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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:29 am

Māori students still struggling with stereotypes, racism

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IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: Teachers in New Zealand are still underestimating Maori pupils’ potential at school. IMAGE: Tess Nichol

ENCOURAGING a struggling Māori student to succeed could begin with teachers simply learning how to pronounce their name right.

Tehani Buchanan, a recent teaching graduate, says many trainee teachers lack the confidence and initiative to apply Māori teaching principles.

“When a lot of people are learning Māori pedagogy they don’t understand how to incorporate that into their teaching,” says Ms Buchanan (Ngati Rupe Makea).

“But at its simplest it’s about learning someone’s name and pronouncing their name right.”

She says improving knowledge around Māori teaching values could help address the gap between Māori and Pakeha success.

The number of Māori students passing NCEA at all levels has steadily increased since 2009, but the achievement gap between Māori and Pakeha is still worryingly wide.

The reasons behind the achievement gap are complex and deeply rooted in New Zealand’s colonial history, says Massey University lecturer Veronica Tawhai (Ngāti Porou and Uepohatu).

“The curriculum is yet to fully acknowledge or value the Māori world, and that is that there are Māori knowledges, Māori practices, that there are Māori ways of doing things, Māori sciences, within the world.”

“There is a huge ignorance across the country as to Māori knowledges in that the majority of people that I meet do not know that they exist,” she says.

“I’m not blaming New Zealanders for that ignorance because we have had an entire history of colonisation that has tried to kill those knowledges off. It’s really that simple.”

Ms Tawhai says the devaluing of Māori knowledges and values feeds into teachers’ racist ideas about what Māori have to offer and what Māori students are capable of achieving.

“Māori children still largely have a stigma attached to them that they are less able, less likely to achieve.”

She says teachers’ lowered expectations create a self-fulfilling prophecy for Māori students.

“When you’re five years old or even 15 years old, you know whether or not your teacher likes you, let alone has faith in you.”

“If teachers think you’re going to do terribly, nine times out of ten you are.”

Ms Tawhai cites a now-defunct government programme, Te Kotahitanga, which worked with teachers to raise their expectations for Māori students.

“Māori student achievement skyrocketed. And the really disturbing thing about that is that these are the same kids,” she says.

“The only thing that has changed is the attitude of the teacher and so the decades that we have had of Māori students’ underachievement that points directly to the fact that teachers in New Zealand still have really racist stereotypes as to the level to which Māori students can achieve.”

The Ministry of Education stopped funding Te Kotahitanga in 2013, despite the programme’s success.

Another government strategy, Ka Hikitia- Managing for Success, which aims to realise Māori students’ potential, is still in operation.

“Ka Hikitia is about Māori students succeeding as Māori. That means that they feel comfortable with Māori language, that they feel comfortable with their history and their tikanga,” says former NZEI president Liz Patara (Te Arawa- Ngati Whakaue Ngati Uenukukopako).

“You’ve got to really think how does their culture and their language impact on teaching mathematics, or how does it impact on me teaching science,” she says.

Established in 2008, Ka Hikitia has been updated for the 2013- 2017 period with a greater focus on “educationally powerful” partnerships.

The strategy’s latest performance audit report was released by the Office of the Auditor General at the end of February this year.

The report gives an overview of the relationships between schools and whānau as well as providing examples of practices that build effective relationships.

“Our report provides an opportunity for people to think about their schools and their relationships, to understand the differences between schools, and to work to build and use relationships more effectively,” says Auditor General Lyn Provost.

The results show an imbalance in how relationships are perceived.

Ninety per cent of schools surveyed said they felt they had an effective relationship with whānau, but only sixty six percent of whānau surveyed agreed that their child’s school has an effective relationship with its Māori students and their whānau.

The percentage dropped further for high decile schools and schools with a low proportion of Māori students.

Ms Tawhai says teachers and other staff members need to remember that older Māori can be distrustful of mainstream schools after their own experiences as students.

“The parents might be hostile, well yeah if you look into our history you can maybe understand why they’re a bit hostile.”

“All our parents’ generation did whatever they could to get out of school as fast as they could because these were the days when you could still strap children.”

Ms Tawhai says she thinks using different models of teaching could help improve not only Māori, but all students’ achievement rates.

“There is a Māori education framework called Te Aho Matua, it’s what currently operates in Kura Kaupapa and Kōhanga Reo.”

“The first principle is that in the Te Aho Matua framework it is recognised that the child is not just a physical body, they are a soul, they are a spirit and in order for that child to properly learn that child needs to be nourished and cherished.”

Ms Buchanan, who attended Manukura, an alternative school based on socially responsible teaching practice and Māori values, says the mainstream education system could do more to align itself with Māori teaching values.

“We have a really general way of teaching our kids which doesn’t celebrate their strengths.”

She says teachers need to connect with their students as people.

“You have to take in the whole being of the person before the education will happen.”

“It’s not enough to go in and teach, you need to get to know these kids. Basically give a shit about them.”

Ms Buchanan says people training to be teachers are not encouraged to meaningfully embrace Māori values in their teaching.

“People do the bare minimum at teacher’s college, it’s not on anyone’s priority list.”

She says improving teachers’ knowledge around Māori teaching values is important because education can be a huge vehicle for social change.

“The statistics say it all. Māori and Pasifika are at the bottom. The education system is a huge determinant of our people today.”

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