In 1984 a group with vision, made up of grandparents and interested parents, set up an incorporated society "A'oga Fa'a Samoa", found premises, and started a Samoan early childhood education centre in Auckland. When the A'oga Fa'a Samoa opened, it was the first Pasifika language and cultural immersion early childhood centre in New Zealand. In 1990, the A'oga Fa'a Samoa became New Zealand's first licensed and chartered Pasifika early childhood centre. Then in 2003, the A'oga Fa'a Samoa was selected as one of the 6 initial early childhood education centres of innovation in New Zealand. The early childhood Centres of Innovation (COI) programme is part of the New Zealand Government's 10-year plan for early childhood education policy: Pathways to the Future / Ngā Huarahi Arataki (Ministry of Education, 2002).
Special characteristics of the A'oga Fa'a Samoa are its Samoan language-immersion programme, and its "community of learners" collaborative approach. Our key innovations as a COI are:
- Small groups of children stay with the same teacher (their "primary caregiver") from the point of entry through different groups and spaces in the centre and into school.
- This innovation, with the educator able to move through each developmental stage from babies to 5-year-olds, was introduced to benefit children, families and educators.
Like all COIs, the A'oga Fa'a Samoa was engaged in a 3-year action research project to show how the centre's innovative practices influence learning and teaching. Our research was designed to collaboratively with the A'oga Fa'a Samoa and its community, and for the benefit of its community.
The action research focused on two major research questions:
- What helps learning and language continuity as children make transitions within and from the A'oga Fa'a Samoa?
- How can the key approaches that help learning and language continuity be implemented in practice?