Pasifika voices needed for research project on literacy and numeracy skills

A New Zealand research team is seeking Pasifika contributions on helping improve literacy and numeracy skills.

The New Zealand Work Research Institute began a 5-year-long study in October 2019 and this month have started to focus in on Pacific people.

AUT University lecturer Dr Betty Ofe-Grant is leading the Pasifika component of the project and she said Pacific people in Aotearoa are over-represented when it comes to low literacy and numeracy skills.

According to Literacy NZ, one in four adults have literacy difficulties in their everyday life.

"A large proportion of that statistic are Pacific people and addressing the limited literacy and numeracy skills problem is important because it has a flow on effect, not only on their health and wellbeing, but in society," Dr Ofe-Grant said.

"This flows into other areas like poverty, housing, mental health, work and so the narrative around literacy and numeracy gets bigger."

The research project is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Endeavour Grant worth $4.3 million.

The project runs to October 2024 and is currently in year two of data collection. Professor Gail Pacheco leads the project from the New Zealand Work Research Institute (AUT).

"We want to hear Pasifika stories of what it's like to live with limited literacy and numeracy skills and how that impacts on one's employment, health, housing situation, society, and particularly now with the residual effects of Covid-19.

"We want to know what has helped for them in terms of learning literacy and numeracy skills and what has not helped? What kind of training programmes were offered? Did they attend? If not, why?"

"We've done some preliminary data findings already and we've found that some Pasifika have avoided jobs because they felt weren't confident in the numerical part of the role, so they've skipped opportunities to get themselves seen or promoted," she said.

The point of difference in this research project, as Dr Ofe-Grant shares, is the use of a Pasifika worldview, Pasifika methods and researchers of Pasifika descent who are multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual.

"As Pasifika researchers, we bring our cultural expertise, knowledge and networks within Pasifika communities across New Zealand to strengthen and support the research project aims.

"Many other research projects with the best intentions tend to be culturally inappropriate, conducted by non-Pacific scholars, using Western methods and then misinterpreted.

"This research project is "for Pacific by Pacific", so we've used different types of value systems when addressing participants for example the Vā, which is Pan-Pacific and refers to having strong and respectful relationships. There's also reciprocity and love or alofa.

"As academics, we aim to be professional as well as be mindful that when we speak with Pacific people, we have to be respectful, placing them in the front of the study as oppose to at the back," she explained.

The Talanoa sessions will take place in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with the first Talanoa session to be held in Manukau on the 12th of June.