Categorized | Education, News

UH-Hilo to award first Ph.D.


A Maori educator from New Zealand will become the first recipient of a doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Katarina Edmonds will receive the Ph.D. in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization awarded by Ka Haka Ula O Keelikolani College of Hawaiian Language.

Edmonds will receive her degree in absentia during fall commencement, scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, in the UH-Hilo New Gym.         

Katarina Edmonds

Katarina Edmonds

A member of the Te Whanau a Apanui and Rutaia tribes, Edmonds has an extensive background in language and cultural education dating back to 1980.   She earned her undergraduate degrees in education and Maori and a master’s in applied linguistics from the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.

After eight years of teaching in mainstream, English medium schools, Edmonds became involved in Maori immersion education and discovered the value of teaching through the Maori language. Subsequently, Edmonds returned to Waikato to earn a graduate degree in bilingual education and to train Maori immersion teachers in the University’s teacher education program.

Edmonds said she found the UH-Hilo program attractive and a good match for her views and background on Maori education and language revitalization. She was also struck by the parallel of the two host cultures in language preservation.

“Maori, like Hawaiian, was an endangered language,” Edmonds said. “Like Hawaii, we believe we have arrested the decline and reversed the trend. We have also learned through studies that children learning in Maori medium outperform their mainstream peers just like children who learn in the Hawaiian medium.”

In addition to professional ties, two of her grandchildren attended Te Kohanga Reo, New Zealand’s equivalent to Hawaii’s Aha Punana Leo.  There, Maori serves as a second language for most of the students whose first language is English.

Edmonds’ 200-page dissertation focuses on the validity and the reliability of tests that gauge students’ Maori language proficiency. She first examines the decline of Maori, its revitalization through immersion schools and the need for a credible, accurate and universally accepted language proficiency test. She then builds upon the Maori proficiency testing for listening, reading, speaking and writing she conducted in 2000 and 2001 as an independent consultant at Waikato. 

Her research utilized raters to grade the test and her dissertation examines the scoring to determine whether the proficiency test for writing is a valid and reliable measure of what the students have learned when judged by international standards. Edmonds’ supervisory committee included Waikato’s past and present pro-vice chancellor of Maori, a world renowned figure on language testing, and UH-Hilo experts in Hawaiian Studies, anthropology and linguistics. 

Dr. Charles Langlas, a member of UH-Hilo’s anthropology and Hawaiian Studies faculty, who served on the committee, said the members pushed Edmonds every step of the way.

“The committee scrutinized much of Katarina’s work in earlier drafts prior to her defense and required her to make changes to bring it up to our standards in the final version,” Langlas said.  “But that did not stop us from asking some very challenging and penetrating questions during her defense.”

Those questions included an inquiry from Waikato’s Pro-Vice Chancellor of Maori Linda Smith, who asked Edmonds whether she believed her work had lived up to the standards for research in the Maori community.

“My guiding principle has been ‘Kaupapa Maori,’ which means based on the Maori philosophical principles of “by Maori, for Maori and in Maori,” Edmonds said.  “The most important consideration during this entire episode was to maintain the integrity of my culture and its language.  And if I felt that standard was not being met at any point, I would have stopped.” 

Edmonds has already returned to New Zealand, and will likely now focus on the fourth and final testing component.

“The New Zealand Council on Education and Research has already analyzed the listening and reading tests. They just couldn’t do the other two because they lacked the necessary background in Maori language,” Edmonds said.  “But now that the template has been established, we can evaluate the oral testing and complete this important work.”

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