Monday, 2 June 2008 3:35 AM

Pacific Islanders in NZ Losing their Mother Tongue

There is concern for Pacific Islanders losing their mother tongue in New Zealand due to a shortage of pre-schools for islanders.

An article by Simon Collins in the New Zealand Herald (nzherald.co.nz) states that Pacific Islanders in New Zealand are slowly losing their mother tongue with the details of the 2006 Census for Pacific peoples, published last week, showing 'only 44 per cent of NZ-born Samoans can now speak Samoan, down from 48 per cent five years before and 'only 24 per cent of Tokelauans, 11 per cent of Niueans, 6 per cent of ethnic Fijians and 5 per cent of Cook Islands Maori born in New Zealand can now speak their parents' native languages'.
Tonga was the only exception registering 'an increase in the proportion who can speak Tongan - up 1 per cent to 44 per cent'.

According to the article, with respect to Samoans, 'more New Zealand-born Samoans are losing the language of their parents because of a growing shortage of places in Samoan-language preschools' and 'the figures for Samoan are particularly important because Samoans make up almost half of New Zealand's total Pacific population of 266,000'. Also important is the fact that 'New Zealand's Samoan population of 131,000 is now more than half of the combined population of 242,000 in Western Samoa and American Samoa'.

'Manukau-based Samoan educator Sala Faasaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota said Samoan parents wanted their children to learn Samoan, but were frustrated by a shortage of Samoan-language preschools'.

"There are about 86 licensed Pasifika early childhood education centres in Auckland, and the majority are in Manukau," she said. "The biggest issue is participation. Many children are not in the centres, and that's because our centres are full. There are huge waiting lists - not just in the Pasifika centres but in the mainstream too, but the preference of the Pasifika parents is for Pasifika centres."

According to Mrs. Leota, 'government funding was available for more Pacific preschools and the major constraint, apart from trained teachers, was land', adding that 'there were also only one preschool each in the whole Auckland region for Tokelauans, Tuvaluans and ethnic Fijians'.

The article further adds that 'the situation is especially dire for people from Tokelau, the Cook Islands and Niue, all constitutionally associated with New Zealand, because there are now more of their people living in New Zealand than at home - about seven times the number in Tokelau, four times the number in the Cooks and 11 times the number in Niue'.

'The census shows a growing share of the Pacific population has now been born in New Zealand in all ethnic groups except Tokelauans and ethnic Fijians, where immigration has increased in recent years'.

Meanwhile, according to Radio New Zealand International, 'New Zealand's Pacific Island Affairs Minister, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, says the latest census information from Statistics New Zealand shows a young and growing Pacific population offers significant future benefits for New Zealand'.

According to the report, 'a snapshot of the Census 2006 data shows the Pacific population in New Zealand has increased by 15 per cent since the 2001 Census, to 266,000', 38 percent of them are under 15, compared with the national average of 22 percent'.
Mr. Luamanuvao says that 'at a time when OECD countries are grappling with issues associated with ageing populations and retiring baby-boomers, these young Pacific people will be a significant portion of the future working population'.

Letters to the Editor All Letters
By STEVE BANI Vura Heights, East Honiara
By GEOFFREY MAURIASI USP, Lacuala Campus, Fiji
By CHARLES KOULI Gizo, Western Province