As Polyfest 2018 wraps up for another year, it is important for us as educators to reflect critically and consider the potential of this iconic event. From the diary of a former student participant and cultural group coordinator, educator, parent and Polyfest judge, I have summarised six key lessons for consideration and reflection.

  1. Polyfest enhances student engagement in learning

Polyfest has grown and become successful because of the active engagement of students. Students choose to take part in Polyfest, with between 30-70 percent of students in some schools getting involved in the event annually. Many students from different ethnicities learn a new language, culture and dances in a collaborative learning environment which is a healthy reflection of the multicultural nature of New Zealand today.

Students learn and grow through their active engagement in Polyfest. Why? Because many students see Polyfest as a level-playing field that showcases and nurtures their cultural and linguistic capital as well as developing key competencies, knowledge and collaborative expertise.

2. Polyfest celebrates what is positive about our youth

Polyfest provides a positive focus on youth creativity, resilience, inclusion and community engagement. The Diversity Stage, which in 2018 included 62 cultural groups from around the globe, is a great example of this, demonstrating that Polyfest is for everyone.

Many cultural groups are student-led. Student leaders use their language and cultural knowledge and experiences to raise the profile of particular groups of students at their school. They work collaboratively with their peers to create, use and disseminate knowledge through the creative and performing arts

3. Polyfest connects students, families, whānau and communities

Research from the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand reveals positive links between genuine parental engagement and improved student outcomes.

Schools involved in Polyfest are familiar with the high level of parental engagement around the event, with parents and whānau offering (or being roped in by their children) to help. Parents and whānau come to help with tremendous cultural, linguistic and artistic expertise as well as providing different worldviews and perspectives.

Polyfest is a vehicle for school leaders and teachers to forge educationally powerful connections with parents, whānau and communities.

4. Polyfest offers multiple opportunities for deep learning

Polyfest is a complex operation. Any complex undertaking is filled with many problems to be solved, providing students with multiple opportunities to engage with critical issues that relate to them now and in the future, at both micro and macro levels.

Problems that students could grapple with include traffic problems during Polyfest, waste produced during the event, the healthiness of food and drink available, possible links between being physically active, food and some of the real killers in New Zealand like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, event management, business and marketing opportunities associated with Polyfest.

The potential for rich and deep learning around Polyfest is limitless and currently largely untapped. Creative educators will thrive on the opportunity to maximise deeper learning from such an engaging event for many students, especially Māori and Pasifika every year.

5. Polyfest reminds us that money is not everything

One of the key findings from the 2014 report – Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace is that “there is a significant and global trend amongst all people, but particularly the youth, towards happiness, purpose and meaning being as or more important than financial success.”

Polyfest gives pride and mana to students and their school as rewards for creativity and hard work. There are no financial remunerations for being the top groups across the six stages. Just good old bragging rights!

In today’s world where the motivation for money seems to be the main driving force for many people, Polyfest promotes in our youth and community the importance of perseverance, personal growth and teamwork as worthwhile outcomes by themselves.

6. Polyfest promotes excellence and perseverance

As a judge on the Samoan stage, I am amazed by the students’  commitment to excellence. Many schools come back every year vying for a top three spot in each dance item, or for the coveted overall “winner” label.

Students and their tutors work hard to find a differentiating factor that separates exceptional from excellence due to the high standard of performances. This is the same case for speeches. Students are expected to use data to support their arguments, make inferences, use humour judiciously, show a depth of language and cultural knowledge, learn how to grasp an audience’s attention, think about actions and implications for students and their communities.

Polyfest has strengthened the use of students’ identities, languages and cultures as levers for empowerment, leadership and celebration of the multicultural nature of our beautiful Aotearoa New Zealand it is today.

Roll on Polyfest 2019!

Siliva Gaugatao is a Lead Facilitator at Team Solutions, School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice, Faculty of Education and Social Work.

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