Pacific students making big gains

IAIN SCOTT
Last updated 12:00 30/05/2014

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Pacific people in Manawatu fare better than their Auckland counterparts, who have higher levels of unemployment and other social challenges, a community leader says.

In addition, he could see changes in thinking emerging as the younger New Zealand-born generation started adopting the values and attitudes of European New Zealanders in areas such as education, Samoan Methodist Church minister Tagiilima Lavilavi said.

A Salvation Army report on the state of Pacific people in New Zealand, This is Home, indicates the Pacific unemployment rate in New Zealand was 13 per cent in March, more than twice the overall unemployment rate of 6.2 per cent. Pacific unemployment peaked at 16 per cent during 2012 after reaching 13 per cent in 2008.

It also showed the number of Pacific people who owned or partly owned their house rose marginally between 2001 and last year, from 33,411 to 34,350.

However, the number of those who did not own their house rose from 95,239 to 151,761.

Among the positive developments, the proportion of year 11 Pacific students passing NCEA level 1 qualifications rose from 48 per cent in 2008 to 63 per cent in 2012, while the proportion of year 12 students gaining level 2 improved from 54 per cent to 69 per cent.

The proportion of year 13 Pacific students gaining university entrance rose from 41 per cent in 2008 to 60 per cent in 2012.

Lavilavi said language had always been the Pacific community's main barrier to education and employment.

"They've got the brains. It's just the language," he said.

However, having worked in Auckland for several years before coming to Palmerston North in 2011, he said Samoans were doing better in Manawatu than they did in the north.

Among other things, he did not think Pacific unemployment was as significant in Manawatu as it was in Auckland.

"But most of them are working in labour, hard-working jobs."

However, he said there was a big change in attitudes towards education, driven by a younger generation adopting the values of European New Zealanders.

"These kids today, I can see from them there's a big change. They are trying to push forward and raise the level of education."

The report also noted that criminal offending in the Pacific community was down, enrolment in early childhood education was up, and Pacific people appeared to have lower rates of take-up of income support payments than other New Zealanders.

The report acknowledges that only about a third of Pacific people in New Zealand live outside Auckland.

It also said there had been minor increases in flows of Pacific people into the Marlborough, Tasman and Manawatu regions.

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In last year's census, there were 3396 Pacific people in Palmerston North, representing 4.5 per cent of the city's population, up from 2817, or 3.6 per cent of the population, in the 2006 census.

Labour spokesman for Pacific Island Affairs Su'a William Sio said the Salvation Army's report was further evidence of the growing inequality between Pacific people and the rest of New Zealand.

"While there have been some improvements, our people still face an uphill battle when it comes to employment, housing, educational achievement and income," he said.

"When you look at NCEA achievement rates in year 11, level 1 and year 12, level 2, the Pacific rate sits at the bottom of all the other ethnic groups."

However, Pacific Island Affairs Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Liga said the report showed Pacific people were making real progress against national trends.

"There are higher levels of achievement in education and more youth are leaving school with qualifications."

Enrolment rates in early childhood education and improvements in NCEA pass rates were encouraging because Pacific students had improved more than their European, Maori and Asian counterparts.

"The report makes it clear that more people are employed, earning more and coming off the benefit," Lotu-Liga said.

- Manawatu Standard

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