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Sharples: Hawkes Bay Primary Principals Conference

Hawkes Bay Primary Principals Conference;

Wairakei Resort, Taupo; Friday 24 August 2007

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader Maori Party

Three days ago, whilst attending the Coronation of Kingi Tuheitia, I was moved by a gesture of great generosity from His Highness, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, the Head of State of Western Samoa.

His Excellency referred with great pride to a person referred to as a ‘miracle’ - the first New Zealand Pacific Islander to captain the All Blacks in a test, Tana Umaga.

But the miracle that the Head of State referred to, was not about his rugby reputation. His pride was in acknowledging to tangata whenua that ‘he is as much yours as he ours’.

In those few words, His Highness both acknowledged with respect Tana and his Ngati Porou wife; but also did so in a way which honoured the genealogical links we hold as Maori to the Pacific.

In doing so he was able to acknowledge the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, what we might call manaakitanga.

His gesture was about nurturing, supporting, loving, sharing, strengthening and respecting our mutual interests, what brings us together.

That gesture has stayed with me as I travelled here to Wairakei Resort, to take up the honour of being in the company of sixty of our leading primary school principals from across the Central North Island and Hawkes Bay.

I stand here as someone who has spent my life in education – in pioneering kohanga reo; we founded the first kura kaupapa Maori at Hoani Waititi marae in 1985. I was the inaugural chairperson of Te Runanganui o nga Kura Kaupapa Maori; have created whare kura; alternative education programmes, and Professor of Education at the University of Auckland.

But my proudest qualification in being here today, is having been born in Waipawa, into Ngai Te Kikiri o te Rangi and Ngati Pahauwera of Ngati Kahungunu.

Our common story as people of the Hawkes Bay gives us connections which may be far more relevant a place to share our views about education together, than any certificate hanging on a wall.

From the Company of Kings, to the Company of Children….made me think of the words of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Louis Stevenson…..

“Happy hearts and happy faces, happy play in grassy places

That was how, in ancient ages, children grew to kings and sages”

And in continuing the string of connections, it is probably not lost on any one here that Robert Louis Stevenson spent his last years in Upolu, one of the islands of Samoa, where he was buried and forever remembered as a respected Tusitala (story writer).

But I digress….

The question that has brought us all here today, is what are the issues that confront so many of our children – and impinge on their rights and our responsibilities to create happy hearts, happy faces, happy play?

Is this altruistic aspiration of happiness that the Scottish bard refers to merely a relic of ancient ages? How does it match up to the challenge of paperwork and forms; of literacy and numeracy initiatives, to classroom ratios?

And what are the particular priorities and concerns of the communities of the East Coast from the Mohaka River to Takapau that challenge your roles as primary school principals?

What we know about this area, is that it is significantly more rural than the national average, it has a markedly lower socio-economic profile and a much larger percentage of Māori than the national average.

Inkeeping with the theme of connections, I think it is useful to consider this wider picture, the interaction of education with other sectors of social justice, when we are consider the issues of under-achievement and educational inequality.

It should be no surprise that over-crowding and sub-standard housing creates educational disadvantages for those students from low income families.

The phenomenon of ‘house-hopping’; the savage effects of a lack of basic services such as a fresh water supply and a sanitation system upon student health; and the consequential absenteeism are no doubt issues which affect your schools, your students.

And we know that these issues are particularly felt by Maori whanau. The Ministry of Social Development's Living Standards report showed that from 2000 to 2004 the percentage of Maori families suffering severe hardship increased from 12% to 20%.

Other research tells us that both poverty rates and poverty depth are “substantially higher for children than for the population as a whole”.

What we can assume, therefore, is that the homes of your students are not necessarily going to be resource-rich.

If that isn’t hard enough, the area of school resourcing creates an additional pressure on many of your schools. Government funding has been decreasing as a percentage of school income – in 1995; 90.5% of primary school funds came from the Government; ten years later it had dropped to 88.9%.

Although there is equity funding spread around low decile schools, the evidence is that it is still not sufficient to compensate for the poverty related issues that low decile school communities face.

And this is a major challenge for I think communities, and our nation as a whole. If we are to truly demonstrate we value education, we must not allow the effects of poverty to compromise the quality of learning in any way.

It is about communities taking responsibility for their children. Businesses demonstrating social responsibility. Investors and entrepreneurs making the ultimate commitment to kotahitanga – that sense of moving forward as one.

The second key to success, I believe, lies in waking up to the great wealth that is sitting, untapped, in our communities, through the power of whanau.

Wally Penetito, of Ngati Haua, Ngati Tamatera, Ngati Raukawa, has a vision for Maori which very much centres on the richness of the resource evident in whanau when he says:

If there is an emerging educational vision among Maori, it is the desire for an education that enhances what it means to be Maori:

People have often asked me, why did you become involved in kohanga reo or kura kaupapa? I say, in all honesty, that it was the only alternative to a system which was consistently failing our kids.

And the reason it has been successful beyond our wildest dreams is due to the whanau culture, the whanau philosophy.

The whole focus of kura kaupapa revolves around whauangatanga. The structure values the roles, responsibilities and relationships inherent in the customary concepts of tuakana/teina. Literally, this is encompassed in the belief that the younger one will learn the right way to do things from the older one; and the older one will learn the art of tolerance from the younger one.

Relationships with adults in the kura are also treated with the respect that comes with the names they are called – Papa, Whaea, Koka, Kuikui.

The whanau philosophy also permeates through to the philosophy that there are no fences between the schoolyard and home. It is about caring for the whole whanau – welcoming whanau into our kura at any time of the day; knowing we are all there with the best interests of our children at heart.

The third and final strategy for success, is that of understanding and valuing the kawa of your school community. The kawa, the procedures and rules determining the way in which the school is run, are absolutely central to making the difference for Maori.

The etiquette of our schooling environments, models the kaupapa, the principles which underlie Māori social relations and correct conduct.

We live by world views and practices, which remind us of the vital need to whakamana each other, to treat each other with respect. To be conscious of mana atua, mana whenua and mana tangata as creating the balance within our lives.

We actively value manaakitanga – respecting and acknowledging any visitors that come to our school as part of our cultural practice.

We uphold wairuatanga through the customary practice of karakia. I believe this acknowledgment of a spiritual dimension in every child is extremely significant – it gives us that opportunity to offer thanks, to appreciate and recognise the way in which we are blessed; to truly dimension the unique miracle of every life.

I was interested in reading Russell Bishop and Mere Berryman’s book, Culture Speaks, which included the perspectives of Maori students who were ‘non-engaged with learning’. Consistent across their experiences of poor relationships with teachers and an inability to access help and support was the failure of the school to care for students as “culturally located people”.

Some of the comments from students were particularly insightful:

“Maori teachers understand us better because they’ve been where we’ve been”.

“Most of the teachers don’t really understand how we want to learn, how we can learn. They don’t know about us”.

“The teacher I liked best wasn’t Maori, but he could have been. He knew all about our stuff. Like he knew how to say my name. He never did dumb things like sitting on tables or patting you on the head. He knew about fantails in a room. He knew about tangi. He never stepped over girls’ legs. All that sort of stuff…..He was choice.

Finally, I started with the words of the Samoan Head of State – and it is only appropriate that I conclude with the words of our own Maori Monarch, King Tuheitia.

My focus in this brief time today, has been on three key ideas

- valuing the strength of cultural connections – of the relationships we make with each other;

- promoting the strength of whanau as the greatest resource for harnessing the potential of our young; and

- modelling the philosophies and values of our kawa throughout every aspect of our school life – walking the talk.

King Tuheitia aptly summarised these three ideas in the words he shared with us this week. While his comments were specific to kohanga reo and kura kaupapa, they hold the hope that I believe Principals, teachers, administrators, school trustees, whanau across Hawkes Bay could well live by, as a vision of success. He said:

“They promote a belief that our children and mokopuna can succeed in all that they do if they know their language, culture and identity. As parents and grandparents we need to nurture the next generation to excel in all that they do, pursue excellence and be tireless in their determination."

It seems so easy – and it is. And if there is one message I would leave you with it is this – this vision for Aotearoa is as much yours as it is ours.

Together we can work to ensure every child is treated as a miracle; every whanau possesses the most awe-inspiring source of cultural capital; every school is a site of excellence, to celebrate and experience success. Let’s go to it!


ENDS

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