Samoan literacy needs collective approach

The project — Improving literacy outcomes for Samoan-Australian students in Logan City schools — was conducted in an area where more than 170 ethnic groups reside. The Samoan group is the largest and one of the fastest growing.

“Children must learn to operate in two different cultures — a collective culture at home and a school culture that promotes individualism,” said report author and education lecturer Dr Judith Kearney.

“Priorities are different, language is different and expectations are different. The problem for children is that schools and families are non-aligned with not much attempt at realignment.”

The first part of the project consisted of analysing Samoan children’s interactions in school with teachers and students and with families and community. The second part investigated ways of improving literacy outcomes through the professional development of teachers.

The report identified non-alignment between school and home as a major factor impeding the literacy achievement of many Samoan-Australian students.

“Schools with a large number of Samoan enrolments seem to lack the capacity and capability to support these students’ needs. Unless schools are resourced to acknowledge and build on the language experiences that children bring to classrooms we will continue to see limited literacy outcomes within Pacific Islander groups.”

“Many of these children have legitimate English as a Second Language (ESL) needs that aren’t recognised because guidelines currently observe parameters such as the time of arrival in Australia and country of origin rather than students’ language proficiency and educational need.”

The researchers found many parents who were first-generation migrants relied on memories of their own island education where school and home were separate entities.

“As a result, they are not always sure how to liaise with schools to improve learning opportunities for their children,” Dr Kearney said.

The report recommended the provision of preschool opportunities in teacher-led, play-based Early Childhood Education activities to increase school readiness.

It encouraged educational training institutions to prepare teachers to work effectively in diverse classrooms, and emphasised an urgent need for Education Queensland to respond in support of improved learning outcomes for Samoan-Australian students.

The report was funded by the Department of Education, Science and Training Literacy and Numeracy Innovative Projects Initiative.