Otahuhu Primary School has been a whirlwind of activity as the school celebrated Tongan Language Week with their Lalangamo’ui Tongan bilingual hub producing a cultural festival for their community on Friday. 

The dance and music festival forms part of the school’s annual recognition of the week and demonstrates the importance of Pasifika students being taught in their own language and connecting with their identity and wider communities. It also highlights  the need for more resourcing for Pasifika educators and students.   

“It was a big week for us,” Lalangamo’ui Tongan bilingual hub Team Leader Susana Nofo’akifalou says of the week, adding that one of their Year 6 students finished first equal at Auckland’s Tongan language speech competition. 

“We had a fashion show on Wednesday where our students wore traditional costumes that are used for different occasions. 

“It was important that we teach our students to value their culture, language and identity to strengthen and showcase who we are as Tongan.” 

The school’s roll is strongly Pasifika — about 60% of the 594 students are of Pasifika origin.

The Lalangamo’ui Tongan bilingual hub was established in 2004 after extensive consultation with the local community and parents. 

The response was pretty emphatic, Susana says. 

“They wanted their children to be able to speak and learn in Tongan,” she says. 

The unit has 82 children across Years 1-6. About 95% speak Tongan as their first language at home. 

Otahuhu School also has established a Tafa O Ata Samoan bilingual hub and Te Whanau Tutakitanga Māori bilingual hub, both of which are considered critical for the education of Pasifika and Māori tamariki. 

Last year’s independent Pūaotanga report on school staffing highlighted the fact Pasifika and Māori students thrive when they have access to their culture and language. 

It also recognsied the need more Pasifika language teachers, greater professional development and release time for Pasifika teachers and more cultural awareness training for non-Pasifika educators.  

The findings formed the basis for the Wāwāhi Tahā | Time 4 Tamariki and Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future campaigns, and will feature in discussions NZEI Te Riu Roa members will have with community and political parties in the run up to next year’s election. 

Otahuhu Primary’s acting principal Meritiana MacShane says it is essential that more Pasifika teachers are attracted to the profession and that more resourcing is put in place to ensure students reach their potential. 

“(More Pasifika teachers) are absolutely essential for the next generation to thrive,” she says. “Auckland’s population is growing and our diversity is predominantly Pasifika. 

“We, as educators need to be alert and mindful of the development of our learners and it’s vital that we take the time to look through a Pasifika lens with how they achieve. 

“I’m excited as a future principal at that diversity and what it looks like.” 

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