Increased Support needed for Pacific students to stay in school

Pacific high school students who are dropping out of school to help with the family income during the Covid-19 crisis should be provided with appropriate support to ensure their education is prioritised, says a leading Pacific psychologist.

Dr Byron Seiuli, a member of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) who is based in Hamilton, says leaving school for Pacific students may be the best short-term solution during the pandemic but may not help their families in the long term.

“Research has shown that those who drop out of school to help their families do not overcome the income barrier they initially face. Instead this behaviour perpetuates the cycle and it does not get any better for the student or their families,” he says.

“Many Pacific families have already sacrificed a lot to get their children through higher education so they can be in better paid employment and provide them with improved economic independence. Once students leave school to work, they get set into a routine and it becomes harder to return to studies.”

He says many Pacific organisations have recognised the importance of supporting students to continue their education by providing laptops and reliable internet connection in their care packages – such as the recent work by the Tongan Health Society Inc Langimalie. But more can be done by the schools and the community to encourage students to stay in school, such as offering scholarships.

He also believes that receiving direct feedback from youth around their thoughts and feelings during these unprecedented times will help shape their own solutions to issues they are facing.

“One of the things that has been helpful in the past is for Pacific people coming up with their own solutions. Mentoring youth and having fonos as an avenue for them to talk about solutions will help them feel safe and included.”

As the ongoing Covid-19 crisis creates a sense of uncertainty for the future, Dr Seiuli says connection to family is important for Pacific youth.

“Walking through this with your family is important, especially for Pacific families. Our connections to our community, like church and other social gatherings, are vital to maintaining our links.”

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Date: Tuesday 1 September