Te puna kōrero

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Te puna kōrero is a place to share Māori perspectives on issues past, present and future. Our content is designed to spark conversations, provoke thought, discussion and learning. Ultimately it aims to celebrate the diversity of views and experience within our communities - while challenging us to think, act and be Māori.

  • Te Puna Korero

Circles and squares

Author: Maria Ngawati

I am like many Māori who have chosen to engage in aspects of Māori and other established education systems (not a fan of the word mainstream). I missed the Kōhanga movement and Kura Kaupapa, but was lucky enough to have been a part of the country’s first Rūmaki Reo unit at a high school – Kahurangi ki Maungawhau at Auckland Girls’ Grammar.

Fast forward 4 children later, my eldest is at a Māori Boarding school and my youngest 3 are at Kura Kaupapa – all four came through Kōhanga Reo. The renaissance that I have witnessed as a Māmā has been incredible, and yet the frustration I feel as an academic working in the Tertiary sector is sometimes overwhelming – why? Because we are looking outside at these perfectly formed circles, and still trying to make them squares.

The circle is the wharekura graduate. It is the product of our Māori education system that has a deep knowledge of Te Reo me ōna Tikanga, Te Aho Matua, and a whole knowledge system that challenges the very convention of what NZ’s education system recognises. On the receiving end is a very stubborn square. One that is born out of a colonial western paradigm that is propped up by a system that treats knowledge as a product – and is an industry in itself. For a Māori person that lives in circles but works in a square – reconciling both is tough.

So, you try and tackle the elephant. You use the system to make the edges of the square more rounded, to look like an oblong – but in doing so, this is what has to happen. You have to do the: research, curriculum development, marketing, relationship building, rule finding, MOE condition-knowing, TEC-language-learning. You then have to do the internal relationship building, advocating, dual knowledge, budgets, pathwaying, pastoral care-support service, Hau-kaingatanga, barrier-removing, quality checking, committee-meeting, NCEA and NZQA-experting, trades academy-learning and key-people finding. Then if you are fluent in Te Reo – there are the translations and communications that are both in Te Reo and English in the curriculum, enrolment, quality, marketing, comms and hui. This is all before you even receive the circles to your classroom. All while being the bridge between the two shapes.

We all know the abysmal statistics for Māori education. There isn’t a major tertiary institute in the country that doesn’t have Māori as a priority group for engagement or Māori success as a strategic driver – but most of the energy is spent prioritising the development of new squares in order to survive fiscally.

Meanwhile in general, tertiary education has been described as the perfect bridge to nowhere. We are in-between community and industry, and haven’t been that great at responding to either in a timely manner, let alone for Māori. Universities are huge machines that are gateways to the regulated and specific professions, Polytechnics have the potential to be great pathwaying mechanisms between ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ education if the Government would give clear direction to the sector, and Wānanga are siloed into delivering specifically Matauranga Māori and social sector learning, but not the ‘sciences’. It’s fragmented and confusing and has sharp edges– and we wonder why our people disengage.

What does the future look like? We are at one of those pivotal points in time where the world is anyone’s Tio, technologically speaking. There are tutorials on YouTube about how to start your own business, millionaire 22yr olds creating ocean-waste gathering technology and Indigenous knowledge is becoming more prominent as to the role it plays in helping our local communities but also the world. At the same time we need a critical mass of Māori in every sector from business to health, teaching, technology and the trades, now more than ever before.

So this kōrero isn’t just about wharekura graduates and what they can offer the world. It’s also about Māori across the whole spectrum, because the solution in tertiary has always been the same.

Someone who looks like me, acts like me, sounds like me and understands me – is going to invest in me and help me to succeed.

And then there are the Māori ‘kids’ like me. 20 years on from being one Māori out of 60 students in my University class, the situation still looks bleak. The participation rate for Māori at tertiary level study from L1-L7 certificates and diplomas has fallen by 4.9% and for degree level 5 and above, has only increased by .6% in 10 years. Something clearly isn’t working.

What if Māori could engage with higher learning without compromising language, tikanga and epistemology? What would a Bachelor of Health Science look like for example – all in Te Reo, grounded in matauranga Māori? IS New Zealand’s tertiary system the best place for our learners to go? One thing is for sure, it needs to adapt, and fast. Māori learners are changing and have so much to offer the world and the knowledge industry….

But if you want to engage with Māori? Stop trying to put perfectly formed circles into square holes.

Make the squares more round.

Maria Ngawati (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) is a Māmā and bonus Māmā of 6, and has worked in tertiary education for 16 years across all parts of the sector. She holds a Masters degree in Health Science, and is a Physiotherapist by trade. Her interests include furthering her Te Reo Māori, Sport, Education, Health and Māori Development and she loves to see tamariki becoming the best version of themselves. She currently resides in Rotorua with her whānau.

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+64 22 5227827


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