Transition from Aoga Amata to school: case studies in the Wellington region
Background The rapid increase in the number of Samoan children receiving early childhood education in their heritage language through the Aoga Amata movement has prompted the researcher to examine how continuity is being handled during the transition to primary schooling. During 1996-7, I interviewed parents, teachers, principals and children about the transition from Aoga Amata programmes to junior class programmes in fourteen primary schools. In addition, I gathered descriptions of how parents viewed the nature and the quality of Aoga Amata programmes, and how teachers and principals viewed issues of language maintenance. I also asked children to reflect on their Aoga Amata experience and then engage in performance tasks that provided me with an opportunity to gauge their spoken proficiency in Samoan. Aim The primary aim of the study was to gather information from parents, children, teachers and principals about the way the transition to school was organised for Aoga Amata children. Sampling procedures I used a community network approach to gain access to a pool of twenty recent graduates of Aoga Amata and their receiving schools. In addition, I chose six children for case study purposes because of the interesting circumstance each child represented. Thirty-nine parents, fourteen teachers and fourteen principals completed the sample. Procedures I used structured interviews, questionnaire versions of the structured interviews, and performance tasks in order to collect information. I asked about the strategies used to cope with the transition to primary school; the impact of the transition on children, the perceptions of parents about Aoga Amata programmes, perceptions of teachers about the transition to primary school, and the factors thought by stakeholders to be contributing to the maintenance of the Samoan language in school. The procedures used to gather information were carried out using culturally appropriate communication processes that made use of faafeiloaiga faa Samoa (cultural greetings), faaaloalo (respect and supply of food), faamalie ona o ni itu e faalavelavea ai le suesuega (acknowledgement of intrusion) and lauga faafetai/faamavae (speeches of appreciation and farewell). Results Only one Aoga Amata/school partnership had a comprehensive programme where the graduates of the Aoga Amata were received into a bilingual programme taught by a native speaker of Samoan. The Aoga Amata was on the school grounds and this enabled linkages to develop over a period of time between its staff, the teachers at the school, the children, and the children's families. When children were received into schools where there was no continuity of language and curriculum, the transition was perceived as less satisfactory, especially in the early days of the transition. Compared to children who attended other early childhood educational centres, or remained at home, children who had attended an Aoga Amata programme were generally perceived by most teachers and parents as having more developed literacy, numeracy, and social skills. Schools varied in the position they took on language maintenance and on the actions that they were prepared to take. Lack of funding, lack of trained Samoan teachers, and a view that the school's cultural activities were sufficient were all reasons given for absence of language maintenance. Conclusion There is lack of an agreed understanding of what is necessary for successful transition to school in the case of Aoga Amata children. Stakeholders in the children's education will need to target policy, strategies, and standards to guide continuity between home, Aoga Amata, school and community.