Moving from Pasifika immersion to Palagi primary school (Transitions in ECE)

O tu, ma aganu'u ma agaifanua a le tamaititi ole a le mafai ona ulufale atu I le potuaoga sei vagana ua faatauaina ma faaulufaleina muamua I le loto ma le agaga o le faiaoga.
The culture of the child cannot enter the classroom until it has first entered the consciousness of the teacher. (Anon)

Key question

What might moving to school mean for Pasifika children, for their families, or for their new entrant teacher?


Transition programmes from Pasifika immersion early childhood to a Palagi primary school should involve ongoing communication between teachers at the early childhood setting, families, and teachers at the primary school. It is about each knowing what the other is doing, sharing the same purpose, working toward shared goals, and working in the best interests of the learner, families and the community. Building a collaborative approach that reflects mutual respect, trust, responsive and reciprocal relationships for both settings represents a positive step in fostering a partnership between the Pasifika early childhood setting and the primary school.

What does the research tell us?

Participation in Pasifika early childhood settings has increased. More Pasifika children are moving directly from their Pasifika early childhood setting into mainstream or Palagi primary schools, and the school selected to attend may not be one that friends also go to. So we need to know what the transition experience is like for these children and how it might be improved.

There is much research on transition to school in general. However there is still very limited information on transition to school based around Pasifika early childhood settings. Transition to school involves children managing the changes they experience as they become familiar with different environments, people and ways of doing things. Children from Pasifika early childhood settings also have to deal with differences in language and cultural activity.

McNaughton (1998) discusses the importance of having teachers in both settings who understand the child’s language and culture really well in order to maintain shared understandings and pedagogical approaches across the settings. Podmore et al. (2001) provide some useful insights into the issues and dilemmas that exist around moving from a Pasifika early childhood setting to a Palagi school.

For example:

  • Children voiced that cultural activities were important to them in early childhood. However continuity of cultural activity for children is not assured when they begin school.
  • Children preferred to have a familiar person stay with them at school, however 45% of teachers preferred not to have parents stay in their classroom when children first start school.

Bronfenbrenner (1979) draws attention to the importance of home, school and community as contexts for learning and development. When young children move from one educational setting to another, it is important to understand the social-historical context of their prior learning. However, when children from a Pasifika early childhood setting move to a Palagi school, their languages and cultural celebrations are not necessarily a part of their journey.

Children can overcome discontinuities in their experience, when they are scaffolded through the process by people who know them and their new environment (Peters, 2001). But in many New Zealand cities the transitioning Pasifika child may not have the ready support of familiar others at their new school. Language can also prevent the child expressing their thoughts, ideas or anxieties. Once Pasifika children enter school their opportunity to reconnect with the language and cultural celebrations tends to become limited to experiences outside school. Within school their identity as Pasifika can become fragile.

Reflective questions

  • How do you support your Pasifika children in their transition to a new setting?
  • In what ways are you connecting with Pasifika families/community and with neighbouring schools?

Addressing issues and taking action: a local case study

For the last five years, six Pasifika early childhood settings in the Christchurch area have been strongly involved in regular Pasifika network meetings. Interest in supporting children's transition to school emerged from one of these meetings.

The issues

One Pasifika early childhood setting was situated on the site of the primary school but talked of having very little communication with them. Waving and saying, "Hi"; was the predominant way of communicating. The setting contributes to a large number of schools across the city. Only a few children moved on to the 'school next door', and when they did they began the school's transition programme, involving use of the school library on a regular basis and two school visits when they were nearly five. Sometimes the children from the early childhood setting were invited to perform at the school assembly. The philosophy of the Pasifika early childhood setting was for learning to be embedded within their own Pasifika language and culture, while operating within a New Zealand context.

Getting together

With the support of an early childhood professional development facilitator, teachers from the early childhood setting and school met together to begin working collaboratively to strengthen relationships and enhance transitions for children and their families. In regular meetings these teachers reflected on their current pedagogical practices and the issues around transitioning to school.

Recognising differences

Significant differences in perspectives and emphases between the two settings soon became apparent. For example, teachers from the two settings held different views of assessment. The school focus was on the child's learning needs while the early childhood setting focused on the child's interests and strengths. This, in turn, influenced the conversations between teachers and parents. The focus of discussion between the school and families was on the child's behaviour and their learning needs. When children were identified as struggling (for example, with engaging in group discussions), parents reprimanded their child - an outcome that school did not intend.

So what changed?

The following initiatives emerged from discussions:

  • Both settings reviewed the Transition to School policy and developed a Transition to School Annual Plan. A teacher exchange programme was set up. Every Wednesday the primary school Assistant Principal works with the transition to school children, while the early childhood teacher works with the So'otaga group in the primary school. The So'otaga group is open to all Pasifika children who are attending the primary school and highlights the importance of reconnecting with the language and culture in both settings.
  • Regular meetings for teachers from each setting are held to share critical reflections on their practice, discuss opportunities for improvement and celebrate successes.
  • There are opportunities for the So'otaga group from primary school to participate in the celebration of Samoan culture in a Pasifika setting.
  • There are opportunities for the Assistant Junior principal to attend staff meetings at the early childhood setting and to participate in the Pasifika Network meetings.

Reflective questions

  • What opportunities exist for similar collaboration across sectors in your setting?
  • How might you begin to facilitate such collaboration?

Please take some time to look at our following two videos:

Relationships and community

The impact of the programmes teachers implemented on relationships and community are clearly apparent in this video.

Relationships and community - Transcript

Helen Singleton speaking

"We had this special book last week and I'm thinking, who else was wearing a lava-lava? – shall we read - your Mum wears one……….?"

Tile Lemo speaking

"The preschool children and teachers have the opportunity to attend the school in order to become familiar with the shool programme. The programme has given children the opportunity to develop confidence and to overcome their shyness."

Helen Singleton speaking

"We've tried to get the children used to the language and the more direct approach with teaching in schools. I've also visited a whole lot of the preschools and I'm aware that for four and five year olds, the transition to school is huge. I mean the curriculum, you know Te Whāriki, you know how it's based really around the child….I mean the primary programme is a wee bit, but nowhere near to the point that Te Whāriki is, so there's a whole lot of different expectations for children around that."

Leiataua Mulipola speaking

"It has given teachers a challenge, to reflect on their own practice in order to improve their teaching practice. It has given the opportunity to nurture professional relationships with school teachers and preschool teachers."

Helen Singleton speaking

"So for the teachers, there is a greater understanding of the child and the child's culture, and so that is really knowing your learner. When you come back to effective and best practice, one of the key things is really knowing your learner, you've got to know your subject but you've got to know your learner, and that's right back to knowing where your learner comes from."

Leiataua Mulipola interacting

"O le sau'ai o Tuiletafu 'e." (reads with children)

Tile Lemo speaking

"The school children are very happy because they have the opportunity to reconnect and rebuild relationships with children and teachers of the preschool again."

Helen Singleton speaking

"We have language continuing in our school and they're seeing these kids standing proud and wanting to interact more, so there's that bonus for us as well, and more links being made within the home/school partnership, it's all kind of interwoven with the home/school partnership; we're really lucky that a couple of parents, one who works at Automafei, who's got children here, she's also got children at Automafei, and she and her partner are quite keen to be lead parents within the home/school partnership so whichever way you look at it we're winning, and they're winning, it's all about relationships and about community and the community benefits, we all win."

Leiataua Mulipola speaking

"This programme opened other pathways of sharing this project with other Pasifika teachers about working collaboratively with Linwood North Primary School".

Collaboration To Support Children

See how the teachers describe why they chose to work together, how they went about it, and what they were able to develop.

Collaboration to support children - Transcript

Leiataua Aimalala speaking

The Autamafai began making some contact with Linwood North Primary UC Education Plus and the Ministry of Education as an initial preparation for this programme.

Helen Singleton speaking

"We sat down and we talked about expectations around transitioning; we talked about the whole idea that a transition is about carrying from one area to another and these are precious things we’re carrying, so we have to be sure that we're enveloping the child and the family and moving them from once place to the other in a manner which was showing how precious they were, without squeezing the life out of them or without any of those things that you wouldn’t do to something that’s precious."

Leiataua Aimalala speaking

"Every Wednesday the programme happens for half an hour. Helen, the assistant principal of the junior school, works with the four to five year olds."

Helen Singleton speaking

"Good afternoon Preschool and how are you? We’ll start with the photo book… ooh Moeao is in the book, where's Moeao? Which word is your name, begins with a …?"

Child's response


Helen Singleton speaking

"Shake my hand, that's schoolboy thinking!"

Helen Singleton speaking

"We went from having two visits which is like – two visits as a pre-schooler to your classroom is kind of nothing, so we've got a much more drawn-out, kind of fishtailing-in process that happens now, more of a transition before we’re actually chucking them in the deep end you know?! Our new entrant teacher knows that Te Whāriki can extend right through her classroom, that she basically has a licence to keep these kids going on this curriculum that really is a wee bit more child-centred, while she brings in some more of the language and the things that school is about."

(Samoan, children singing song to a guitar)

Helen Singleton speaking

"We had a need really in our school for more Samoan language, we had a need for children who had been through Autamafai and also other kids who speak Samoan, to keep it going. We had some parents saying 'Ah you know they’re not over in immersion anymore, they’re losing their language, we’re not happy, Grandma's not happy' and I had this in the back of my mind you know 'How can I meet this need?'"

Leiataua Aimalala speaking

"Tile and I prepared the So'otaga programme for Pasifika students six years up to 10 years old where we used Samoan stories, poems, songs and games. We are having on-going meetings with Helen to discuss aspects of the programme that have gone well. And other aspects of the programme that need improvement."

(Samoan singing…..)

Further reading

  • Peters, S. (2000). Multiple perspectives on continuity in early learning and the transition to school. Paper presented at the tenth European Early Childhood Education Research Association Conference, University of London.
  • Podmore, V. and Taouma, J. (2004). Transitions within the centre and to school. SET 3.
  • Podmore,V., Sauvao, S. and Mapa, L. (2001). Transition to school from pacific early childhood centres. Early Childhood Folio 5:2001. Wellington: NZCER.

This paper was prepared by Ruta McKenzie, University of Canterbury, 2009.

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