Evolving notions of safe space: Reflections on a Samoan-immersion programme (a’oga amata) in an Australian early learning centre

Year: 2019

Author: Taylor-Leech, Kerry, Krajcovicova, Monika, Tualaulelei, Eseta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In 2015, a ten-year plan called Logan Togetherwas launched to improve the life chances and opportunities for young children in Logan City, Queensland. The 2015 Australian Early Development Census had identified that 32% of children in Logan commencing their first year of full-time school were considered vulnerable in one or more key areas of early childhood development. Therefore, under the auspices of Logan Together, Hosanna Logan City Church and Goodstart Early Learning established a Samoan-immersion programme (a’oga amata) in 2018 with the aim of encouraging Samoan parents to enrol their children in early childhood education.

This presentation reports on a seven-month qualitative study, developed in collaboration with Hosanna and Goodstart, which captured the lived experience of Samoan children, families and educators involved in the a’oga amata. Using a range of methods comprising talanoa, observations, photos and video recordings, we explored the extent to which the a’oga amata was meeting its aims to support heritage language and culture, build a positive Samoan identity, and enhance children’s school readiness.

Using Conteh and Brock’s (2011) idea of safe space for young bilingual learners as a framework, we present our findings about the multiple benefits of the a’oga amata for children, caregivers and their communities. We also identify challenges to this a’oga amata’s impact and long-term sustainability which were voiced by the community and observed. We reflect on how, over time, our observations shaped our evolving understandings of the notions of heritage language, cultural identity and school readiness. Some implications for policy and practice in similar early childcare settings are discussed, such as the need to improve the availability of human and cultural resources, the value of intentional teaching of culture and language and the importance of working closely with families and communities.


Conteh, J. & Brock, A. (2011). ‘Safe spaces’? Sites of bilingualism for young learners in home, school and community. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14, 3, 347-360.