Fijian students’ perceptions of their science learning environment in New Zealand secondary schools

Pacific students in Aotearoa, New Zealand, come from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This heterogeneous cultural and ethnic mix of students presents opportunities and challenges for teachers. Results from the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) show that Pacific students are underperforming in science compared to the general cohort in secondary education. To help meet the needs of Pacific students, many New Zealand educators are undertaking research to explore the perceptions of students learning. Little research has been done on Fijian students to address this. The purpose of this study is to examine Fijian students' perceptions of their current and preferred learning environment and how it can be improved to suit the learning needs of Fijian students. Talanoa, a Pacific research methodology, informed and guided this study. It is based on Pacific cultures and is primarily used to study Pacific peoples. A mixed-method approach was adopted to respond to the research questions. Talanoa method with a survey called the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey-Fijian students (CLES-FS) was used to collect the data. A total of 305 students participated in this study. A thematic approach was used to analyse the data obtained from the talanoa method. The CLES-FS data was analysed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), and comparisons were made between the students’ perceptions of their actual and preferred learning environments. Variations between gender, ethnic differences (Fijian Indian and iTaukei) and between different year levels were also analysed. Key findings show that positive student-teacher relationships, a sense of belonging to the class, and teachers’ understanding of students’ cultural experiences played a vital role in engaging students in their learning. The findings also highlighted that the Fijian students enjoyed working in groups. However, they indicated that excessive use of group work without defined learning intentions had a negative impact on learning. In addition, the study found that the students were reluctant to respond to or ask questions in front of the whole class. Students also identified that, at times, cultural values of respect for elders discouraged them from expressing their views to the teacher. Many students preferred to communicate with the teacher one-on-one about how they would like to learn and have more control over their classroom learning activities. There was a statistically significant difference in the perceptions of iTaukei and Fijian Indian students regarding building relationships with their teachers and collaborative learning. iTaukei students perceived that they had fewer opportunities to build relationships with their teachers but had more opportunities to engage in collaborative learning than Fijian Indian students. In addition, there was a statistically significant difference in the perceptions of male and female students when it came to learning in a familiar context scale. Female students perceived they were given more opportunities to learn in a familiar context than their male counterparts. This study has contributed to the understanding of Fijian students' perceptions of the current and preferred learning environments in New Zealand secondary schools. The research also demonstrates that CLES-FS and Talanoa methods can be used effectively for data triangulation. The findings of this study provide new insights into the knowledge gap in the literature about the learning needs of Fijian students studying in New Zealand classrooms. It is envisaged that the findings will help to inform the teachers and leaders of secondary schools who teach Fijian students.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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