachers, therefore, are important in Pasifika education. The consequences of a teacher not building relationships and growing a comprehensive understanding of Pasifika students can affect “how they will behave or respond in certain situations … these assumptions can have a direct effect on Pasifika students educational achievement” (MOE, 2013, p. 12).
The consequence of having teachers who are not culturally responsive and sensitive is current, though there are some teachers who are culturally responsive. Nevertheless, as has been manifested by Pasifika students’ results, “One reason for this achievement gap is low expectation of Pasifika students” (MOE, 2014, p. 27). The pressing need of Pasifika students has been met by McAuley High School, where Pasifika students have stated that they are given full support to “aim higher no matter what [we’re] good at… The school and our coach have supported us and given us the resources to accept the challenge and we have gained a lot of confidence doing this work” (MOE, 2014, p. 27). Students have been absorbed into an environment where teachers are building resources and frameworks that are about their students, and furthermore, are translating resources for parents and their students. This initiative has been evident in research where National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) results showed “95% passing rate for Level 1 and 91% for Level 2 and Level 3” (MOE, 2014, p. 27), where in other Pasifika–populated schools, there were fewer achievements occurring.
In referring to culturally sensitive and responsive teachers, the curriculum, philosophy and teaching pedagogy teachers transfer into education is correspondingly a process that teachers need to encounter. In early childhood education, there is an issue with the Akoteu and Aoga Amata language nest schools, where the bicultural curriculum document used in their environment, Te Whāriki, is difficult to use, for it is required of teachers to not only follow the written philosophy but also to endeavour to enrich Te Reo and English. Thus, the huge loss of movement in sustaining such cultural values and language, which is problematic and challenging, was best expressed by Tagoilelagi-Leota, Kesi, Tagoilelagi, Penn & Autagavaia (2013, p. 163): “Matalalanga needs land that will grow the best flax for weaving.” Gibbs (2006) states, “[Culturally responsive] teachers [should] appraise the curriculum and encourage their students to do likewise”. Such an undertaking is very difficult with the curriculum of Te Whāriki, for the Pasifika culture can’t be expressed through this curriculum to its best value. In future educational curriculum development, educators have the opportunity to create and form a sustainable curriculum that is for Tongans and Samoans, and other national ethnicities in New Zealand, to found a solid grounding for Pasifika students’ culture, for it is needed to provide the ‘best land and flax for weaving’ (Tagoilelagi-Leota et al., 2013, p. 163).
Regardless, for culturally responsive and sensitive teachers in early childhood centres, growing with Pasifika children will be undertaken by “providing [a] more equitable society … schools are expected to reflect the character of their communities in their policies and procedures, systems and programme by creating inclusive schools that reflect this community character” (Whyte, 2008). Pasifika parents and their children desire for their language to be sustained alongside the school curriculum, therefore maintaining the voices of their parents and communities, which will in future allow successful achievement and progress in young Pasifika children (Fletcher, Parkhill, Fa’afoi, Taleni & O’Regan, 2009).
In conclusion, culturally responsive and sensitive teachers are effective and important for students, especially those who are under the ‘Pasifika’ label. Culturally sensitive and responsive teachers can determine that Pasifika education revolves around the Pasifika student’s world and their aspirations, which will help them to feel accepted for their qualities, cultural identity and values. Culturally sensitive teachers can grow deep understandings of their students for a successful outcome and foundation in Pasifika education, removing assumptions, discrimination and force towards assimilation in the current context, because forcing students from cultures, especially Pasifika, to assimilate into Pakeha- Maori educational model will result in disaster.