Māori teachers optimistic about scale of change

6:40 am on 29 July 2021

Māori educators believe they are seeing an unprecedented push to ensure schools walk the talk of honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. As part of a series this week, RNZ is looking at efforts to ensure schools and teachers are using reo and tikanga every day.

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Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchhod

They say the combination of training for teachers with regulations, that essentially make te reo and tikanga compulsory for teachers, could help transform the education system and eliminate poor achievement that has dogged Māori students for decades.

The president of Te Akatea, the Māori Principals Association, Bruce Jepsen, said the combination of efforts is unprecedented and overdue.

"Despite having significant evidence in our country for numerous years, decades, beyond decades, about disparity of underachievement between Māori and non-Māori, there's never been focus to the level and degree that we're seeing at this time, which for me is really positive," he said.

He said the changes have the potential to create a school system that truly values and reflects Māori language and culture, but that also contributes to changes in wider society.

"Each of the kaupapa that have been mentioned provide the opportunity and the platform to become a bicultural New Zealand," he said.

Schools are being encouraged to forge closer links with local iwi and the education services manager for the iwi Ngāti Toa, Bianca Elkington, said - in the Porirua area - that has proved to make a big difference.

"What schools find really difficult to do, iwi just don't face that same challenge because of whakapapa. So, yeah, I do see there is some change in our area, there is some change because there is another player that's quite a strong player in this game and that's iwi," she said.

Spotswood College principal Nicola Ngarewa said a lot will depend on how committed teachers and principals were to the changes but she was optimistic that they are ready.

"If we do it tokenisticallly and we don't really embrace this the way that we should be, it will be just another little tick-box exercise," she said.

"But I would say that I think that society and communities and us as a country, internationally, it's shifted quite significantly from what it was perhaps even 10 years ago."

The Minister of Māori Crown Relations and associate education Minister Kelvin Davis said the government wanted equitable outcomes for Māori students.

Principal Nicola Ngarewa is known as whaea Nicola to the student or aunty

Principal Nicola Ngarewa is known as whaea Nicola to the students. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"All we are doing is what should have been done decades and decades ago. We're making sure that every Māori child will see themselves and their language and their culture valued in the education system right across from early childhood right through to tertiary education and everything in between," he said.

"That's just really important and it's basically what non-Māori children see in their education system already. What we're doing is just making sure Māori have the same opportunity."

Shona West from the Post Primary Teachers Association's Māori body, Te Huarahi, said she was enthusiastic about the current efforts but the union was worried there will not be sufficient funding to ensure the initiatives succeed.

"Yes they are great ideas, yes we need to be addressing things Māori on a large scale, and a huge scale because it hasn't happened in the past, but it's the resourcing that PPTA are really concerned about," she said.

She said that means things like giving schools enough money to pay for relievers so teachers can go on courses.

Māori education expert Professor Mere Berryman was also cautious about the changes. She said they are still in their infancy and she wants to give them another six months or so to bed in.

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