Education boost key to Pasifika success

Almost 50 years ago, Pastor Eroni Rabo Dau applied from Fiji to enrol as a student at South Auckland's Manukau Institute of Technology. Picture: RNZ

Almost 50 years ago, Pastor Eroni Rabo Dau applied from Fiji to enrol as a student at South Auckland’s Manukau Institute of Technology.

Like many others from the Pacific back then, he said, he wanted to study a trade.

“Back in the islands the only training providers or education institutions that we are fully aware of, are MIT (Manukau Institute of Technology) and Carrington Polytech, Wellington Polytech.

“And when we tried to apply from the islands to come to New Zealand, we are really looking to getting a place.”

When MIT was first established in 1970 it had 11 staff and 200 full time students learning trades in a single multi-storey building in Otara.

Now the institute has expanded to offer courses in business, creative arts, social sciences, digital technologies and more.

Last year, it had 6,500 full-time students studying courses in eight campuses throughout Auckland.

Pastor Eroni went on to become a civil engineer and has been self-employed for nearly two decades.

While leading a church ministry in South Auckland over the past 30 years, he said the Institute has been vital to his community.

“You know the trade programmes – many of our Pacific Island people don’t quite realise how important that programme is in any developing country. For our Pacific Island communities, they need to see that because development don’t need to necessarily come from outside,” he explained

“MIT plays a very important role in our community.”

The institute has now become New Zealand’s largest tertiary provider for Pasifika students and has now launched a strategy to further boost Pasifika success and numbers.

The Pasifika Strategy Framework includes targeted growth rates among its staff, research outputs and student success over the next five years.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, the institute’s Deputy Chief Executive, agreed that often older Pacific migrants try to push their children towards careers in other professions like law and medicine rather than trades.

But he says it’s a short-sighted view.

“One of the barriers that we have is the paradigm shift for our Pasifika parents especially and grandparents, that a vocational education is actually really valuable and actually leads to high paying jobs,” said Peseta

“But also, the statistics are clear. You know, in terms of graduates and employment rates, – 5 years after graduating – we have some of the highest employment rates here at MIT than any other institution in New Zealand.”

He added that he hoped the value for trade industries would increase among Pacific people.

“We need to push that message out more in that it can help you, it can help your family and it can certainly help your communities.”

As the former Minister of Pacific Peoples, in his opening address, Peseta was quick to remind the current minister, ‘Aupito William Sio, of their encounter two years ago at the opening of the institute’s Pasifika Community Centre where ‘Aupito appealed to the National government for more money for the institution.

In good humor, Peseta told ‘Aupito he now joins him in that plea.

“Look you know, we have a good relationship and I understand the difficulties of ministerial work,” he said

“But I know that what we’re doing here is important, certainly for the Manukau area and our students, communities and families and certainly any support that we can get from our Minister is certainly appreciated.”

After nearly 10 years in opposition before being appointed as Minister last year, ‘Aupito said he welcomes the call.

“It’s far better here than on the other side,” he said laughing.

“Nonetheless, the challenge is real. And each one of us ministers has a vital role to play and for me, I’ve got to make sure that the perspectives of Pacific people and the dreams and aspirations of Pacific peoples is part of that conversation.”

‘Aupito said he supports the strategy which aims to increase Pasifika enrolments by 20 percent, increase retention rates from 65 to 75 percent and lift course completion rates from 75 to 85 percent all over the next five years.

It also seeks to increase Pasifika academic staff from 6 to 8 percent and its entire proportion of Pasifika staff from 14 to 20 percent in the same period.

‘Aupito says while New Zealand’s Pacific people frequently face inequality, they make a huge contribution to the country and the strategy would help further boost that contribution in future.

“The key to unlocking our potential is education,” said ‘Aupito.

“Despite the disparities in housing, health, education – all the factors that we’re aware of, despite those inequalities and despite the barriers that Pacific people experience in this country we do make a contribution and it’s a significant contribution. Eight billion dollars contribution to the GDP of New Zealand is nothing to sneeze about,” he said.

“You know, this is my home,” he added when explaining the stigmatisation of South Auckland.

“I understand well the dreams and aspirations here and that’s the reason why I’m here. We need to lift the wellbeing of our communities and one of those keys is education.”

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