In our webinar with Dr Jacoba Matapo from The University of Auckland, Dr Salā Faasaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota, Principal Analyst (Researcher) in the Ministry of Pacific People and former Chair and Director of SAASIA (Samoan ECE Association in NZ), and Dr Tafili Utumapu-McBride from Auckland University of Technology, we learned about their TLRI (Teaching and Learning Research Initiative) study that aims to develop New Zealand’s first Samoan Indigenous framework for Samoan infant and toddler pedagogy in early childhood education. In the webinar, the researchers share how Samoan Indigenous knowledge systems might be used to engage all teachers of Samoan Pepe Meamea in transforming practice in the context of infant and toddler pedagogy. The key insights include:
Pepe Meamea is an indigenous framework for Samoan infant and toddler pedagogy, currently under development, that supports the culture and identity of Samoan Pepe Meamea (infants and toddlers). In the first stage of the roject, Dr. Jacoba Matapo, Dr. Salā Faasaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota, and Dr Tafili Utumapu-McBride are working with expert aoga amata teachers to co-design the framework. In the second stage, they will collaborate with and mentor mainstream early childhood teachers of the project to support the implementation of Pepe Meamea right across the early childhood sector. The aim is to create an accessible Samoan pedagogical framework for all teachers, supporting both full immersion aoga amata teachers and mainstream early childhood teachers in English-speaking contexts.
It is the cultural right of every child to have their cultural ways of living and knowing recognised and affirmed in their early childhood setting, and to be supported to develop a strong sense of belonging. Positive cultural identities are linked to children’s ongoing academic achievement. The Pepe Meamea framework describes Samoan ways of being and Samoan knowledge systems, as well as the practice that is needed for supporting the wellbeing of Samoan infants and toddlers.
Samoan conceptualisations of Pepe Meamea and practices for relating to children are unique. Without refuting principles and concepts from the Western literature, the Pepe Meamea framework will offer a perpective that reflects Samoan cultural values. For example, while Western literature might talk about presence as a way of showing care, a Samoan perspective might understand presence in relation to alofa (love). Important to the Samoan concept of alofa is a presence that is face to face (not turning your back or talking from a distance). A Samoan perspective on Pepe Meamea also offers alternative views that challenge the separate and individualistic focus on the child, and the linear developmental concept of infants and toddlers as separate in stages, that are characterised within Western education and philosophical perspectives. In Samoan culture, the child is always part of the collective, and carries all the configurations of their gafa (genealogy), their specific connections to villages and ancestors, and their tofi or inheritance from their ancestors. Pepe Meamea, with their ancestral ties, genealogy and tofi, are well connected even before birth. This makes it important for teachers to adhere to the tapu of each child, including the sacred ties to where they are from.
Indigenous knowledge and practice offer opportunities for reflection. For example, the fale pepe or fale amata (a flax handwoven mat carried everywhere with the infant) might be considered in relation to the wahakura for Māori and similar mats for infants in other Pacific cultures. There are opportunities for knowledge to be translated across cultures while respecting the tapu of that knowledge.
Pepe Meamea is a conceptual framework that aims to challenge policy and practice by increasing a diversity of perspectives. For example, the framework will challenge existing parameters about ethical and moral practices. The Samoan framework includes service to community, and may invite debate about policy and notions of how quality is perceived in early childhood education. For example, alofa (love) is not positioned in the teaching standards criteria, which has implications for Samoan teacher identity. The framework will also help to honour and maintain the small number of Samoan early childhood services that exist in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Pepe Meamea framework will be useful across all early childhood settings, while also including nuances and particular aspects specific to aoga amata. The Pepe Meamea framework is intended to build on and enhance competencies for teachers of Samoan learners and expand the single example of pedagogy for infants and toddlers cited in Tapasā. The Pepe Meamea framework will provide a provocation for teachers to open themselves up to Samoan knowledge systems and pedagogies for
Pepe Meamea offers opportunities to think differently about practices that have become taken for granted such as primary caregiving, attachment theory or the image of the child. The concepts and practices within the Pepe Meamea framework will add to teachers’ knowledge and practices, enriching their pedagogy and enabling greater engagement with parents and the community. Understanding diverse cultural practices, knowledge systems and pedagogies will support teachers to ground themselves in their own cultures, to share their own cultural perspectives, and to empower children with knowledge of their own culture.