Monday, December 6, 1999

Samoans told to
take a role in

A panel of experts says the
reason their children lag in school
is because of a number of
cultural obstacles

By Lori Tighe


Cultural obstacles are a main reason for Samoan children's difficulties in the classroom, according to a panel of education experts who yesterday examined the problems and discussed solutions.

Samoan children test the lowest in reading and math among Hawaii children, said Department of Education specialist Luafata Simanu-Klutz.

"We have some work to do," she said. "The answers are within. It's up to us to improve our own lot in Hawaii."

She spoke on TV-Samoa's Channel 53 show: "Samoan Students in the USA: Problems and Obstacles," along with a panel specializing in Samoan education.

Samoan students are caught between the Western world and Samoa, said Laprell Burgess, a Nanakuli teacher and counselor.

The program, "Samoan Students in the USA: Problems and Obstacles" will be rebroadcast 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, and 11:30 p.m. Friday on Channel 53. A series of panel discussions regarding Samoan issues will air every Sunday at 3 p.m. on Channel 53. For more information, call 637-3530.

Samoan families face three cultural obstacles hindering their success in education, Burgess said: emphasis on a large, extended family rather than the individual; focus on church instead of government, and a lack of skills to nurture their child's education.

"The bottom line, it has to do with parenting. I visit Samoan homes and there are no books, but they have a 52-inch TV screen for football games. Where are your priorities?" Burgess said.

Samoan parents, often both working, leave the child rearing to the grandparents, who don't know how to encourage bi-cultural development, she said.

"As a culture we don't like to be told how to do things," said Radford High School vice principal Suafoa Etuale, one of the few Samoan school administrators in the state.

Another problem is that Samoan children don't have many role models, such as Etuale, in school.

Although Samoan children make up 1 percent of pupils in Hawaii, far less than 1 percent of the state's teachers are Samoan, Simanu-Klutz said.

But educators must not play the "blame game," said Bob Franco, Kapiolani Community College anthropology professor.

"Kids should think and speak in their own language until the third grade," Franco said.

Their cognitive development is cut when they go to school at kindergarten age. This is an American problem of inequality," he said.

Becoming a true bi-cultural people is the answer, he said.

"Read to your child early on in both English and Samoan," Franco advised Samoan parents.

Samoan families need to focus on attitudes and learning, rather than ethnic differences, agreed Sitiveni Halapua, with the East-West Center Institute.

Many parents don't speak English well and assume their children will have some problems in school, Simanu-Klutz said.

"The lowest track is where you'll find your children," she said, talking to Samoan families.

"Go and ask your school if your child is in the college track," Simanu Klutz advised.

Ofa Moea'i, a counselor at Brigham Young University, also advised parents to refine their parenting and nurturing skills by taking classes and workshops.

"In our generation, when we left Samoa," Halapua said. "We were told when you go to Rome do as the Romans.

"I don't agree anymore," said Halapua.

"Learn from the Romans to be better Samoan Americans."

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