Conference of Pacific Education Ministers - Keynote Address


E nga mana, e nga iwi, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou kātoa.

Warm Pacific greetings to all. It is an honour to host the inaugural Conference of Pacific Education Ministers here in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Aotearoa is delighted to be hosting you all. This is a significant moment in our history, for us to gather and meet face-to-face - or in te reo Māori, hui kanohi ki te kanohi – to learn from each other and reinforce our shared social, cultural, and historical links.

Although this is the first conference, I am aware that this group has a deep-rooted history, dating back to the first Forum Education Ministers Meeting in May 2001 – again right here in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Since then, I understand you have met 12 times; the last being a virtual meet in April 2021.

Before I go further, I want to pay special tribute to the University of the South Pacific for their leadership for this conference and for the implementation and progress on the Pacific Regional Education Framework.

,I know that, standing here before you, in my first international engagement as Aotearoa Minister of Education that I have a lot of work to do. But I will do it alongside all of you here today.

Before I continue, I would like to share a bit about myself and my journey to where I am today.

Prior to entering Parliament, I spent over 20 years as a primary school principal. My last position was as a principal at Merivale School, one of Tauranga’s most financially disadvantaged schools. That school is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from where we are.

Merivale was having some issues when I started there. Some teachers were worried and unable to help their learners participate in their learning. Together we knew we had to get our community engaged so, as principal, I hosted a series of community meetings in the homes of parents and whānau.

I said at those meetings I am the learner here and I want them to tell me what it is they want for their school. And it is through these conversations with the learners and their parents, our iwi and hapū, and the wider community, we were able to identify the issues and work together to address them.

And over time, whānau and family engagement began increasing, which then helped turned things around for the better.

This is very much my approach to this meeting. With my ‘learner hat’ on, I am looking forward to a constructive dialogue guided by the principles of collaboration, reciprocity and respectful exchange of perspectives and ideas on education issues and challenges we all face, as well as look to the opportunities.

I think we can agree that we all want the same things; to improve learner outcomes and wellbeing, strengthen our institutions, and maximise our shared resources.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s experiences in how we are addressing some of our challenges.

Prior to the pandemic, our education system was undergoing a transformation to deliver equitable outcomes for all learners.

Our journey began with Kōrero Mātauranga in 2018. This was a nationwide conversation with educators, learners, parents and whānau, Māori and Pacific communities, disabled people, business groups, and many others on what the pressing issues were in the education system that prevent our children and young people from succeeding.

They told us that to support learner success, we must transform towards an equitable and inclusive education system that recognises the language, culture, and identity of every learner, and one that fosters powerful connections with families and communities in supporting learning of our children and young people.

To enable this, we needed to address these issues from different system levels – from policy, engagement, and implementation, down to the cultural capabilities of every individual involved in supporting all learners in our education system.

We began by reframing our legislative and policy settings.

In 2020 we passed the new Education and Training Act, which provides a legislative framework to support the transformational changes we intend to make to enable an education system that supports learner health, safety, and wellbeing, assures the quality of the education, and enacts Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

To support this act, we developed the Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities and updated the Tertiary Education Strategy, which direct government, early learning, schooling, and tertiary sector activities towards the actions that will make the biggest difference for all learners.

These priorities also guide the government’s wider education work programme to reshape our education system, which includes the Action Plan for Pacific Education 2020-2030.

Action Plan for Pacific Education Aotearoa has a growing, diverse Pacific population. It is predicted that the proportion of Pacific children and young people will reach nearly 20 percent of the learner population by 2030.

With this comes many opportunities for the cultural and social growth of Aotearoa in the future.

Education is key to realising the benefits from these opportunities. It provides strong foundations for life-long learning and enables our young people to contribute strongly to society.

Currently, we have around 70 Pacific bilingual and immersion early learning services and around 35 schools offering Pacific bilingual and immersion education. And while our education system has come a long way, with Māori and Pacific learners showing the greatest achievement gains over the last decade, they are still experiencing significant disparities in the education.

The Action Plan for Pacific Education maps the Government’s commitment to transforming outcomes for Pacific learners and families and signals how early learning services, schools and tertiary providers can achieve change for Pacific learners and their families.

It sets a vision for Pacific education and five key system shifts to achieve this vision and includes Government actions to achieve them.

Collaboration and partnership are built in the various streams of work underway as part of the Plan, with feedback from schools, education leaders, Pacific families, churches, and community groups being a key part of its implementation.

Tapping into collective knowledge and building on what is working well for Pacific communities is key to ensuring that our system is delivering for all Pacific learners.

I am humbled to have the responsibility to oversee the Action Plan’s progress under this Government. I intend to refresh the Action Plan this year to include the next set of Government actions to work towards the key shifts in the Action Plan and to further signal our commitment to Pacific languages in education.

 As the world of work continues to evolve and digital technologies more ingrained in our ways of living, it is critical for our education system to be able to keep up with the pace of change so all learners are equipped with the right skills to succeed in their chosen endeavours.

We know that learners learn best when their languages, cultural capital, cultural intelligence, and identity are respected, supported, and celebrated in our education system.

And so, as part of our education work programme, we are refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum and redesigning Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for Māori medium education to ensure all learners, experience rich and responsive learning.

First off for our curriculum work was Te Takanga o Te Wā and Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories curriculum content, which is being implemented across all schools and kura from this year. In Aotearoa, our schools and kura have the autonomy to design their own local curriculum, guided by the national curriculum, which meets the needs of their learners and reflects the histories of their community.

This allows the community, including the holders of Pacific knowledge, to share their stories with schools.

We want learners to understand that people have different experiences and perspectives, and that recognising and drawing on this diversity helps them thrive as community members and citizens.

We are also reviewing our secondary schooling qualifications to make them more inclusive and to incorporate indigenous knowledge, contexts, and worldviews into the design of teaching and learning materials.

For Pacific learners, two new Pacific language subjects have been introduced at senior secondary level – Vagahau Niue and Gagana Tokelau, which will be available alongside Gagana Sāmoa, Lea Faka-Tonga and Te Reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani.

The introduction of these new high school subjects aligns to the Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ Pacific Languages Strategy.

This identifies Vagahau Niue, and Gagana Tokelau as endangered languages.

So, it is important that they are revitalised for Pacific learners in Aotearoa and in Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

We are also developing Pacific Studies as a social science subject to provide further opportunities for learners to directly engage with and study Pacific contexts and knowledges.

These new subjects will be developed, piloted, and implemented over the next three years.

As mentioned, one of our key priorities is to ensure that places of learning are inclusive and free from discrimination and racism.

We are addressing this by building cultural capability within the teaching workforce – supporting them to gain more knowledge and understanding of the diverse cultures and experiences of our learners, their families, and the communities they’re part of. For our Pacific learners, one of the initiatives we have is Tapasā.

This is a teaching framework to help non-Pacific teachers and leaders in early learning services and schools to be more confident when engaging with their Pacific learners and supporting their learning.

We are delivering the Tapasā professional development programme to up to 1,000 teachers and leaders across Aotearoa between 2022-2024.

Along with Tapasā is Tautai o le Moana, a leadership PLD for principals of Pacific learners that aims to strengthen their leadership capabilities, to improve outcomes and support the wellbeing of Pacific learners, and to contribute to culturally sustainable practices across Aotearoa New Zealand.

 Feedback from the conversations we have had across Aotearoa highlighted the importance of partnering with the families to support their children’s learning.

We know that Pacific and Māori learners do not only carry their own hopes and dreams. They also represent their families and whānau, their ancestors, and the communities they are part of.

For our Pacific parents, we are collaborating with schools, community providers and churches to deliver Talanoa Ako sessions to help them gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to champion their children’s education.

Insights and learnings from these talanoa sessions have helped refine how we work with and support Pacific learners, their parents, and communities. The “Talanoa Ako: Pacific talk about Education and Learning” resources, which complement Tapasā, help educators reflect on their engagement practices and understand what ‘culturally safe spaces’ look and feel like for Pacific communities.

We have also begun trialling a programme called Tu’u Malohi. This is a Pacific communityled approach to strengthening Pacific wellbeing for young people and their families. It provides opportunities through talanoa to unpack their identity, values, language, and a safe space for participants to have courageous conversations around racism and find ways to safely navigate that.

Teachers can hear the lived experiences of the participants and are invited and supported to engage in a critical reflection of their practice and design of their learning spaces and curriculum material.

Other anti-racism initiatives Following the positive feedback we received for Tu’u Malohi, we are piloting a programme called Fakailoga Tino – Our living room. This programme supports educators to develop and deepen their knowledge of racism, as experienced by Pacific people.

One of its key outcomes is for educators to have the ability to identify, address and respond to racism within their school and community.

In my role as Minister of Child Poverty Reduction, I oversee the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy which includes a priority to address racism, discrimination, and stigma.

The Ministry of Justice is implementing this through the development of a National Action Plan Against Racism, with an emphasis on the education system in the first instance.

The Ministry of Education is also leading several initiatives to promote social cohesion and address racism, discrimination, and stigma.

This includes the curriculum refresh to better the reflect the diversity of Aotearoa New Zealand, PLD to strengthen teacher cultural capability, the Bullying Free NZ programme and Positive Behaviour for Learning School Wide, and the ongoing response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch.

Throughout this conference I have paid tribute to Honourable Aupito William Sio.

Many of you will know that, growing up in Aotearoa in the 1970s, his family were targeted in what we know as the Dawn Raids.

These Raids where one of the most shameful and discriminatory episodes in Aotearoa’s late 20th century history.

They involved the systematic and brutal racist profiling of Pacific peoples, and Māori as well, as supposed overstayers.

I know that one of Hon Aupito Sio proudest moments as a politician was when he stood with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in August 2021, when she delivered a formal apology to all Pacific communities impacted by these raids.

As part of that apology then- Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister Sio were able to announce: 

- $2.1 million in academic and vocational scholarships for Pacific communities, known as the Tulī Takes Flight scholarships 

- $2.1 million in Manaaki New Zealand Short Term Trading Scholarship Training Courses for delegates from Sāmoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Fiji and, 

- Resources to schools and kura to teach about the Dawn Raids, as part of our new Aotearoa/New Zealand Histories Curriculum, including the histories of these directly affected.

This history will keep the memory of these Raids alive as an example that the impacts of racism and discrimination can have on peoples. But also, as an example of how Pacific peoples fought back, often at considerable cost but with great dignity, to build a more inclusive and tolerant Aotearoa in which they have a proud and rightful place.

Recently, thousands of Pacific peoples, as well as Māori and Pākeha, gathered for the hugely successful Polyfest here in Tāmaki Makaurau. We have a way to go to end racism and discrimination in Aotearoa.

But that gathering, along with the inclusion of the Dawn Raids in our curriculum, are welcome signs of how far we have come since those bleak times.

Supporting Pacific learners during COVID 19 We are also supporting communities as they recover from the impact of the pandemic.

COVID has affected learning and wellbeing of our children and part of our priorities is to reengage and support them as they catch-up to their learning.

For Pacific learners, the Government has set up the Pacific Education and Innovation Funds. These enable early learning services, schools, tertiary providers, community organisations and Pacific providers to support new ways to encourage Pacific learners and their families to stay engaged in education.

We have several local-led practices and initiatives that are successful and working well for Pacific communities.

These funds recognise the important work already happening in our regions and what this will do is provide them additional resourcing to continue their work, or even scale up to assist more learners and their families.

So far, the Ministry of Education have awarded funding to a total of 340 contracts across Aotearoa. Initiatives supported include: 

- The Tongan Bilingual Early Years project that ran in three primary schools – Sutton Park, Otahuhu and Favona. The Lea Faka Tonga project aimed to improve the learning experience of Tongan year 1 and 2 learners and to support them on their journey to becoming bilingual and biliterate. It also provided professional development for Tongan bilingual teachers and opportunities to network and support each other.

-  The New Zealand Kiribati National Council’s “Attendance and Wellbeing Project”, which supported 60 learners and their families in South Auckland to stay engaged with their education. 

- The Pacific Support project at Palmerston North Boys High School, which involved a dedicated Pacific mentor and increased support from the teachers to build trusting relationships with Pacific learners through a cultural perspective. They worked with the learners and their families to discuss plans for success and work with them to achieve this. This includes supporting them to get involved in co-curricular activities and work opportunities.

This year, along with funding for new projects, this programme will also focus on expanding current projects to address gaps where needed.

In September 2022, we also announced a range of supports to help learners in Years 7 to 13 and, in particular Pacific and Māori learners, to catch up on learning disrupted by COVID-19.

This included more support for Pacific and Māori secondary learners. It also provided additional teaching and tutoring support to help ākonga whose learning has been disrupted by COVID-19.

 A critical factor determining the success of our education system is whether all New Zealanders are set up with the skills, knowledge, and pathways to succeed in their chosen careers.

Right now, we have more than half a million learners engaged in tertiary education and training. This is why our education programmes are focused on enabling more streamlined pathways from early learning through schooling and on to tertiary and lifelong learning, recognising that learners change and grow as they move through their education.

This means our systems need to be adaptable, so learners have the supports and opportunities available, whatever their age or stage of learning.

Part of this work is to strengthen schooling pathways to further education and employment. This includes improving career guidance and support for learners and their parents and making stronger connections with tertiary providers and employers to open work experiences opportunities.

We are also reforming our vocational education system to better align schooling and tertiary qualifications and pathways with the skill needs of employers.

This includes the introduction of the Prime Minister’s Vocational Excellence Award in 2019 to help elevate the status of vocational careers and provide learners with some financial support to help with their training after school. Cook Islands and Niue have been included in this from 2022.

To support all our tertiary learners with their study or training, there are several initiatives currently available.

One of them is Fees Free for first-time tertiary learners. It covers one year’s study or two years’ training, paid directly to the learner’s tertiary education organisation.

Additionally, for Pacific learners, who make up about 10% of our tertiary learner population, the government announced the annual Tulī Takes Flight Scholarships in 2021 as part of the reconciliation to accompany the Government’s apology to Pacific families and communities impacted by the Dawn Raids. Up to 15 scholarships are awarded annually to Pacific learners who are taking up further study or training towards certificates or diplomas, degrees, and post-graduate study.

As part of government support during the COVID recovery period, we also introduced the Apprenticeship Boost to help employers keep and take on new apprentices.

Since its establishment in 2020, more than 55,000 apprentices have been able to continue learning the trade while working on the job during the pandemic.

 Climate change and sustainability are also front and centre for our government and I am sure all of you will agree that it is one of the biggest challenges currently facing our planet, particularly for us in the Pacific.

The recent devastation in Tāmaki Makaurau, Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti due to Cyclone Gabrielle and unprecedented flooding events have been a wakeup call for most New Zealanders, albeit a belated one.

I realise that these weather events are well-known to many of you, and I want to particularly acknowledge our colleagues from Vanuatu, who are now dealing with the aftermath of both Cyclone Judy and Cyclone Kevin. It is proof how big of a threat climate change is, not just to our economy, but to the lives, present and futures of people, especially our younger generation.

Awareness of climate change, the environment, and our place in it are all important themes that can now be explored through our existing national curriculum. There are already a range of resources that are available to our schools to support learning and actions to address climate change.

We hope that this will increase learner awareness of, and participation in, local, national, and global climate change issues in the next decade.

That said, the recent School Strike for Climate in Aotearoa shows that our young people are way ahead of us adults when it comes to this issue.

The Ministry is focusing on how it can support schools to make changes. Aside from incorporating climate change and sustainability in teaching and learning, the Ministry of Education is also reviewing its school infrastructure.

Our schools make up a big part of the government’s property portfolio and will play an important role in the transition to public sector carbon neutrality by 2025.

For example, in May last year, we announced that we were replacing coal fired heating sources in New Zealand schools with electric or woody biomass to make it more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.

You sadly, know much more about this than we do. And, of course, you have been advocating action much earlier than we have.

On climate change, we have much to learn from you. But you can be assured that we, as a government will continue to support you as together, we advocate for more action on climate change.

I look forward to discussing with you how we can make all our education systems more resilient as, unfortunately, this crisis will worsen before it gets any better.

This is just a snapshot of the many pieces of work happening in our education system to support all learners to succeed in their education.

We can see progress in many of them. But it is far from perfect or complete. We still have a long way to go.

Our own education system will continue to evolve and be refined based on ongoing feedback from learners, the education sector, parents, iwi, communities, and our partners.

As mentioned, I come to this gathering with humility and as a learner, I look forward to a robust Talanoa about the education issues that are front and centre for our nations and hear your experiences and learning from your work programmes as well as your advice as to what we can do better to support all learners, both here and in your own countries.

I am so pleased that you will have some school and tertiary campus visits as part of this conference. I am sure this will be a great experience for our learners, teachers, and education staff as well as for you, as you get a glimpse of the teaching and learning experience across Aotearoa.

Thank you for listening. I and my officials are happy to answer any questions you may have about the Pacific education experience in Aotearoa, or on our education system in general.

I wish you all the best for the conference. And with that, I formally open the floor for my Ministerial colleagues for their statements and observations.