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Equity with Excellence: Are both Achievable?

Equity with Excellence: Are both Achievable?

A Case Study in Maori Education

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Waikato Lecture Series 2006; World Class in New Zealand?

Wednesday 23 August 2006; 7.00pm; The University of Waikato

A century ago in 1906, Maori leaders such as Maui Pomare and late Sir Peter Te Rangihiroa Buck were cited in a Health Department report, that “there was no hope for Maori but in ultimate absorption by the Pakeha”.

Excellence was to be achieved through efforts of the state to assimilate Maori children to European culture. Based on the notion that a nation is a ‘unitary whole’, progress would be manifest in the depiction of one people, one country, one New Zealand.

And so, as explained by Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku,

“The state enforced a programme of cultural homogenization: the inexorable devaluation of every social, economic, religious, cultural or political institution, other than the British standard, the colonial model.

Early efforts to eradicate and subdue, then assimilate and dilute the ethnic populations failed”.

I come here today, mindful of the gigantic leap forward in nationhood that has been spear-headed in this rohe over the last week, and I am hugely relieved.

Tainui opened its arms to welcome the nation in - and the nation responded. We have seen learning, engagement, responsiveness, willingness to listen - and openess to appreciate difference.

People were able to come, to express in their way, in a language that they were familiar with - and that was only made possible because Tainui recognised difference.

Tainui suspended some of their deeply held protocols, to ensure that others were made to feel welcome. Delegations of Tongan, Fijian, Samoan, Pakeha were able to participate - to deliver the art of oratorical excellence in their own unique manner.

It was excellence through equity.

So my relief reflects the fact that if I had been delivering this lecture over a week ago, it might well have been a different story.

Not such a different story, however, to the ultimate ‘absorption’ of 1906.

Not so different either, to methods to eradicate and subdue, then assimilate and dilute.

For what we have borne witness to, over the last six months and more, has been exactly that. Methods to delete and eradicate the Treaty from our statutes. Techniques to remove the Treaty from the New Zealand Curriculum.

A New Zealand Curriculum, where Associate Minister Mahara Okeroa explained the fact that Maori arts had been removed, deleted, cut from the curriculum statement by saying that arts was for “the benefit of all New Zealanders”.

A New Zealand Curriculum, where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was removed from the national, statement, slashed from the key principles, and the Minister, Steve Maharey, justified their omission by stating that “all these things are now part and parcel of the system”.

In other words, “there was no hope for Maori but in ultimate absorption”.

I think it is important to refresh our thinking about equity. The concepts of equity and equality are often elusive - treated as inter-changeable - but they are vastly different.

Equality involves identical treatment - one size fits all- equal opportunity assuming a sameness between all.

Equity, however, has quite a different meaning - requiring different treatment of different outcomes, indeed the application of principles of fairness, so that more just outcomes can be achieved.

Perhaps even more clearly, an absence of equity exists in situations of bias, of discrimination, of partiality, of unfairness.

The ironic feature of the new curriculum is that the draft statement proposes that students will be encouraged to value excellence, alongside of other values such as diversity and equity; and yet the draft itself enacts the great leveller, the neutralising sameness that one would expect from a policy of assimilation.

Students will be able to experience a curriculum which values Te Ao Maori, only if they firstly identify as Maori.

So straight away, any notion that tangata whenua as the first people of this land, are to be valued by all New Zealanders is shrugged away.

And within this the distinctive excellence of Maori, the difference that differentiates Maori from other students, is avoided, absorbed into the great melting pot of homogeneity.

It is another form of the tall poppy syndrome, wherein distinctive talents and abilities are dismissed as being different, or not the same.

It is not about social justice; about diversity; about cultural vitality.

So how do Maori children fit within the radar of equity?

Again, Steve Maharey on the 2nd of August, when responding to the fact of the deletion of Treaty principles, spoke of a ‘maturing to the point where we now have a strong support for total immersion schools, for kohanga reo, for kura kaupapa.

Given such strong support, it is well nigh impossible to understand why it is that when the Education Amendment Bill was tabled in the House in May this year, that Mr Maharey was unable to support amendments from the Maori Party to preserve and promote the special character of both kohanga reo and kura kaupapa.

Mr Maharey was joined by Messers Okeroa, Horomia, Ririnui, Jones, Hereora, Peters, Mark, Paraone and mesdames Mahuta, Pettis, Beyer, Mackey. Indeed, every Maori Member of the Government, was prepared to vote down amendments which sought protection for kohanga reo and kura kaupapa Maori. Protection of the equitable right to their own structures, processes and values.

Every Maori Member of Labour and New Zealand First was prepared to vote against the advice of Te Runanganui o Nga Kura Kaupapa Maori o Aotearoa; and the Early Childhood Council.

They were prepared to vote down a proposal that land gifted by Maori for educational purposes should be offered back, first right of refusal, to mana whenua.

They were prepared to vote against the whanau of the 29,579 students who were receiving Maori medium education in July 2004.

Is that not bias? Unfairness? Impartiality? The reverse of equity?

A couple of weeks ago, a Rangatahi Business Competition was held here in Hamilton, run by Te Ranga Ngaku, the Maori Management Student Network at the University of Waikato.

It was about excellence of enterprise, of ingenuity, of entrepreneurship.

And it was about equity - the right to be Maori; the freedom to express indigenous innovation; the expression of justice through the opportunity for Maori worldviews to be treated as valid.

The students from six schools within the Waikato rohe - Te Kura o te Kaokaoroa o Patetere; Fraser High; Fairfield, Melville, Hillcrest and Cambridge - all came together to celebrate their indigenous talents.

So it can be done - we can be out and proud, mean Maori mean, and also demonstrate the highest attainment of excellence.

And so I return to where I started tonight, in the hope that has arisen in the hearts of the nation over the events of the last week.

The opportunity for the people to bid farewell to Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu afforded New Zealanders a rare opportunity to share together, the excellence and the uniqueness of Maori culture and ways of being.

Over this last week, Aotearoa has been moved, beyond our understanding. We must ask ourselves, what caused such genuine sadness? What was it about the Lady which evoked such feeling, what were the qualities that the people did mourn so?

Was it the excellence of her leadership? A distinctive yet humble leadership of the people? She was a leader of the people. A leader from the people. For Te Arikinui, the greatest responsibility of her role, was to manaaki the people, to uplift and nurture those whom she saw herself destined to serve. It has been a role passed down from generation to generation. The second King, King Tawhiao, spoke of the importance of the Kingitanga movement belonging to the people, saying:

'My friends will come from the four ends of the world. They are the shoemakers, the blacksmiths and the carpenters.'

This is not to say such leadership is something that is only found within tangata whenua.

But perhaps I could suggest that the huge emphasis on collective responsibility, on reaching out across the globe, making connections through whakapapa to every iwi within Aotearoa; and indeed to the people of Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, is something which has been particularly valued within Maori communities. Whakawhanaungatanga, in our world view, is tightly associated with group pride and individual responsibility.

In honouring their Queen they honoured every guest. How more equitable is that?

The topic for this panel was Maori education - a case study for equity and excellence. Some may wonder what did the events of the last week have to do with education?

I would say, every picture across every screen, every moment experienced over the last week, was about the richness of learning.

Every tear, every hupe, every karanga, every whaikorero.

Every ope, every speech, every word shared demonstrated the world of knowledge, of learning, of education.

It is equity and excellence. Excellence because of equity.

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