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UH Hilo College of Hawaiian Language big contributor to Hawaiʻi State Assessment results

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Date: Thursday, July 23, 2009
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

The College of Hawaiian Language of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is proud of the positive academic achievement produced by teachers trained in its program, according to Dr. Pila Wilson, chair of the Academic Programs Division of the College.

“Once again, the results of the Hawai'i State Assessment test have shown the positive outcome of Hawaiian language study on academic achievement on the Island of Hawaiʻi,” Wilson said. “This year, all three stand-alone school sites on the island with classes taught in Hawaiian -- Ehunuikaimalino, Ka `Umeke Ka`eo, and Nawahiokalani`opu`u Iki -- attained the highest state rating under No Child Left Behind testing. Only five other schools out of a total of over 50 public and charter schools on the island were accorded the top rating.”

A large majority of teachers in these Hawaiian language schools are products of the Hawaiian language courses of Ka Haka `Ula O Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language at UH Hilo. Since the establishment of the Kahuawaiola Teacher Certification Program of the College, the program has expanded training for these teachers and increased the numbers of teachers produced by the College. These teachers are also eligible to receive additional training from the College in teaching various subject areas, including early literacy.

“More recently, we have developed an M.A. program targeting teachers in these schools and other educational efforts using the Hawaiian language and culture,” Wilson said. “The new College of Hawaiian Language Ph.D. program is giving us an even stronger research base to support Hawaiian language and culture education in Hawaiʻi schools.”

Schooling in Hawaiian began on the Island of Hawaiʻi with a Punana Leo preschool in 1985.

“At that time there were widespread predictions in the community that children educated in Hawaiian would be unable to speak English and be academic failures,” Wilson said. “These predictions were absolutely wrong. Children in these Hawaiian language schools are as proficient in English as their peers in schools taught in English. Furthermore, all take the same high school English language courses as students in other schools on the island.

“Students from Hawaiian language schools are not only graduating from high school at a higher rate than the state average, they also have a high college matriculation rate,” he added. “There are students from Hawaiian language schools on this island who have attended Stanford and Oxford as well as other local, national, and international universities.”

International research has shown that children who speak two languages at a high level of fluency and literacy have a cognitive advantage, Wilson noted. “Children in some of these Hawaiian language schools, such as Nawahiokalani`opu`u, not only speak both Hawaiian and English fluently, they also devote considerable time to studying third languages such as Japanese, Chinese and Latin. High multilingualism and high academic achievement were also characteristic of Hawaiian schools during the Hawaiian Kingdom.” (See:

Research in New Zealand on Maori children studying in the Maori language can provide some light on the success of Hawaiian language schooling in Hawaiʻi.

“Maori is a Polynesian language closely related to Hawaiian, and like Hawaiian, Maori almost died out in New Zealand until Maori language schools were begun in the 1980s,” Wilson explained. “Research has shown that Maori children who attend Maori language schools outperform Maori children who attend English language schools. Furthermore, second in overall academic accomplishment are Maori children who study the Maori language in English language schools. The least performing Maori children were those who attended English language schools and did not study Maori.”

Research by the Kamehameha Schools has shown similar outcomes for Hawaiian children.
“Those who attend Hawaiian culture-based charter schools where the Hawaiian language is promoted do better than Hawaiian children attending standard English language public schools,” Wilson said. (See:

“In Hawaiʻi, more so than in New Zealand, the general multiracial population identifies with the indigenous language and supports its survival. There are non-Hawaiian children in the Hawaiian language schools here and they are also performing well in these schools. The Hawaiian identity of our island is crucial to our overall aloha spirit and also to our heavily tourism-based economy,” he explained. “The growing enrollments in Hawaiian language schools and the increased teaching of Hawaiian on the island will have cultural and economic benefits for the entire island, as well as the academic benefits to the individual children enrolled.

“Ka Haka 'Ula O Ke'elikolani College of Hawaiian Language congratulates the teachers, students and families throughout the island who are involved in strengthening the Hawaiian language,” Wilson added. “We remain committed to supporting the increase in Hawaiian language education resources for them and for all the people of our island and the state.”

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