ʻĀina Advocacy: Moving the U.S. to Prioritize Education Outside the Classroom


One of the most important tasks the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) prepares for each December is presenting powerful recommendations on education to the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

These recommendations are born from and for the community. NHEC works annually in community consultations and engagement sessions, diverse dialogue, and ongoing education research and advocacy in existing educational programs addressing Native Hawaiians in our process to raise forward these annual recommendations.

This year, we anticipate a Native Hawaiian Education Program (NHEP) grant competition and these priority recommendations are important in shaping decisions in what types of programs ED should fund and support.

NHEC is focusing this month’s column on our second of three priority recommendations to ED on ʻāina-based learning programs. The following excerpt is taken from our annual report:

“PRIORITY FUNDING RECOMMENDATION: Expand ʻāina-based programs and initiatives to address place-based inequities and increase educational opportunities.

“Participants of NHEC’s community consultations shared experiences of food insecurity as stressors of the pandemic, which in turn underlines the incredible importance ʻāina-based learning or ʻteaching and learning through ʻāina so our people, communities, and lands thrive’ (Ledward, 2013). Nationally, 21% of Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, as compared to non-Hispanic White counterparts (8%), experience food insecurity that directly and indirectly contribute to related factors such as increased healthcare costs, limited access to resources and income, and a correlation to poor physical health (Nguyen, Pham, Jackson, Ellison, & Sinclair, 2022).

“The relational value to food, to one another, and to the environment remains a priority for Native Hawaiian communities. A participant who attended NHEC’s community consultation session for Out of School and ʻĀina reflects on the importance of ʻāina-based programming options in the community if traditional schools did not provide resources. ‘[Traditional schools] don’t see the rigor in ʻāina-based learning. I think that’s the disconnect. I think that’s why out-of-school programs are so important. It reminds our haumāna that learning continues after the school bell rings.’

“The increased value of and access to ʻāina-based learning and education programs generated greater attention on Hawaiian-focused charter schools (HFCS), which have a long-established core pedagogy on cultivating purposeful and responsible relationships between learners and culture, language, and land (Rogers, Awo Chun, Keehne & Houglum, 2020). The impact of the pandemic jolted urgent opportunity for HFCS and ʻāina-based programs to adapt hybrid and/or virtual delivery for whole family engagement to meet the needs of ʻāina learning and feeding communities. Hawaiian culture-based education principles are values-based, place-based, and land-based (Dragon Smith, 2020).

“Priority funding for expansion and support of ʻāina-based program reinforces the value of traditional wisdom in ʻāina as an educational priority to cultivate critical skills for learners, as well as an inclusive recovery approach for communities. NHEC strongly recommends ʻāina-based programming as a priority area for funding in the next NHEP grant competition.”

The work that goes into producing these priority recommendations each year is a labor of love.

To see the full report and priority recommendations, please visit our website at www.nhec.org.