ʻAha Pūnana Leo
The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s Hawaiian language preschools in Hilo, Hawaii have been granted by the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) the first ever accreditation of an early education program conducted through an endangered and indigenous language worldwide.

Hawaiian Language Preschools Garner International Recognition

ʻAha Pūnana Leo
5/30/14

The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s Hawaiian language preschools in Hilo, Hawaii have been granted by the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) the first accreditation of an early education program conducted through an endangered and indigenous language worldwide.

A distinguished team of international educators from countries that have records of high academic achievement in multiple languages, such as Scandinavia and New Zealand, conducted the new preschool through high school assessment. The accreditation serves as the base from which WINHEC seeks to develop distinctive support for indigenous early education worldwide. As the first in the world with this international accreditation, Hawai’I’s Pūnana Leo schools are setting the bar for Early Childhood Education in indigenous languages worldwide.

The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s system of 11 Pūnana Leo preschools, one infant daycare program and Statewide Administrative office was evaluated in January based on indigenous education guidelines under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In an initial report to the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, the evaluation team commended the ʻAha Pūnana Leo for the quality of its students, teachers, and staff and urged it to increase its attention to its role as an international leader and to continue to provide Hawaiian language education to its staff.

The self-study from the Pūnana Leo highlighted the academic advantages of early education through Hawaiian, including early mastery of reading and the cognitive benefits of high bilingualism. The evaluation team was especially interested in how the Pūnana Leo uses unique features of Hawaiian spelling to give its students a two-year leg up on reading compared to students in English preschools.

ʻAha Pūnana Leo Executive Director ʻEkekela Aiona is delighted with the announcement. “It is gratifying to receive this accreditation that recognizes the quality and value of Hawaiian language medium education. This is one step in the long process of revitalizing the Hawaiian language and reestablishing high quality distinctive Hawaiian language medium education.”

The next step will be for the ʻAha Pūnana Leo to seek acceptance of WINHEC accreditation by the State of Hawai’i. The goal is to allow substitution of international WINHEC accreditation for regional U.S. English language medium accreditation, resulting in state financial support to Hawaiian language medium preschools equal to that given English medium preschools.

For 90 years the use of Hawaiian was illegal in schools. The ʻAha Pūnana Leo lead the movement to remove that ban and has been the primary private entity supporting the development of education through Hawaiian from preschool on to the doctorate level. Language revitalization programs worldwide widely recognize the ʻAha Pūnana Leo as the model for education in an endangered and indigenous language revitalization movement.

The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s unique family-based education program serves as the base from which children enter Hawaiian immersion schools, where students pursue a college preparatory curriculum and sometimes a third language in addition to English and Hawaiian. Pūnana Leo is not only praised for the level of success their students accomplish academically, but also for instilling intrinsic Hawaiian values in their students that resonate within the family and further to the community.

Alongside its education program, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo continues to provide the community with more than 19,500 hours of community service per year, free weekly Hawaiian language education classes and is a member of a consortium of internationally recognized schools, organizations and university programs in Hawai’i dedicated to re-establishing Hawaiian as the first and main language of the home.

To learn more about Pūnana Leo and its WINHEC accreditation, visit the website

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