Poor university entrance rates among Pacific Island pupils have prompted calls for a national strategy to address their under-performance.
NCEA results show that 73.7 per cent of Asian pupils – who make up the highest-performing ethnic group – achieved university entrance in year 13 last year. The rate for Pacific Island pupils, however, is less than half, at 36.4 per cent.
The Pacific Island figures were lower than in 2009, while rates for Maori, European and Asian pupils all went up.
Secondary Principals' Council chairwoman Julia Davidson said a national strategy was needed to develop a cohesive effort. "[In] some schools, Pasifika kids are doing well and why is that? What are those schools doing?
"The thing we don't have is a national strategy. We don't have anything that says, `This has worked in this school and ... you all have to implement it."'
In some cases, English was not a first language for Pacific Island pupils, or they had not attended early childhood education. "If you've been in early childhood education programmes that are taught in English, you must be getting a headstart ... you know how the system works."
While the gap in rates was significant, "there would be lots of Pasifika kids who do really well but there would be lots of Asian kids who don't do so well", and she warned of misleading results.
"If you want to raise achievement in a particular area, you have to resource for it, it doesn't just happen ... We don't have advisers who can help us with this, there's three people in the [Education] Ministry whose specific role is Pacific education – they're run off their feet."
She would like to see more Pacific Island teachers but said they were as hard to find as hen's teeth.
Victoria University assistant vice-chancellor (Pasifika) Winnie Laban, who was the first female Pasifika MP, said community collaboration was the way around socio-economic and language disadvantages. "Immigration and socio-economic factors do influence school achievement."
Pacific Island parents were often working multiple jobs or had other stresses, she said. "Intelligence is not connected to ethnicity or culture but if things are tough at home, it makes it difficult."
She called for homework centres in churches, schools and other centres, to provide a space for Pacific Island pupils who did not have a good set-up at home.
"The schools, the families, the communities, business, the voluntary sector [should] partner up to really build on [academic] programmes – and if they're not in place, to put them in place."
With the growth of Pasifika and Maori populations, it was vital to New Zealand's success that pupils from those ethnicities were achieving, Ms Laban said.
Samoan lawyer Karen Sagaga, who went through primary and secondary school in Wainuiomata before completing degrees in law and honours history at Victoria University, said she constantly defied society's expectations. "People say, `Oh, you don't look like a lawyer.' I like it ... people don't think I can achieve, but here I am."
She was the first of four siblings to get law degrees – with the other three now spread across the globe – and attributes their success to her parents' prioritisation of education.
Pacific Island pupils often contended with cultural and religious commitments, while parents were sometimes too busy putting food on the table to help with homework. "[You need to] balance the cultural values of being Samoan and living here and the economic demands."
- The Dominion Post