Nofoilo i leo Samoa - Samoan phonological awareness : a study of Samoan early literacy development and implications for effective teaching strategies.

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Aukuso, Saili

The higher aim of any school system is to ensure that children under its watch are successful in reading and writing. Parents too are committed to their children’s education, doing their part to support their children’s literacy learning while putting their faith in teachers’ ability to help realise the educational aspirations they have for their children. Samoan parents place a strong emphasis on the importance of education to the wellbeing of their children and to support intergenerational change in improving life outcomes. Yet literacy outcomes for Samoan children is an area of concern. The reported gaps in Samoan children’s early reading development (SEGRA, 2017; Pacific Community (SPC), 2021) have served to underscore the broader aim of this thesis, which is to explore facilitators of early reading success for Samoan children.

Early reading and writing success are fundamental to children’s educational achievement. (McNaughton, 2020; Law, 2015; Gillon & McNeill, 2015) with phonological awareness a critically important cognitive skills to support children’s early literacy success through efficient word decoding and spelling ability (Gillon, 2017; Swaffield, 2011). Phonological Awareness, particularly in frameworks where children’s languages and cultures are celebrated, is important to reading in English and in languages other than English (Sadeghi & Everatt, 2017; Bruck & Genesee, 1995; Aukuso, 2005). Relatively little is known about the development of phonological awareness in Samoan.

This thesis investigates the development and usefulness of a Samoan phonological awareness assessment measure to ensure children are developing an underlying cognitive skill proven critical for early reading and spelling success in alphabetic languages. The research described in this thesis explored the phonological awareness skill development of Samoan children educated within the Samoan educational context in Apia Samoa who are aged between 5 to 7 years.

A mixed methods research methodology was used to collect data from 100 student participants and 5 principal participants. An assessment measure called the Samoan Emergent Phonological Awareness (SEPA) was developed for this purpose, with additional criteria to supplement where oral comprehension was examined. A mix of indigenous and universal empirical methods were employed to facilitate data collection. The Sailiemanu

framework was adopted as my incorporated conceptual approach to interpreting the data results. The literature was selected on the basis of their essence and relevance to the topic and overall discussion.

The findings affirmed the thesis assertion that Phonological Awareness has a place in the task of promoting and developing Samoan literacy in all its domains. With the overwhelming evidence in support of its usefulness, phonological awareness can enhance teaching and learning for the Samoan learners. While the phonics system served Samoan literacy in the past, and continues to do so, it has certain limitations, particularly the fact of the primacy of sound which phonological awareness gives first priority (Gillon, 2017); and given the impact of transnational and fast-paced changes on Samoan literacy development, the need to upgrade in terms of skills is urgent and a matter of priority. The thesis supports the argument that an integration of the two - phonemic awareness and phonics - has far more potential for reading and comprehension than teaching each of them in isolation (ibid.).

The research also reaffirmed the reality of the learning environment for the Samoan learner in terms of challenges, and on the other hand, opportunities to promote best practices, approaches, and frameworks, by which such literacy skills can be utilized much more effectively, on their behalf.

Finally, this research wishes to contribute to the body of knowledge in the task of promoting and maintaining the Samoan sounds, understanding their situation in multiple contexts, and acknowledging new measures and skills for their upkeep and retention.

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