History of Hawaiian education

The public system of education in Hawaiʻi began with ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as the medium of instruction. In 1896, the Republic of Hawaiʻi passed Act 57, an English only law which subsequently banned Hawaiian language as the medium on instruction from publicly funded schools. The Hawaiian language was not again used as the medium of instruction in our public schools until 1987, a span of 91 years.


Kamehameha IIIEstablished in 1840 by King Kamehameha III, the public education system in Hawaiʻi is the oldest educational system west of the Mississippi and the only system established by a sovereign monarch. This could also be considered the first system of Hawaiian education, as the curriculum was delivered through the medium of the Hawaiian language — the Hawaiian language was the main language used in instructing students.

Shortly after this period, the increase of foreign influence in politics and economics (labor) changed Hawaiian education as English eventually became the medium of instruction. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, teaching and learning through the medium of Hawaiian was banned in 1896. Many Hawaiian elders have told of being punished for speaking Hawaiian at school. Hawaiian language would not be heard in schools for the next four generations.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, a resurgence in cultural pride and identity led to a significant increase in the interest in and the practice of the Hawaiian culture. A major movement of grassroots support for music, hula and language activities in the community emerged. This renaissance in Hawaiian culture led to community demand for more Hawaiian-oriented courses of study in schools and colleges.

The concern that the Hawaiian language would be lost with the passing of the existing native speakers became a major focus, in view of the belief that understanding of the Hawaiian language is the key to fully understanding the whole culture of the Hawaiian people. Efforts began to revitalize the language.

On the political side, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was created in the 1978 Constitutional Convention. The State Constitution was amended in 1978 to include Article X, Section 4 which mandated that the State promote "the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language" by providing a Hawaiian education program and using community expertise "as a suitable and essential means in furtherance of Hawaiian education." Furthermore Article XV, Section 4 officially recognizes Hawaiian as an official language of the State. These political changes led to the changes in the educational system.

Development within the Department

Prior to 1980, the curriculum of the Hawaii public school system included certain concepts and practices pertaining to Hawaiian culture and knowledge with information about various historical events, relationships and personages taught over the years. This instruction, however, was limited in that it occurred only at selected grade levels and within specific subject areas.

Since the establishment of the Hawaiian Studies Program in 1980 and the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program in 1986, there has been major effort to incorporate more elements of Hawaiian knowledge (culture, history and language) into the State curriculum systematically and sequentially throughout the content areas and grade levels of our public schools. A timeline follows with highlights of Hawaiian education within HIDOE.

Organizational Timeline: Hawaiian education in HIDOE

Public education system established by King Kamehameha III on Oct. 15
1893Hawaiian Kingdom overthrown
1896Hawaiian Language banned as medium of instruction in the public education system

State Constitutional Convention (Hawaiian Education committee)

Article X, Section 4:

  • “The State shall promote the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language…in the public schools.”
  • “The use of community expertise shall be encouraged as suitable and essential means in the furtherance of the Hawaiian educational program.”

Hawaiian Studies Program (HSP) established within Office of Instructional Support (OIS).

Two components: The Kupuna Component (K-6 grade) and the Secondary Component (focus on Social Studies courses such as, Hawaiian Monarchy (7th grade) and Modern Hawaiian History (grades 9 or 11)

Kupuna servicing K-6 grade schools classified for pay as part-time teacher (PTT)

State Educational Specialist (ESII) for HSP and two state HSP Resource Teacher (RT) positions created

District level HSP RT positions established to support Hawaiian education at the school level and to in-service the kupuna component at the district level


Hawaiian Language Immersion Program (HLIP) established within OIS

One State HLIP RT position created (placed with World Languages content area)


Ke Au Hou (Initiative to decentralize State office) transferred district level HSP RT positions to the schools

District Superintendents (now Complex Area Superintendents) select lead kupuna at each district as HSP District Coordinators for the Kupuna Component (to replace transferred district HSP RT responsibilities)

1994 State ES II position for HLIP created within OIS
1999 Two State RT positions for HLIP and one State RT position for HSP created within the Office of Accountability and Student Instructional Support (OASIS, formerly OIS)

Office of Hawaiian Education (OHE) established within the Division of Learner, Teacher and School Support (DLTSS, formerly OASIS)

Positions: Administrator (ESIII), two ESII’s, Administrator Secretary, 3 State HLIP RTS (funded by HLIP), and 3 State HSP RTs (funded by HSP)


Policy 2104 approved

OHE name change to Hawaiian Studies and Language Programs Section (HSLPS) due to the Department’s definition of an “Office” in the organizational structure


Kupuna officially named as cultural personnel resources (CPR)

DLTSS renamed Office of Curriculum Instruction & Student Support (OCISS)


Policy 2105: Hawaiian Language Immersion Program approved

Policy 5101: Hawaiian Language Fluency (re: HLIP) approved


HSLPS name changed to Hawaiian Education Programs Section (HEPS) during reorganization of OCISS (renamed to align with policy 2104)

Pihana na Mamo joined HEPS

Policy 2104 amended

DOE Kahua Teacher Induction Program joined HEPS (MOA with KS; State office RT position placed in HEPS via MOA; MOA closed in 2013)


Policy 2104 and 2105 amended: establishes the Office of Hawaiian Education; HEPS re-organized from OCISS to Office of the Superintendent


Office of Hawaiian Education​ officially established under the Office of the Superintendent

Contact Information

Kau‘i Sang

Phone: 808-784-6070

Email: Dawn.Sang@k12.hi.us


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