HUALIEN, TAIWAN – On September 17-18, 2012 the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) Board of Affirmation/Accreditation gathered at Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan to consider applications from potential candidates for WINHEC’s new P-12 accreditation. Hawaiʻi’s Pūnana Leo Preschools were selected as the world’s first early education program to be evaluated for accreditation under WINHEC’s new P-12 Accreditation Guidelines developed under principles articulated by the United Nations for the education of indigenous peoples.
ʻAha Pūnana Leo Board President Dr. Kauanoe Kamanā is very pleased with the news. She comments, “Hawaiian is an official language of Hawaiʻi and legal provisions exist for preschool to graduate level education through the medium of the Hawaiian language. We need distinctive accreditation for schooling through Hawaiian. In 2010, Hawaiian medium education at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language received the first U.S. university level accreditation from WINHEC. It was at that time that the Pūnana Leo program was visited by members of the WINHEC accreditation team, as we provide a laboratory school setting for Ka Haka ʻUla teacher training. We are optimistic that the Pūnana Leo preschools will now be the first in the world accredited by WINHEC at the early childhood education level.”
When the first Pūnana Leo school began in 1984, an 1896 ban on the use of Hawaiian as a medium of education was still in effect. While that outright ban has been removed, Hawaiian-medium education continues to face barriers and pressures to follow English-medium mainstream education practices and policies promoted by mainstream out-of-state accrediting agencies. According to Kamanā, practices and policies designed for continental English medium schooling actually work against producing the highest academic outcomes in Hawaiian medium education. For the past 30 years, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo has tenaciously advanced P-20 Hawaiian medium education and the right for families to choose Hawaiian medium education for their children. Kamanā further says, “Our Pūnana Leo schools have a highly effective academic program as evidenced in the early reading proficiency of our preschool students, in their high daily attendance rate, and in the percentage of Pūnana Leo families who remain intensely involved with the education of their children as they move into public Hawaiian language medium elementary schools.”
Recent grants through the Administration of Native Americans, The Kellogg Foundation and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have given Pūnana Leo preschool teachers and administration a jump-start on preparing for the WINHEC self-study. The WINHEC action is timely as the state Department of Human Services and private agencies that provide preschool tuition assistance have been implementing policies that require accreditation among participating preschools. Currently, 68% of Pūnana Leo families throughout the state receive some type of tuition assistance. In some cases, Pūnana Leo families have received less support than that given to families enrolled in English medium preschools. This is due to the ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s insisting that accreditation for its schools be done by entities with standards that specifically address use of Hawaiian as the medium of education. Until WINHEC provided this opportunity for accreditation, there were no such accreditors anywhere and the state and private entities were seeking ways to provide a local Hawaiian medium education accrediting entity.
ʻEkekela Aiona, ʻAha Pūnana Leo Executive Director is also pleased with this new development of international support. “The Hawaiian language is a valuable and integral part of the economy, socio-cultural identity, and education system of Hawaiʻi. WINHEC’s decision to take on the task of early childhood education accreditation is a milestone for all indigenous people throughout the world who are fighting for the survival of their languages. We are confident that in working with WINHEC, the goals of the Pūnana Leo program, grounded in Hawaiian and the rich heritage of the Hawaiian language will not be compromised,” said Aiona.
The World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium was launched on August 5, 2002 with the signing of the Declaration on Indigenous People’s Higher Education. Founding member nations of WINHEC included indigenous peoples from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaiʻi, Alaska, Canada, Saamiland (Northern Scandinavia), Taiwan, Columbia and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium of the United States. WINHEC aims to accelerate the articulation of indigenous epistemology; protect and enhance indigenous spiritual beliefs, culture and languages through higher education; and advance the social, economical, and political status of indigenous peoples that contribute to the well-being of indigenous communities through higher education.
E Ola Ka ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiian Language Shall Live.