Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyOctober 28, 2022

The gaping digital divide in Samoan language pre-schools just got narrower

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

It took a large collective effort, but finally securing five laptops has boosted teacher confidence and capacity at one West Auckland Sāmoan language pre-school. Now the goal is to do the same with aoga amata across Aotearoa.  

Sāmoan language early childhood education centres (ECEs) in West Auckland have found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years. Lupesina Aoga Amata School in Glendene has had minimal equipment such as computers for teachers since 2005 when it began as a play group in the grounds of Glendene Primary School.

The ECE started off with 20 children in attendance and, as it grew, it invited the team at Lupesina to look into a purpose-built centre. Glendene Primary School offered land for Lupesina to build their vision, which was completed in September 2010.

However, furnishing the place with a television screen and laptops was hard to tick off their list. Centre director Alovale Faaluaso says they’ve been locked out of funding channels due to the lack of digital resources. “Having less laptops available meant less time to apply for the funding as we’re juggling the demands of running an ECE on limited resources,” she says.

This struggle was heightened during the pandemic. Teachers lacking computers, both in the centres and at home, were unable to access the internet which cut them off from educational resources.

Faaluaso explained that some of the teaching staff are elderly, including her mother, aged 73, who started Lupesina. “The way the elders teach is done orally and through writing. They’re not the most tech-savvy, but they were willing to learn. We just needed the tech to help support them in that regard.”

Being bogged down with emails resulted in a wellbeing survey sent out by Healthy Families not completed. “Again, we just didn’t have time to fill out our concerns,” Faaluaso says.

Alovale Faaluaso on the right. (Photo: Supplied)

Healthy Families Waitākere noticed that not one aoga amata in West Auckland filled out the survey, so it decided to reach out to the language-based ECEs. In August 2020, they invited them to a meeting to talanoa about how they’re coping with the current pressures, what the gaps are, and what support they needed.

Pacific systems strategist Repeka George-Koteka explained that Healthy Families NZ is a large-scale initiative aiming to improve people’s health wherever they live, learn, work and play, for the prevention of chronic disease. It has bases in ten locations across the country, and the teams work collaboratively with local leaders and organisations to identify problems and design and implement changes to help people live healthier lives.

George-Koteka started with the team a year ago, but shared that the team before her heard the concerns from the Sāmoan language nests and validated their voices. “The teachers talked about systemic racism, inequality, lack of resources, [the need for] professional learning developments in the Sāmoan language,” she says.  By actually listening and viewing the issues through an indigenous lens the team were able to hear the concerns and take action, not just shake them off, she says.

In March 2021, Healthy Families Waitakere applied for funding for PC devices for Lupesina and five other aoga amata in West Auckland. Lupesina received five laptops for their ECE, which has enabled them all to share information, create teaching materials and establish relationships across the sector and community, in turn narrowing the digital divide for these unique learning environments.

This is one outcome of a larger strategy looking at how to support culturally-rich early learning environments that enhance teacher and child wellbeing. A collective of community organisations, ECEs and NGOs, have developed a Community of Care, Tāfesilafa’i, and are working through agreed pressure points to find solutions. 

Healthy Families Waitakere, Aoga Amata staff in West Auckland and SAASIA. (Photo: Supplied)

To Healthy Families Waitākere’s knowledge, this is the first Community of Care (CoC) for Sāmoan language ECEs in Aotearoa. The CoC aims to collectively develop a pedagogy and curriculum with a Sāmoan worldview. The engagement with the aoga amata was labelled phase one and the implementation of securing digital resources was the act of phase two.

Faaluaso says that towards the end of phase two, Healthy Families Waitākere were able to secure funding for a Smart TV for their centre and other aoga amata in the region received one too.

George-Koteka read a report from phase one and two and noted a confidence boost among the faiaoga (teachers) since receiving the new technology. “When you have a sense of confidence, their competence level increases and tasks become more possible.”

Next up, STEAM – a collective approach to increasing digital capacity in the Sāmoan ECE setting through developing Pacific methodologies in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. And they also want to focus on whānau engagement.

George-Koteka mentions that Sosaiete Aoga Amata Sāmoa i Aotearoa Incorporated (SAASIA) has also been asked to help deliver professional learning developments, or support for teachers, in the Sāmoan language, as that was heavily requested by the West Auckland aoga amata.

Director of SAASIA Irene Paleai-Foroti explains their purpose is to support the development of aoga amata across Aotearoa. “Through the professional development sessions, we talked about digital literacy and how to use different platforms to communicate with staff and parents and how to create resources for children, so not only were the staff getting laptops to use, they were getting training on how to utilise it efficiently,” she says.

“Seeing the Tāfesilafa’i model benefit the West Auckland aoga amata well, we’re now looking to implement it to five centres in South Auckland,” Paleai-Foroti says. “More importantly, we’re seeing the wellbeing of our faiaoga (teachers) improve since they’ve been better supported, and we want that to spread to all our teachers in Aotearoa.”

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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