Determinants of learning success among Pacific children aged six years in New Zealand. (2019)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineHealth Sciences
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Pacific people in New Zealand originate from the neighbouring Pacific Islands such as Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Fiji and the Cook Islands and they constitute a relatively young, diverse and fast growing ethnic minority. Pacific people’s cultural heritage is diverse and their values and adherence to traditions importantly shape their views on education, health and wellbeing. From this vibrant cultural legacy, Pacific students bring their own rich cultural and linguistic funds of knowledge to school. However, in an environment where the English language is the dominant language of instruction, disadvantages in language, literacy and school achievement levels for Pacific children have been documented in the education literature and research papers commissioned by the Ministry of Education. The scholastic disadvantages can potentially lead to detrimental consequences in Pacific children’s future education, health and career trajectories. Given the close associations between health, educational and social outcomes, it is important to consider an integrated and holistic framework when studying Pacific children’s early development. While many researchers have attempted to understand the reasons behind the educational disparity, they have often faced methodological restrictions – such as relatively non-representative samples and a limited set of variables – in conducting their investigations. Despite all good intent, without a robust evidence-base, strategies and interventions are unlikely to be efficacious. Perhaps this could, in part, explain why Pacific students, as a group, remain the most disadvantaged within New Zealand. However, there is now an unprecedented amount of information on Pacific and other ethnic children growing up in New Zealand due to the availability of large, contemporary and comprehensive datasets.
One source of comprehensive information on Pacific children growing up in New Zealand is the Pacific Islands Families (PIF) Study, a contemporary, longitudinal birth cohort study of Pacific children and their families. This doctoral study investigated the social and health determinants of Pacific children’s early learning success using data on 1,001 children from the 6-years measurement wave of the PIF Study. The following three main research objectives were investigated in this study: 1) quantitative analyses of different perceptions of Pacific children’s academic performance in the first year of school held by Pacific children, their mothers and teachers; 2) construction of a classification tree model for Pacific children’s early English language development using a measure of children’s English receptive vocabulary at age 6 years as the outcome variable; and 3) ethnic-specific analyses of Pacific children’s English receptive vocabulary. These separate studies were used to analyse the common traits of successful Pacific learners and to identify children who would benefit the most from early, targeted interventions.
Overall, the study found that Pacific children, their mothers and teachers had very different perceptions when it came to assessing children’s academic performance and that those perceptions were strongly influenced by the families’ cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The results from the subsequent prediction study highlighted the role of early cultural environment, birthweight, age-appropriate early childhood develop- ment and parenting behaviour in accurately distinguishing children with strong English receptive vocabulary at age 6 years. The ethnic-specific analyses, however, revealed that disparate factors or distinct configurations of factors may be relevant across different ethnic groups. The nationally and internationally novel findings add to the relatively scant quantitative evidence-base for cultural and ethnic diversity across Pacific children and suggest that future research be conducted in a manner that takes this heterogeneity into account. The results also indicate that Pacific children’s early language development is truly multifaceted and a framework that integrates cultural factors, physical and psychosocial health, and education may be necessary to better serve Pacific children and families. These empirical findings emphasise the importance of cultural considerations and improving home-school communication and cultural continuity for achieving optimal intervention and academic outcomes.