A call for change
Gisborne hosted a number of education conferences in 2018, which all explored a similar theme – that every child in New Zealand deserves a quality education, regardless of their cultural, social and economic background. Shaan Te Kani explores this statement regarding Maori in the education system.
When Minister for Maori Development Nanaia Mahuta spoke to a conference of around 200 educators in Gisborne this year, her message was one of aspiration and hope — particularly for Maori.
“More, now than ever before, indigenous knowledge will change and shape the way governments think about age-old solutions that haven’t really shifted, especially in inequality and poverty,” said the Minister during her keynote speech at the Pae Tawhiti: Beyond the Horizon — Maori Education Leadership Conference in September.
“New Zealand has been well versed in focusing on the negative statistics — the under-achievement in education or our health statistics, and household income.
“We need to think like the nanny on the marae, who looks at all of her grandchildren, even the haututu (mischief) ones, and says they all have talent.”
But when educators would get together in a room to discuss ways of raising Maori achievement, most discussions related to factors that impacted on children outside the school gates, she said.
Factors such as mental health for children, poverty and housing were areas the Government needed to work at better, so educators could focus on teaching and influencing future leaders, she said.
But there is still a need to make change within the education system, say others.
The call for systemic change was a major topic at a national hui for Maori RTLB (resource teachers learning and behaviour) at Whangara Marae last month.
Leading the conversation was Ngati Porou educationalist Professor Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, who has spent decades working in education and was a keynote speaker at the hui.
She did not deliver a “kind critique” of the education system, and raised concerns of how Maori students were continually being failed by it.
“We believe in the transformative power of education in our lives. But how do we get systemic change?
“If you put the Treaty of Waitangi into the Education Act (1989), it should be considered,” said Professor Tuhiwai-Smith.
“I see constant watering down of the principles of the Treaty.
“Schools saying things like, ‘We are a multi-cultural school. We have a Maori club’.
“The moment they’ve gone down that track, you know they’ve missed the point. It should have a role in the school’s curriculum.”
The fact that it took students from Otorohanga College to present a petition to Parliament about including the history of the New Zealand Land Wars in the school curriculum was just one example of the absence of the Treaty in the education system, she said.
“The Otorohanga students shouldn’t have had to do a petition.
“Teachers shouldn’t have to go against their colleagues to develop initiatives.
“I would argue that we’re dreaming if we think we can go from being mono-cultural to being multi-cultural without acknowledging bi-culturalism.
“Multi-cultural is an excuse to not acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi, and not get to grips with what Maori are saying about education.”
Inequality between schools of varying deciles was a barrier for many communities, she said.
“We have bought into the belief that the ‘haves’ have more, and the ‘have-nots’ don’t get anything — you do well because you deserve it.
“Those who are disadvantaged in our communities, their children deserve better, deserve a change. One place that should provide that is education. It is one of the foundations of a developed society.”
She acknowledged Gisborne’s Kaiti School as a prime example of a school doing what it could, working against the conditions or the circumstances it was dealt with.
“It can’t change the entire system but it does its best. It cannot change the economic conditions in which their parents survive.”
Schools like Kaiti School were often in “resource deficit”, she said.
“Resource deficit is when a community is denied of the fundamental basic resources, the resources that address inequalities.
“In this system, instead of giving more to the schools that are more in need, we give to those who have more. Those schools have a greater sense of entitlement of resources.
“Then we have communities denied information about what they’re entitled to.”
There was also a “narrow definition of achievement”, especially in the National Certificate Education Achievement model in secondary schools.
She criticised NCEA as being not much different from the era of School Certificate and Sixth Form Certificate.
The New Zealand School Certificate (now NCEA Level 1) was an examination-based secondary-school qualification for students in Year 11 (Form 5) from the 1940s until 2002. Sixth Form Certificate (NCEA Level 2) was an internally-assessed qualification for Year 12 (Form 6) students. Students were awarded “1” for “an excellent level of achievement” in a subject down to “9” for low levels of achievement. The amount of 1, 2 or 3 levels available for allocation to students were based on a school’s School Certificate results from the previous year.
“The systemic failure for Maori is still the same, just disguised by a different system.
“The system manipulates who gets to sit NCEA, which is a basic-level qualification for leaving school.
“More Maori students are not presented to Level 2 NCEA. They’re either removed or prohibited before they get an opportunity.
“We could see the manipulation that schools were engaging in, those students couldn’t advance.
“Now if you don’t get your NCEA there’s shame attached to it. A lot of students don’t go back. They had been exited in Year 10.”
She says all of the challenges and barriers for Maori in education boil down to one thing — racism.
“I do think we have a problem of racism in New Zealand. It’s deeply embedded.
“It’s in teaching, from policy all the way down to practice.
“If you don’t teach anti-racism skills, we don’t teach our teachers and community to combat systemic racism.
“The system never says, ‘what can we learn from our kura kaupapa? How can we learn from you?’
“Instead of looking at Maori being under-achievers, look at where we do achieve. But the system is not interested.
“How do we use our Maori strengths to transform the system?
“The outcome of that has to be a different kind of system. A set of benefits that drive the whole system.
“It not only takes a village to raise a child. It takes a system of villages to educate a community. It takes a community to educate a school.”