Education & Identity - Crucial For Māori Student Success

Education and identity – Is the system delivering on this crucial component for Māori success?

Despite our claim to biculturalism, the disparity of Māori in education is evident.  Māori students have been disadvantaged and under-resourced for decades.  They are more vulnerable to under-achievement in mainstream schooling.  Tamariki Māori achieve higher and stay in school longer if they have access to Māori-medium education, whether delivered through kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, or Māori-immersion and bi-lingual units within mainstream schools.  TOP questions how these models could be incorporated into mainstream schooling to enable all Māori to thrive.

In the light of COVID-19, education through devices is a phenomenon we need to grapple with. As an evidence-based political party, TOP was concerned with the government’s eager messaging on device-based education.  Devices have a place in education, but their value should not be overstated.  TOP agrees that every child should have equal access to digital inclusion, connectivity and appropriate support.  But devices should not be seen as a quick fix to inequity issues in education.  The problems run deeper and need to be explored.

What’s going wrong with the system tasked with supporting everyone’s educational success?

A big reason for the vulnerability of Māori students is that mainstream schooling is not culturally responsive.  Every child deserves to feel grounded in their identity.  To belong.  To feel connected and secure. To be surrounded by people and environments that feel familiar.  But how does that play out for Māori children in a eurocentric education system that is modelled on industrialisation?   

Where all children are taught A, B, C before our other national languages?   Where children are seen as students within a classroom, rather than whole beings?  Where te reo Māori, and te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) are separated from the mauri (life force, vital essence), rather than being integrated in everyday practice?  Where learning at school is given the highest status?  Where integrated approaches of learning through whānau, hapū and iwi constructs are undervalued? 

While many schools incorporate te reo Māori, the evidence is clear that drawing from both te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā would benefit everyone.

The digital disadvantage, lack of access to school-related resources, and resulting stress of some students became clear during COVID-19 lockdown.  In general, students with parents/caregivers/whānau with lower educational and literacy levels, limited education related resources (books, extracurricular activities), and lesser knowledge of practices valued in education were less likely to be able to provide effective support and guidance for students at home during lockdown.  The reality for many whānau is that intergenerational disadvantage and socioeconomic realities add significantly to the stresses these rangatahi have faced.

Teachers are reporting high rates of mental distress amongst all returning students to school, irrespective of ethnicity.  We need strategies to help students recover from the negative impacts of lockdown.  Firstly, we can question the impact of lockdown on their educational outcomes and opportunities to learn.  Was seven weeks long enough to impact learning when viewed from a whole-of-life perspective?  Do we need to speak differently about the nature of learning?  Could we also think differently about what we need our children to learn?  Approaches used within Māori-medium education may provide valuable guidance here.

How would TOP change the education system to support Māori students’ success?

TOP supports the Te Hurihanganui initiative, a three year scheme to bring a new Te Ao Māori point of view into the classroom. It will work with communities to bring their perspective into education.  Children should not be leaving their culture at the school gate, but rather, integrating it into everyday classroom practice.  

More broadly, TOP will invest in the profession of teaching, pay teachers accordingly, give them appropriate tools and trust them to do their jobs.  For issues surrounding te ao Māori, a strong investment in collective professionalism is needed.  Collective professionalism means questioning the status quo, undertaking quality learning and development, critically reflecting on teaching practice, improving and innovating, and sharing learning and knowledge. Collectively, teachers have the potential to challenge and guide the education system to provide better support to whānau Māori.

By definition, we all have unconscious bias, an automatic tendency to perceive people, situations and events in certain ways.  But we can explore, question and challenge our unconscious bias.  TOP believes the unconscious bias and institutionalized racism prevalent across New Zealand must firstly be overcome within the education system.  Because education has the potential to change the world.

Despite the improved outcomes for Māori students in Māori-medium education, many educationalists and political reformers have failed to address the needs of whānau Māori and all tāngata of Aotearoa.  Alternative solutions to mainstream schooling are needed.  We are at a crisis point.  Kura Kaupapa has been endeavoring to close many of the achievement gaps that exist in the mainstream system since 1985.  But it’s not enough.  Kaupapa Māori pathways still need more investment.  

Ideally, Kaupapa Māori pedagogy would also be integrated into the mainstream schooling system.   TOP will encourage schools to collaborate and innovate.  Mainstream schools could benefit from collaboration with Kaupapa Māori discourse at every step of the educational journey, in our view. 

While academic achievement is important, social and emotional wellbeing is a crucial prerequisite to learning for tamariki of all ages.  TOP values soft skills like collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking (4Cs) across a variety of contexts and across all age groups.  Such an approach lends itself more easily to cultural integration and understanding.

Evidence shows that primary and high schools are spending too much time testing our children rather than teaching them.  TOP will require students to leave school with one National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) qualification, either Level 1, 2, or 3.  The prior high school years will have comprehensive individual learning plans that celebrate the natural talents, interests and passions of youth.  We will add value to their learning by ensuring all students understand our bicultural nation.  

TOP wants to ensure society understands the value of relationships for teaching and learning and the place of schools in education.  Learning is an interactive, emotional, contextual and practical experience.  TOP sees teachers, human interaction and relationships as crucial to the process of learning.  This perspective aligns well with Kaupapa Māori learning environments. 

Of course, the socio-economic situation of families also impacts children's ability to learn.  TOP’s kiwi dividend will provide every New Zealand family with a basic level of dignity.  Our housing policies will ensure every family has a secure home in which to develop a sense of belonging and security. TOP also has a number of policies that will give every New Zealander the opportunity to thrive.  

In 2020, let’s not leave the educational changes that are needed to chance. TOP is the only party willing to address New Zealand’s issues at a fundamental level.  We listen to the evidence and will do what works. TOP will create an education system that values identity, belonging and well-being for all students, because we are the only party that appreciates multiple worldviews.  


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  • Beverley Short
    commented 2020-08-16 09:03:22 +1200
    In the 1950’s there were little schools all over isolated spots within New Zealand and affirmative action (a concept not invented then) was in practice by the governments of the day. Bright young teachers, mainly couples, were financially incentivised to go out and do their “Maori Service”, which amounted to up-rooting and living for however many years in the school house and running the tiny school. The School Committees were supportive and came from the local parent source, the School Inspectors from the (then) Education Board were supportive. School Dental Nurses and Public Health Nurses frequently visited and treated children with preventative health (if no clinic, they drove the kids to the nearest one), the Library Service visited with their bus on a reasonably regular basis (this service for adults in the community as well), and the school became the hub of the community as well as any local marae. Often no commercial premises for miles. Sure, the teaching was rather based on British lines, but NZ had it’s own very good theorists influencing the curriculum such as Silvia Ashton Warner and her brilliant ideas of “words as emotional triggers” for teaching reading. Then funding cuts closed most of the schools in and around 1960. You can go back to those areas now and they are …. dead.