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Mallard Speech: OECD Education Ministers, Dublin

Trevor Mallard Speech: OECD meeting discusses research on Maori education

OECD Education Ministers meeting, Dublin.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss some ground-breaking work that has been going on in New Zealand to lift the education standards of our students.

The topic of this forum today is Education and Social Cohesion. Linked to this is the absolutely fundamental need for every person to be given the opportunity to share in the benefits of economic activity, particularly income and skills acquisition.

This is a goal that is very much driving the work that our government does.

In education we are committed to access and quality for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, how poor or rich a person is, or where they live.

As a government we want to boost our economic development, and clearly education plays a huge role in this.

We need a skilled workforce, we don't want people languishing on unemployment benefits, and we want every single child to have the chance to tap into education and get something out of it.

In New Zealand we are particularly committed to lifting the education standards of our underachievers, and among them Maori who perform at a much lower level than others.

For example, 68 per cent of our pakeha students leave school with at least sixth form certificate, compared to just 39 per cent of Maori.

It's obvious that we cannot afford to leave any groups of New Zealanders lagging behind others when it comes to educational achievement, if we want New Zealand as a country to succeed economically, and socially.

To better target the needs of Maori students, we commissioned in-depth research to find practical ways of lifting Maori educational standards. The results are in my view ground-breaking and represent a real circuit-breaker when it comes to helping our Maori students perform.

Essentially, the Mâori in Mainstream (Te Kauhua) and Te Kotahitanga projects identified the critical importance of teacher expectations and their understanding of the importance of their own roles in improving student outcomes for Mâori students.

Te Kotahitanga research, led by Russell Bishop of Waikato University, in particular looked at the students’, teachers’, and parents’ views about the best ways to improve Mâori educational achievement. He found the students’ views challenged the deficit theory approach, which assumes that students would not achieve or learn because of their backgrounds.

The research looked at the experiences of Year 9 and 10 students in mainstream classrooms.

A professional development programme was then developed, aimed at using the students’ views to turn around the assumptions teachers were making about their Maori students.

The focus also went on changing their teaching practice to create an environment where there was improved interaction and a better relationship between them and their students.

The professional development programme was followed up with visits by the researchers to the teachers involved.

After the end of the professional development, repeated observations of the teachers involved showed that they were increasing their range of teacher-student interactions which, in turn, led to a more interactive and discursive classroom environment.

The research clearly shows that it is the quality of the in-class, face-to-face relationships and interactions between students and their teachers that makes the difference.

And most importantly of all, the approach clearly worked for the students - there was evidence of increased student engagement, improved rates of work completion, increased levels of student attendance (or attendance was maintained at a high level), and improved Mâori student achievement (over the short term).

The research is an important resource for teachers as it clearly outlines what works in practice, in the classroom. We are looking forward to this valuable work being extended further this year.

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