5 Aug 2019

Where Aotearoa lets its kids down

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 5 August 2019
A He Kākano student works on his art.

A He Kākano student works on his art. Photo: RNZ / Mihingarangi Forbes

Aotearoa is constantly making “world’s best” lists – beaches, ease of doing business, volunteering, tourism.  But where it counts – educating our children – we are falling well back. In particular, our inequality figures are dismal.

“We’re doing horrifically badly,” says Newsroom.co.nz’s education reporter Laura Walters. “UNICEF’s Innocenti annual report card last year ranked New Zealand 33rd out of 38 (OECD) countries in terms of educational equality, so we’re right down the bottom there. And that was also backed up in the OECD Equity in Education report that they do.

"Basically it said that 70 percent of Kiwi kids do really, really well – and some of our top achievers go on to be world leaders. That’s something we love to celebrate and that’s fantastic. But actually, we have this shameful record when it comes to this small group of students that sit at the bottom.”

The gap between the highest and lowest achievers shows up early on in life – in early childhood education – and continues to grow.

Can a new $42 million project stop the education system from failing Māori children?

Te Hurihanganui aims to tackle the unconscious bias and racism in schools, and find new ways of teaching Māori children that work. It’s a three year scheme that will try to bring a new Te Ao Māori point of view into the classroom. It will work with communities to bring their perspective into education.

Keri Milne-Ihimaera knows how to do that – she did it successfully at Moerewa School in Northland for 10 years. But her methods didn’t line up with the official curriculum and the school was put into statutory intervention, run by a commissioner.

She went on to do a doctorate based on that experience, and now she’s an education consultant.

 “Once you have that realisation that what we’re serving up is not of use now, and hasn’t been of use historically, and it’s not producing the results that we want that are good enough for Māori – then you have to really challenge yourself. Am I disrupting that system or am I perpetuating it?” she says.

“I think that there’s this inherent belief that our ‘norm’ in that mainstream system is everybody’s norm – and it’s not.”

As an example she says it’s normal in a school to encourage individual success, whereas in a Māori family it’s a much more collective society – “my success is a result of other people helping and supporting me; and their success is a result of my contribution, where we’re connected”.

“Without realising it you’ve left your culture at the gate, gone into the school, played the school game and picked up your culture on the way out, because you’ve got no expectation that your stories, your songs, will look like you; the principal will be able to pronounce your name and knows your whakapapa.

“So you just put on this pākehā mask … and without realising it perform like a pākehā brown-skinned person.

“In fact it’s so entrenched that you’ve really got to de-programme yourself."

Milne-Ihimaera says the new programme is about flipping the script, schools looking at a wider set of indications for success and not narrowing our expectations to children that it’s only about literacy and numeracy and those are the only things that are important.

“We know how to do this education thing,” she says. “We’re not dumb; we’re not bad at it – we just need to do it in a way that suits us.”

Photo: RNZ