May 8, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Te Ururoa Flavell – ‘Education sector put on notice’

6 min read

There has been a lot of talk today in the House about a very special group of New Zealanders. They are the 60,000 children whom we call the Year 1 cohort. They are children, one might say, who are on the brink of opportunity and children with the promise of a big huge future in the world ahead.

One in four of those children will be Maori; that is 15,000 people who have every potential to be the entrepreneurs, the innovators, and the breadwinnersthe talent pool of our labour market. Now let us look at another groupthe 800,000 children throughout the school sector. Of these, 160,000 are classified as living in poverty.

I wonder how it could be that in the Prime Ministers address to the nation today he failed to acknowledge a report that has been widely aired across the nation. That is the United Nations report that has described the rates of child abuse and poverty in Aotearoa as staggering.

Let us break that down a bit. Presumably, that is what was implied by the recognition in the Prime Ministers statement that Despite decades of good intentions from government, were still failing too many of our kids. I have to ask how good those intentions have been for all of our children. There are two groups: tangata whenua and children living in poverty. Unfortunately, those groups are both closely linked together.

As a teacher and a former principal myself, I can say with some sort of authority that much of the poorer performance and disengagement experienced in the case of Maori children is correlated with their socioeconomic status. How can any Government, red or blue, live with itself in knowing that the rate of poverty for children in households with no full-time worker is six times higher than it is for children living in homes where there is at least one full-time worker?

What that translates into is levels of hardship that have immediate consequences. This is what a group of young New Zealanders described about poverty in the report entitled A Fair Go for all Children: Actions to address child poverty in New Zealand

Cant afford a school uniform Lack of books not getting proper opportunities like going on school trips No lunch Not accepted by peers Left out Get picked on at school Stress Shame Low self-esteem Unhappy Lonely Feelings of worthlessness., etc.

We are not talking Charles Dickens here; this is from a 2008 report from the Childrens Commissioner, which is a report that Labour will for ever be judged against, a report that should have, but has not, become the blueprint for making the National Government take bolder action in the interests of our tamariki, children who are born in homes that have endured long-term poverty, have poorer health, and do less well at school. Those same children will achieve lower earnings if indeed they are equipped to leave school without any substantial qualifications.

Tragically, childhood poverty is associated with a higher risk of anti-social and criminal behaviour, which Mr Goff alluded to this afternoon.

Taking the cycle of despair even further, it was pretty depressing to hear the views of my brother-in-law, Ruakere Hond, in *\Taranaki who has been involved in Maori education since the 1980s. In an article in the Taranaki newspaper he talked about the fact that a lot of the unemployed M?ori lack motivation, from being trapped in a cyclic paradigm that filtered down through older members of the whanau. In fact, he described this cycle as becoming culturally ingrained in certain family groups.

Where does this come from? What can we do to address the seemingly intractable problems that lead to underachievement and under-participation? It is not about just a poverty of income. It is also about a poverty of spirit, demonstrated in schools in which the culture of the school and the attitude and expectations of teachers have been shown to contribute to their disengagement. There is a longstanding recognition that there is a clear disconnect between the majority of teachers and Maori students. We recall two separate surveys. One was conducted by the New Zealand History Teachers Association, and the other by the academic Richard Manning. They indicated that M?ori content was often sidestepped, and this has had major educational and political implications for Maori.

I come back to Mr Keys view about good intentions. I presume he is talking about the taha Maori programmes of the 1970s, the various interventions, such as the bilingual units in general stream schools, perhaps the marae on school-grounds, Treaty clauses in the charter, and the like. They were all great, but actually benefited Pakeha students more than the target group of Maori. But what Russell Bishop of Waikato University has demonstrated so effectively is that recognition of our language, culture, and identity is an essential part of the pathway to success for Maori.

But the M?ori edge is not just about having a Maori name or the school pupils being able to sing Tutira Mai Nga Iwi.

The M?ori edge is to understand that wh?nau are the critical factor to ensuring achievement in education. Whanau, hapu, and iwi have a special role in making success happen. We call it whanaungatanga, where everyone who is involved with the people who care most about our students, their whanau, are welcomed at the door. It is about allowing Maori to have a space, providing support, but still allowing M?ori to have our own say and to take up models that work for us, like Tu Toa in Palmerston North.

It is about celebrating Maori innovation and initiative. Politicians on both sides of the House have spoken about the importance of literacy and numeracy programmes, and of our kids being able to speak well, count well, read well, and write well. What is new? That is the same catchcry that New Zealanders from all ethnic backgrounds have been calling for, since the missionaries arrived with their pencils and slates. But literacy and numeracy on their own are but one part of the solution.

If we really want to make a difference for Maori education, we must understand that Maori solutions are required. The Maori Party has talked about cultural competency. We have called for responses that reflect Maori aspirations for educationaspirations that inevitably include the social, political, economic, and cultural sustainability of Maori as a people. It is about including Maori culture in meaningful ways. It is about incorporating Maori knowledge, culture, and perspectives inside and outside of the curriculum. Ultimately, it is about Whanau Ora. This is fundamentally what Tariana intended would happen with whanau orathat the education sector would take on the challenge of working with whanau.

Although we could easily identify the success factors inherent in kura kaupapa Maori, we must as a nation apply those same conditions for success in the mainstream school system. In my electorate of Waiariki, for example, Maori children comprise approximately three-quarters of the school role in the areas of Kawerau and Opotiki. What about them? A revolution is not impossible. The results of Te Kotahitanga show us that the academic engagement of Maori students dramatically improved. Their completion levels of work increased, there were higher levels of Maori student attendance, and short-term achievement rose.

The State, principals, teachers, and, for their part, wh?nau need to be held to account. Whanau must play their part, but it is also about time the education sector was put on notice too. They are paid to do the job. Fifty percent – plus of Maori boys leaving school without qualifications is just not good enough; in fact, it is a disgrace. We have to invest in the success that is the Maori edge that the Maori Party is pursuing. We are determined to make a difference to achieve the change that our nation needs. We will do it, but not just for the 15,000 Maori children who started school last week, but for the future of all descendants who will carve out a future for Aotearoa. Tena tatou.

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