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‘Educultural’ learning vital for teaching

‘Educultural’ learning vital for teaching effectiveness

A new book focussing on ‘educultural’ education has highlighted the need for the country’s teachers to gain a better understanding of their culture and the culture of others if teaching and learning in the classroom is to become more effective.

Kia hiwa ra! Listen to culture - Mäori students’ plea to educators is based on the research of Dr Angus Macfarlane, Senior Lecturer at Waikato University, and focuses on classroom management skills that can make teaching and learning more culturally relevant.

The book draws on research carried out by Dr Macfarlane in three contrasting educational sites in his Te Arawa iwi, with the experiences of ‘educultural’ learning in the Ngäti-Whakaue Enrichment Class at Ngongotahä School near Rotorua being used extensively.

“This learning centre showed what could be achieved through the efforts of culturally aware educators who were better able to understand and respond to the learning needs of today’s diverse classrooms.”

While the focus of the book is on Mäori students, Dr Macfarlane says many of the ideas and strategies can be introduced and implemented for all students who make up diverse classrooms.

“As Aotearoa / New Zealand becomes more ethnically diverse, there is a greater need for a clear understanding of the roles various cultures play in education and the implications for teaching and learning in an increasingly changing and complex classroom environment.”

Dr Macfarlane says that while this understanding of cultural issues in education is vital, there are other contextual issues which may complicate the teaching and learning process.

“The number and diversity of minority students is on the increase while at the same time there is a rapidly changing economic, demographic and political landscape. Giving teachers guidance and strategic advice on how to cope with this huge array of influences and get the best out of a culturally diverse learning environment is therefore one of the key issues facing teachers right across the education sector.”

Kia hiwa ra!, which literally means ‘to be alert’, was launched today at a Parliamentary function by Mäori Affairs and Associate Education Minister Parekura Horomia. The book is published by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research at which Dr Macfarlane was, in 2003, the first senior research fellow.

ENDS Any enquiries, please contact Rob Murray, Communications Manager, NZCER, 04 802 1468. Issued by NZCER in conjunction with the University of Waikato, Te Whare Wänanga o Waikato. Please find attached an article by Dr Macfarlane that is to be published in March in the new Waikato University magazine Waikato. You are welcome to quote from this article on the proviso that it is credited to Waikato magazine.

Biographical note

Dr Angus Hikairo Macfarlane is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Waikato University, responsible for teaching and research within the Master of Special Education programme. He has a particular interest in special education, especially from a cross-cultural perspective, as well as the development of effective classroom management skills.

In 2003, he became the first New Zealand Council for Educational Research Senior Research Fellow, spending much of his residency working toward the publication of Kia hiwa ra! Later the same year, Angus completed his doctoral thesis entitled Culturally inclusive pedagogy for Mäori students experiencing learning and behavioural difficulties.

Until recently, Angus was national co-ordinator (cultural curriculum) of the Resource Teachers Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) programme, a nation–wide Ministry of Education initiative. His consultative and advisory skills are regularly sought by schools and educational organisations throughout New Zealand and overseas.

Angus affiliates to the Te Arawa confederation of tribes of the central Bay of Plenty.
The article below by Angus Macfarlane is due to appear in the inaugural edition of Waikato University’s new magazine Waikato, due to be launched in early March.


ANGUS MACFARLANE argues the classroom is a key to better intercultural communication.

Better communication between cultures is an obvious way of improving relationships between different ethnic groups in New Zealand. The most promising venues for promoting intercultural communication messages are classrooms, schools and the education sector in general.

In New Zealand, political developments, economic uncertainty, rapidly-changing demographic characteristics of school-aged populations and concern expressed about social problems affecting young people have re-ignited arguments over the roles schools are expected to play in preparing children and adolescents for productive futures. These influences on our schools reflect global trends towards increased numbers, and diversity, of minority students attending schools.

Here, sensitivity to the cultural background of Mäori students is seen as especially important for educators, as educators who are culturally sensitive will be more able to understand, and respond to, the learning needs of today’s diverse classrooms. My research on working with Mäori students has helped throw up ideas and strategies which can be used with all students who make up our increasingly diverse classrooms.

Many explanations have been suggested for why a higher percentage of Mäori students are excluded from the success routes at school, and are more frequently represented in alternative education programmes, or end up on the streets. Thirty years ago, Ranginui Walker identified issues that continue to be major problems for New Zealand education. The first is that most teachers in New Zealand schools are non- Mäori and mono-cultural. Professor Walker contends that many lack the skills, knowledge and sensitivity to be able to teach effectively in a multi-ethnic classroom. He refers to a western frame of reference, which often stereotypes Mäori success as restricted to limited domains such as sport and music. Add to this the notion that mainstream schools appear to run counter to important Mäori cultural values and the issue of incompatibility of cultures presents a major challenge. Some older Mäori retain memories of being told not to use their own language at school and were put down as an inferior society practising an inferior culture. Some of these children are now themselves parents and have little language or cultural knowledge to pass on to their own children. These experiences can be compared with the plight of the native Americans, many of whom have descended from several generations of a semi-assimilated minority, whose sense of loss translated into a deep suspicion on their part of the majority culture-based agencies.

So a lack of understanding of Mäori customs on the part of the dominant New Zealand culture may be one critical reason why many Mäori students fail in mainstream education and are often excluded from it. In a society which is frequently described as bicultural or multicultural, it is not surprising that individual underachievement is often ‘explained’ by referring to perceived deficits within the individual’s cultural background. However, it is increasingly common to hear the demand that “the style of content of service delivery in such areas as health, social welfare, and education should be constructed so as to take account of the cultural background of the people receiving these services, or that the service should be culturally appropriate”. It is time to “listen to culture”.

The cultural reality of Mäori people remains strong. The culture is there. It is vital. It is meaningful. But one must be in a position to observe it and to proclaim it. This requires assisting all the teachers in mainstream education to get better at communicating interculturally. Calculated, pervasive, and deliberate connections to Mäori epistemology formed the core of the learning activities at an ‘enrichment class’ located within a mainstream primary school (Ngongotahä School) in my tribal area of Te Arawa. This class, known as the Ngäti Whakaue Enrichment Class, has been resourced by the Ngäti Whakaue Education Endowment Trust.

Beverley Anaru was employed to set up and operate the classroom, established primarily for Year 2 students identified as having learning and behaviour difficulties. Affiliating to the Ngäti Awa and Ngai Tuhoe tribes of the Eastern Bay of Plenty region, Beverley Anaru has close affiliations to the iwi of Ngäti-Whakaue through her husband, Peter. While she had significant teaching experience, it was her reputation as a classroom artiste (orchestrator par excellence of classroom activities) that was the distinguishing factor that led to her appointment as head teacher of the unit.

In the early stages of my research I was able to link the pedagogy (science of teaching) of the Ngäti-Whakaue Enrichment Class with some of the recognised literature on good classroom management. The classroom had a busy ‘tone’ to it. Anaru was well organised and each lesson was presented with precision, clarity and exuberance. Room management provided for movement to ‘work the crowd’ and allowed for attention to be given to all students simultaneously. Her with-it-ness enabled her to know what was going on in all parts of the classroom at all times. The classroom was bright: rules of the classroom were displayed, as were examples of children’s work, awards, reminders, class timetables, and pictures promoting the bicultural nature of the Ngäti-Whakaue region. Mäori translations of key concepts and words were evident on walls, tables and charts. The room had a ‘texture’ which incorporated real sight, sound, smell, and taste. Importantly, the students seemed to delight in being there, in the presence of a skilled practitioner, who valued each of them for simply who they were. Children reputed to have behaviour problems did not misbehave. Most were said to have learning difficulties, yet in this environment they were motivated to advance their achievement and records of their progress attested to that. ‘Withdrawn’ children became vocal contributors and ‘impulsive’ children seemed more in control of themselves.

Anaru had a rich store of knowledge of the New Zealand national curriculum, te reo and tikanga. She had been at the cutting edge of knowing and learning about curriculum content, classroom and social processes, academic tasks, and students’ understandings. Her lessons had good momentum in the sense that she got students to attend to tasks and get on with them; and she made sure activities had ‘closure’ and a smooth transition to the next activity. Her demeanour had a powerful influence on her students’ learning and behaviour: her posture displayed confidence and suggested leadership, enthusiasm and enjoyment, as well as appreciation of the content of the learning experiences and of the context in which this was taking place. The children respected her assertive, no-nonsense approach. Their engagement in learning and the delight they showed in being around her created opportunities for their teacher to smile warmly, a trait identified by a range of literature as simple yet significant in terms of building trust between students and teacher.

Systems for gaining attention and clarifying expectations played an important part in Anaru’s approach. Tactics included a range of uses of body language to help students pay attention and stay on task. She was often observed using non-verbal behaviour management strategies, such as eye contact, physical proximity, conversational pause, facial expressions and gestures in classroom interactions with students.

I argue that a central characteristic of programmes such as this enrichment class that attend successfully to Mäori students’ achievement is cultural centred-ness. It is not a pre-requisite that teachers be of the same culture as that of the students in order to be effective. What matters is their ability to connect culturally and to promote a cultural presence in their respective learning environments.

I use the term ‘educultural’ when referring to five concepts that are likely to have an effect on students’ learning and teachers’ teaching: whanaungatanga (relationships), manaakitanga (caring), rangatiratanga (leadership), kotahitanga (working together), and pumanawatanga (atmosphere). These concepts are the bases from which teaching strategies and techniques evolve.

Acknowledging these concepts and employing a culturally relevant pedagogy will signal to students that their culture matters. Such an approach offers students a dose of what is familiar, in terms of their Mäoritanga and their Pakehatanga. If the learning and teaching connect with the cultures represented in the classroom, the students are more likely to ‘switch on’. That is how critical the role of the teacher is. That is how critical it is for teachers to develop skills in intercultural communication.

Today’s world is characterised by an ever-growing number of contacts resulting in communication between people with different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds – communication taking place because of contacts within the areas of commerce, science, media, travel ... and education. In all these contacts, there is communication that requires a constructive and understanding approach. It is in the field of education that early intervention in intercultural communication is most likely to occur. Intercultural communication, while not a new phenomenon, may well hold the key to the building of more harmonious relationships for young and old.

Dr Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, a senior lecturer in the Waikato University School of Education’s human development department, was awarded the senior research fellowship for 2003 by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. He used his time on the fellowship to write a book entitled Kia Hiwa ra! Listen to culture – Mäori students’ plea to educators.

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