22 Dec 2015

Science on the bubble for Maori students

4:07 pm on 22 December 2015

A new science academy for Maori high school students has been created in the Manawatu to boost their interest in the subject.

Chemical research in a science laboratory.

Photo: 123rf

The Massey Science Academy will take 75 Maori Year 11 students under its wing and provide fortnightly tutorials, mentoring, time in laboratories and field trips.

In 2014, only 23 percent of Maori students achieved one or more science or math subjects compared with 47 percent of the total population.

Massey Assistant Vice-Chancellor Maori Selwyn Katene said the academy aimed to take science out of the classroom.

"It's not just bunsen burners and people in white coats and smelly chemicals. It's real life. It's taking people out to a Fonterra factory and out to the estuary."

Mana Vautier

The academy's ambassador Mana Vautier Photo: Supplied

Massey Associate Director, Academies, Naomi Manu said many Maori did not continue with science in their final years of secondary school as most high schools dropped it as a compulsory subject in Year 12.

"The majority of Maori students, literature tells us, will speak about the relationships that they might have with teachers or how they engage with science. "

The academy hoped to show the students both the relevance of science and how it applied to the world they lived in.

Manukura School is one of five schools in the region that will select students for the academy.

Spokesperson Yvette McCausland-Durie said the school did not have a science lab and struggled to find specialist science teachers.

"The students are really excited."

The academy would give students good leverage going through NCEA levels two and three, she said.

"That's an area where we really believe will open up their world and open up opportunities for them."

The academy will continue to support the students through university if they go on to study the sciences.

Selwyn Katene

Selwyn Katene Photo: Massey University website

Dr Katene said there were a lot of Maori assets in the primary sector, which was in need of Maori with science skills.

"They are saying we have enough farmers and people who own the land but what we don't have is people right along the value chain. We don't have Maori scientists, Maori food technologists, Maori nutritionists, Maori agribusiness people."

Volcanologist Jonathan Procter said there was only a handful of Maori geologists in the country and thought the academy was a great idea.

"We have such a unique country, we need that unique New Zealand perspective on the way we solve problems and the solutions we put in place as well."

Mana Vautier, the academy's ambassador, aims to be New Zealand's first astronaut for space giant NASA.

He will travel to Palmerston North from Houston in the United States for the opening ceremony on January 30 and will provide ongoing support to the students.

"I have always enjoyed helping other people and, with my Māori heritage, I am excited to be a part of this academy.

"I am also looking forward to the opportunity to hopefully inspire and motivate others to bigger and better things by sharing my life experiences with them."

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