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Turia SpeechTo ASTE

Hon Tariana Turia

Speech to the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE) Conference, Brentwood Hotel

Tena tatau e whaka rauika i tenei ahiahi. Nga mihi hoki ki te mana whenua o tenei pito o te motu. Tena koutou.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today.

A few months ago, I spoke at a similar forum of staff assisting Maori in Tertiary Institutions at their "Supporting Maori students in the New Millennium’ national conference.

I questioned the validity for Maori of our education system in that speech, and laid down some challenges.

I will repeat a theme from that speech and it is that it is time for our education system to change.

Why we continue to expect that Maori should continue with a system, which has failed them, is beyond me.

"E Tu Kahikatea: Reaching New Heights" - at a glance a noble and worthy conference theme, chosen, according to the invitation,
"…. to express the direction of our nation at this point in history – a nation with a widely shared sense of purpose, a nation of kahikatea, standing together and growing tall because of this solidarity"

Yet, this theme immediately rang warning bells for me when I started to think about what I might say today. I pondered on what this 'widely shared sense of purpose' might be. I wondered why a single species of tree, the kahikatea, why not the totality of the diversity of the forest?

Firstly, I asked myself, why are we talking about ‘reaching new heights’, when our history of an education system dominated by a non-Maori world view, has played a part in undermining the reo and the belief systems of Maori?

The Maori bird's wings have been clipped which severely limits the ability of the bird to fly to the top of the forest canopy to reach new heights.

Need I remind you that:
 Maori still continue to have a low level of participation in tertiary education compared to non-Maori. In 1997, 35% of all Maori school leavers went directly into some form of tertiary education compared with 51% of non-Maori.
 Polytechnic or TOPs programmes have been the most common destinations for Maori school leavers – in fact in 1998 Maori were almost four times more likely to undertake TOPs programmes in comparison with non-Maori

Next, I asked myself what these ‘new heights’ that we should collectively striving to reach, might be.

Who determines what they are, because I think that the Maori views on the purpose of education might well be different from non-Maori views?

In other words, whose measurements of success are we talking about here? Couldn’t it be that the ‘height of success’ to one New Zealander means little to another?

So, diverse world-views need to be taken into consideration, and a range of ‘new heights’ acknowledged.

For many Maori, success in tertiary education is not simply an academic exercise, the reward of which being (for those who are ‘successful’) greater career opportunities and financial awards for the individual.

I believe that to many members of whanau, hapu and iwi, tertiary education is considered a special privilege that carries with it obligations and responsibilities, not just to the individual, but to their whanau, hapü and iwi.

How many of our tertiary institutions I wonder, stop to consider that they are not often just dealing with an individual student.
They are dealing with people who carry expectations from their whanau, hapu and iwi and that the education they receive will be expected to contribute to the development of the hapu and iwi that the student is from?

Many iwi ask students who apply for grants what they expect to contribute back to their iwi.

In other words how does or how might your institution contribute to whanau, hapü, and iwi development?

‘Solidarity', one of the themes of this conference, is all well and good, but it needs to be balanced by the acknowledgment of diversity, another of the themes.

And I don’t only mean diversity between Maori and non-Maori, but diversity within and between iwi.

It is totally unreasonable to think of iwi as a homogenous group and to continue to apply the ‘one system fits all’ mentality to tertiary education.
Solidarity is great if we share a sense of purpose as a nation at the broadest level.

That we all want to lift educational participation, retention and ‘achievement’ – whatever both iwi and Pakeha, determine that to be, that we find the gaps unacceptable.

Yes we might all want to be kahikatea, stand tall, proud and secure in our cultural identity, to be able to reach our full potential, through access to quality education.

However, solidarity should not equate with inflexibility.

Within that overarching unity of wanting to move ahead as a nation, we need to accept that the two Treaty partners may have different ideals, and that the pathways to the heights will be many and varied.

Past experience has showed us that an inflexible, patriarchal, mono-cultural, system does not work for a significant proportion of the population.

It has also shown that great success is to be had where iwi are enabled to develop and run their own education institutions. The two best tertiary examples are Te Wananga o Raukawa in Otaki and Te Wananga o Awanuiarangi in Whakatane.

That, for many of my people is the road to new heights.

And so we are seeing today a proliferation and ever increasing demand for this type of learning where one’s ‘education’ is supported by an acknowledgment and appreciation of one’s cultural values. Köhanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori, wharekura, wananga, Maori private training establishments are all in the business of providing culturally appropriate education for Maori.

We need to keep growing these types of institutions, yet, in recognising ‘diverse Maori realities’, we also need to acknowledge that the majority of Maori continue to be educated in the so-called ‘mainstream’ education system.

So these institutions need to think long and hard about how they are meeting their Maori students needs?

How does your institution connect with its Maori community and empower it to be involved in all aspects of its delivery of education?

When Maori students do enrol, what do you do to ensure they stay?

I think that perhaps this is too often put into the too hard basket and we are left with many tertiary institutions, which only give lip service to their Treaty obligations.

There is fear of crossing the cultural divide and endeavouring to establish true partnerships. Too often the excuse, ‘we don’t know who to consult with’ is put forward.

The fear of giving over some power and control to Maori is also real and must be overcome. Yet there are examples out there of innovation and of real attempts to provide safe non-alienating environment for Maori within our tertiary institutions. For example, Maia, the Maori Development Centre at Unitec.

Yes, we need ‘ innovation’ in our tertiary education - we need to get 18-24 year old Maori into tertiary institutions.
I have alluded to the conference themes of diversity, solidarity and innovation and now come to the fourth theme, ‘collegiality’.

This word immediately makes me think of the Maori concepts of whanaungatanga and manaakitanga, which are all about sharing, caring, co-operating, and treating with respect.

They are concepts that are grounded in the idea that people are the most important thing. If you can all keep this uppermost in your mind, that your students, Maori and non-Maori, are what you are here for, I think you will remain on the right track.

The tertiary sector has lost it in recent times. It has become preoccupied with competition, fuelled by under-funding.

This Government wants to turn that around, to bring collegiality back to education, so that we are all working with one another for a common goal, rather than against one another.

In conclusion, all this talk of reaching new heights has caused me to think of another proverb of ours,
"Whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe, me he maunga teitei" (Seek the highest, if you are to bow your head let it be to the loftiest of mountains).

Tertiary institutions have a responsibility to provide whanau, hapü and iwi with that most valuable resource, ‘education’, which will enable them to fly, and to strive for those mountain tops that they desire. No reira, tena tatau e tau nei i tenei ra.

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