Supporting Fijian children's communication

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The purpose of this doctoral research was to identify and create culturally and linguistically appropriate support for children’s communication in Fiji that could be used to inform practices of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other communication specialists. This doctoral research describes a mixed-methods study that was conducted in four stages and is presented as a series of nine publications.
Stage 1 (Papers 1 and 2) involved reviewing policy documents and literature regarding the historical support available for people with communication disability (PWCD) in Fiji. Factors influencing specialist services for PWCD in Fiji included a range of barriers (e.g., geographical and financial) and drivers of change (e.g., adoption and implementation of international conventions). The reviews also revealed the presence of a variety of agents of delivery of intervention in Fiji including visiting internationally qualified SLPs, disability care workers, and traditional healers.
Stage 2 (Papers 3 and 4) involved a survey of 144 Fijians to determine community beliefs, attitudes, and practices for supporting PWCD. Participants’ beliefs about the cause of communication disability were analysed thematically revealing that beliefs clustered around three themes: (1) internal causes: impairment, disorder or disease states of the body; (2) external causes: environmental and personal factors; and (3) supernatural causes: fate or curse. Attitudes towards PWCD placed restrictions on PWCD’s participation in Fijian society.
Stage 3 (Papers 5, 6, and 7) involved a study of 75 students (35 in year 1 and 40 in year 4) and their caregivers and teachers from a multiracial, multilingual, urban primary school to gather context-specific knowledge about the communication environment, and the speech, language, and literacy use and proficiency of Fijian children. These Fijian students and their conversational partners were linguistically multi-competent using between one and five languages. Proficiency in the students’ main language and English was reported to be higher compared to proficiency in other additional languages. On measures of direct assessment of English language and literacy proficiency, raw scores were correlated with academic performance, the students’ main language status, and/or their father’s education.
Stage 4 (Papers 8 and 9) began the work of developing culturally and linguistically appropriate resources and assessments for the children in Stage 3. A contrastive review of the phonological features of two Fiji English dialects (Fijian Fiji English and Fiji Hindi Fiji English) was conducted to assist SLPs in the assessment of speech production. Additionally, the Intelligibility in Context Scale was validated for the Fijian context to provide a simple parent-report screening tool about the success of communication within the children’s environments.
The findings of this research acknowledge the social, cultural, and linguistic capital of Fiji to inform provision of services to PWCD. Recommendations from this doctoral research include the need to: (1) develop culturally appropriate assessments and interventions that acknowledge Fijians’ belief systems, build on communities’ communication strengths, and involve partnership with the diverse agents of intervention in Fiji, and (2) consider the cultural and linguistic environment and the purpose of communication when assessing multilingual children in Fiji.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • McLeod, Sharynne, Principal Supervisor
  • McDonagh, Sarah, Principal Supervisor
  • Wang, Audrey, Principal Supervisor
Award date01 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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