There is a long held assumption that education in New Zealand is culturally neutral. Not only is this perspective flawed, it is also one of the major impediments to Māori learner success in the mainstream education system today.
That was the context of an address by WITT Māori Governance Board Leader Ken Taiapa at last week’s national hui for Māori tertiary support staff – Te Roopu Kaitakawaenga.
Hosted at WITT, the theme for this year’s hui centred on ways to lift the rates of Māori achievement in tertiary education through the sharing of best practice approaches.
According to Taiapa this includes looking beyond blaming individuals and their families for educational failure, and instead looking at the system and re-evaluating aspects of it to seek continual improvement, effectiveness and relevance.
When it comes to Māori learner success he agrees that the need for a culturally relevant curriculum and culturally competent staff are a given. However the theme for his presentation was on discussing the value of aligning these approaches with explicit strengths-based frameworks as a pathway to unleash the potential of Māori learners.
He noted the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (Ministry of Youth Development, 2002) as one example, where through its six guiding principles it promotes a view of young people as being reservoirs of skill, talent and potential. On this basis our job as adults is to identify and nurture these as a platform for youth development. Taiapa used this framework to draw parallels to the development of Māori learners in the mainstream education system, which he contended should:
· Be shaped by the big picture;
· Happen when people are connected;
· Be shaped by a consistent strength based approach;
· Be based on quality relationships;
· Be triggered when Māori learners participate in it;
· Be based on good information.
Fusing this framework with other sound Māori pedagogical approaches, he argued, would signal a shift away from one-dimensional classrooms where teachers are the holders of knowledge and learners are empty vessels waiting to be filled.
He believed it is vital to be having these discussions now, with a major demographic transition looming in the coming years. Pointing to the work of Professor Sir Mason Durie (2009) he said that even if we do nothing to enhance Māori learner success today, in 10 years’ time we are going to see a population shift caused by an aging Pākehā population which will be offset by a relatively youthful Māori population. By 2021, for example, the median age for Pākehā will be 39-44 years whereas Māori will be 23-26 years. This means that in the coming decades Māori will begin to make up a larger proportion of the workforce in New Zealand than previously. As educators it is our job to ensure they are suitably skilled and on this basis Taiapa argues that “It is time we changed the way we conceptualise Māori learning and how we think about it, so that we can start to remove the glass ceiling.” Hence the importance of utilising Māori pedagogies with strengths-based frameworks in order to unleash Māori potentials.