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Adult Learners (International Literacy Day)

Hon Tariana Turia
7 September 2002 Speech Notes

Adult Learners (International Literacy Day)

Tena koutou e nga iwi e tau nei.

E nga mana o tenei whenua, Rangitane, tena koutou.

E nga reo e huihui nei ki te whakanui i tenei kaupapa, tena koutou.

Thank you for inviting me to help celebrate the achievements of adult learners, educators and providers in this rohe.

Our tupuna accepted that learning is a life-long process, and it should be so today.

But the world is different now, and many people do not have, or do not recognise, opportunities for adult education.

Perhaps that’s because, for many tangata whenua, our early experience of the school system was unhappy. We couldn’t wait to leave and get a job. Education became a dirty word.

A system of education that refused to accommodate the values and approaches of tangata whenua has left us a dreadful legacy - of our language in decline, along with all the matauranga that it carries and, in some of our people, confusion about our personal identity and shame for being who we are.

I can hardly bear to think of the wasted potential and lost opportunities, over generations, for individuals, and for our communities.

The really dreadful thing is that this legacy can be self-perpetuating – it feeds on itself, unless we take steps to stop it and turn it around.

There is a proverb, associated with Parihaka, to the effect that what was broken by iron can be remade by iron; and what the law has done, the law can undo.

It’s the same with education – the damage done to tangata whenua by the old system can be undone by a new system.

A good education promotes personal growth and fulfilment.

A good education system is a matter of our survival as a people.

At one time our parents and grandparents were strapped for speaking Maori at school. Many of them left school young, and spent their working lives in low-paid jobs. Their matauranga Maori was never valued by the old system.

Now our kohanga reo, kura kaupapa Maori, wharekura and wananga are the springboards for a revitalisation of our language, and our mokopuna are achieving top honours in tertiary education.

The difference between the old system and the new is tangata whenua control.

Once our communities have control over the system, they can develop institutions and organisations, and teaching methods and practices, to suit themselves.

In recent years we have seen how kaupapa Maori education can unleash the innate enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge among our people.

The successes of hundreds of kohanga reo around the country are well known. There are now over 50 kura kaupapa Maori, and a growing number of wharekura Maori.

What has really amazed me, as I travel around the electorate, is the number of adults, who struggled at school and maybe dropped out, who are now enrolled in marae-based tertiary education. It is an incredible phenomenon, that has barely been noticed by the media and the general public.

I think this could be a sign of the imminent transformation of our people. We may have reached the turning point. Our adult students are full of enthusiasm and self-confidence. The destructive legacy of the past is being turned around.

One of the pioneering institutions of kaupapa Maori education is Te Wananga o Raukawa.

The Wananga was an integral part of Ngati Raukawa’s tribal development plan, Whakatupuranga Ruamano – Generation 2000. And there lies its strength, I believe.

The programmes offered by te Wananga o Raukawa were designed to meet needs defined by the iwi. There was a high level of iwi ownership and pride in the Wananga, and other tribal and local institutions offered support to students.

Perhaps most important, te Wananga was part of a development plan. Every aspect of the Wananga, its funding, staffing, curriculum, were examined to see how they could contribute to broader tribal goals.

Ngati Raukawa must have had a broader vision for tangata whenua around Aotearoa, because they freely offered the benefits of a Wananga education to all comers – including Pakeha students.

Ngati Raukawa fully deserve the benefits they have gained from Te Wananga o Raukawa. We all benefit from their inspiration and their example.

As kaupapa Maori education gains momentum, it gains the power to redefine what education is.

The old system saw education as adults or experts passing knowledge down to children or novices. But to our old people, education is about development – personal, whanau, community, cultural and national development.

Look at the kohanga. It’s not just the mokopuna who are learning. The kohanga has provided a place where parents and other adults can gain early childhood and Maori language qualifications.

The kohanga movement has encouraged grandparents to start speaking Maori to younger parents, and got whole whanau involved in marae-based activities. It has given the Maori language movement a national and international profile.

Education as development was a key message from Te Kawai Ora – the report of the Maori Adult Literacy Working Party. It redefined literacy as biliteracy, for a start. That means that a monolingual person in a bilingual society is not fully literate.

It also redefined literacy as being able to ‘read’ landscapes, the cultural significance of names, places, boundaries; and to ‘read’ the meanings of art and cultural forms other than printed words.

As tangata whenua begin to restore our communities and our culture - our world - we welcome the support of partners.

Literacy Aotearoa has been a loyal supporter of adult literacy and education for Maori, and there are many others.

The Government, too, is working in partnership with Maori and Pacific Island communities, through Literacy Aotearoa, to develop whanau literacy programmes.

It is wonderful to be able to see the progress that’s being made, and I congratulate everyone here for their contribution.


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