Pūnana Leo Establishing Worldwide Standards for Early Education Through Indigenous Languages

Hilo, HI – February 4, 2014 – The ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a nonprofit family-based educational organization administered and operated through the Hawaiian language, continues to make indigenous language education history.  The organization has now opened a pathway for distinctive accreditation of indigenous early education worldwide through guidelines set by the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC).

The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s system of eleven Pūnana Leo preschools, one infant-toddler daycare and a statewide administrative office was evaluated last week in a new accreditation review process for preschool through high school (P-12) established by WINHEC.  It was the first international early education accreditation review conducted through an endangered and indigenous language.  WINHEC will use this international evaluation process to develop distinctive support for indigenous early education around the globe.

ʻAha Pūnana Leo Executive Director, ʻEkekela Aiona, is very pleased with the recently conducted review.  “This accreditation process supports our vision and mission of revitalizing the language as we continue to work towards reestablishing high quality, distinctive Hawaiian language medium education.” The use of Hawaiian was illegal in schools for 90 years.  The ʻAha Pūnana Leo led the movement to remove that ban and has become the primary private entity supporting the development of education through Hawaiian from preschool on to the doctorate level.

The World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium began as an international accrediting entity for higher education.  In 2010, WINHEC expanded their work in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Canada to include work in the United States.  The first WINHEC accreditation granted in the U.S. was to the College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.  The ʻAha Pūnana Leo provides a P-12 campus for the laboratory school of that college.  When WINHEC decided to expand into accrediting early childhood education, its international board was already familiar with the ʻAha Pūnana Leo and felt it would be an excellent initial program with which to implement the newly developed accreditation process.

The recent groundbreaking early childhood education accreditation review of the ʻAha Pūnana Leo was conducted by a diverse and distinguished group of local, national and international educators. This WINHEC review team included Dr. Tīmoti Kāretu of the Wānanga O Aotearoa Māori University in New Zealand and board member of the Māori language Kōhanga Reo preschools, Professor Asta Balto, past president of the indigenous National State Sami University College of Norway, Dr. Ray Barnhardt, Professor and Director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Hawaiian educators Dr. Walter Kahumoku lll, Director of the Public Education Support Division of the Kamehameha Schools and Dr. Kanoe Nāone, CEO of INPEACE.

In an initial report to the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, the review team commended the ʻAha Pūnana Leo for its over 30 years of work. It also urged the Hawaiian medium education organization to increase its attention to its role as an international leader in endangered and indigenous language revitalization. The review team will now present its findings and recommendations to the WINHEC Accreditation Authority Board with final results of the accreditation visit available in May.

To learn more about the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, visit http://www.ahapunanaleo.org.