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February 2018

Ielts blow to Pacific language preschools

Stringent Ielts requirements for teachers in New Zealand have led to the closure of all dedicated courses preparing staff to work in the country’s Pacific language preschools, after applications plummeted, Federica Tedeschi writes. 

AUT University’s Bachelor of Education in Pasifika early childhood teaching ended last month, and a similar course at Auckland University has been suspended because applications have fallen so low. Other Pasifika teacher-training courses run by polytechnics, teachers’ colleges and the NZ Childcare Association, as well as a 30-year-old course for teachers in Samoan language immersion ‘nests’, have closed due to lack of new students.

The university courses train staff for mother-tongue medium schools teaching in languages such as Samoan, Tongan and Cook Island Maori, which are attended by children from Pacific island families who have settled in New Zealand.

But the new Ielts standard has become a barrier to most older people from the region, who have the best Pasifika language skills, from training to teaching preschoolers. A spokeperson from Auckland University said that Ielts had became ‘a major issue’.

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The entry requirement for all teacher training was raised in 2011 from an Ielts level 6 to 7.

This set the English bar higher than for other courses – Auckland University and AUT require Ielts levels of only 6 for other undergraduate courses and 6.5 for postgraduates including doctoral students. At AUT, numbers reportedly dropped from 300 applicants a year to between twenty and 25 after the new requirements were brought in.

Lyn Lewis, head of school at AUT, told the Gazette there ‘was interest’ in the course but most applicants were put off by the need to reach the Ielts score.
Pafitimai Salā Dr Fa’asaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota, the president of the Samoan Language Nest Society, told the New Zealand Herald that the course closures left her ‘gutted’.

Dr Rae Si’ilata, associate dean Pasifika in Auckland University’s education faculty, says she hopes to reinstate the course next year.

Meanwhile, Lesley Hoskin, deputy chief executive of teachers’ professional body the Education Council said all teachers should be required to have a good level of English and/or Maori, New Zealand’s two official languages.

‘It is possible that we could consider raising the attainment level in the future, but we would not consider lowering it,’ Hoskin said.

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Pic courtesy: Juliane Schultz

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