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Tariana Turia: 21st Century Education Wananga

Nga Maata Waka 21st Century Education Wananga; July 31 2008

Nga Hau e Wha Marae, Aranui, Christchurch

Hon Tariana Turia,

Co-leader of the maori party

I recall thinking as a young woman that education was the key to our future success.

Yet in the days gone by when I went to school, there was a theory of education that had currency.

It was the theory of the ‘tabula rasa’ - that children’s minds were literally blank slates, waiting for a teacher to fill in. Upon arriving at the house of learning, these ‘empty vessels’ would benefit from the expertise of the teaching force, and emerge “educated”.

In today’s times, when I talk to my six year old mokopuna it seems to me that the concept is actually more like a vast ocean liner.

She constantly amazes me with the breadth of her knowledge, the strength of her technological literacy, the powerful enthusiasm of a child hungry to learn.

She has one speed – full steam ahead – as she embraces every new opportunity to learn – and even more enthusiasm for every opportunity she can take to teach me all that I am yet to learn.

Our relationship is very much based on the concept of ako – the teacher/learner role inter-changing.

It is about reciprocal learning – the fluidity of learning from each other.

It is a dynamic that we trace back to our tupuna, it is a dynamic that we must continue to embrace in our future.

At the start of this week, I received an email that I want to share. The words were raw with the grief of someone who has lost a friend before his time. As he looked into the waka tupapaku, he saw a face of dreams unfulfilled, of desires unquenched, and he said:

“His mouth, which should have worn a smile because he is in his prime…..turned down at the corners, staunch, somewhat bitter looking and sad….and I wondered, ‘what happened to you’?

What happened to you”? A rhetorical question I know, because we know the answer.

What happened to those young men and women? Their potential for loving life and living, and therefore for learning, has been robbed by a racist system that continues to devalue who we are and what we bring”.

Those words made me think of my own school days, they made me think of the joyless paper I read in coming to this hui, ‘Maori children trapped in 19th century schools’, but most of all they made me think of my mokopuna.

And I am determined, absolutely, that it will be different.

I do not want that light of learning in her eyes to become jaded by disillusionment, by being devalued, by a failure to define success.

I want the essence of who she is to be supported and fostered in every learning opportunity she takes – whether that be at a school, a kura, the marae, the sportsfield, the challenge of life.

We in the Maori Party are determined, absolutely, that the time for asking ‘what happened to you’ is over; this is the time to make a difference and make things happen.

We have fleets of waka just waiting to chart a new direction and we must make sure their path ahead is smooth.

We must invest in a future which means their journey is assured; their passage through turbulent waters is a steady one; their motivation to achieve their goals is sustainable.

Why must we do this?

Because it was the dream of those who have gone before us.

We carry the aspirations of too many to name, in every step we take towards progressing our vision for education.

And of course we are inspired too, by those who are still striding paths of educational excellence.

It is truly fitting here, in Nga Hau e Wha, to join with Nga Maata Waka and the National Urban Maori Authority and to also pay tribute to Sir Tipene for the lifetime of learning he has shared with us all.

In fact I recall Sir Tipene acknowledging that the first land struggle he took on was on the Whanganui River – the longest set of legal proceedings in Maori claims history – and still not settled.

I must admit, I read in the programme notes that Sir Tipene is yet to come in his prime, sailing a second wind – and I did wonder whether we of Whanganui might entice him back again.

Sir Tipene represents that model of learning which reminds us that the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.

It is a model which we must have in front of us as we think of our mokopuna, as we think of those young people, so staunch and so sad; it is a model for our own lives.

The leadership that we as tangata whenua have alongside us, is the greatest resource that we require to stride in to the future. Our past, our present, our future will be assured for success, if we honour the spirit of our old people.

Our old people understood lifelong learning was a key factor in ensuring the survival of tangata whenua. The oft-quoted foreword by the Rt Reverend Manuhuia Bennett encapsulated this view, “whaia te matauranga hei oranga mo tatou’.

The pursuit of learning will result in improved wellbeing.

The Maori Party supports what Alvin Toffler might describe, as learning, unlearning and relearning in our quest for knowledge.

We believe that we must significantly invest in resourcing our own educational solutions to ensure we can make effective contributions to the nation.

Investment in the kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, whare kura and wananga education pathway will help us in our cultural revitalisation and our intellectual growth.

We believe too that deconstruction skills to critically analyse what is going on and why, are a necessary stage of this pathway.

And our relearning will be secure, if we draw on our kaupapa and tikanga to inspire our families in the care and development of our children.

It is our position that everything starts with the whanau, and we must continue to support whanau-led models in education.

It was a matter of huge concern to us that kohanga reo and playcentres were effectively discriminated against because of the focus on centres being teacher-led.

The fact that only 130 of the 485 kohanga were able to access the twenty hours free childcare has been a recent barrier which acts in a way to limit the participation of tamariki Maori and Pasifika children to quality early childhood education.

Whanau led models are of course the foundation of our kura kaupapa movements, our kura a iwi movements, and other kaupapa driven models of education.

But I want to also think about some statistics that can not be ignored.

That is the fact that there are 35,000 Maori children in forms of early childhood education other than kohanga reo.

The fact that 96% of Maori children are in forms of schooling other than kura kaupapa Maori – over 162, 000 of our children – must motivate all of our aspirations and visions, as much as the six thousand of our tamariki in kura.

The great thing is, that whanau led models can be drawn on in these settings just as much as they can in kura kaupapa or kohanga.

I want these settings to have teaching staff who are culturally competent and culturally safe, because like nurses, our lives are in their hands.

The Maori Party wants to encourage inter-generational learning across families including a focus on literacy, numeracy and cultural resilience.

We want our children to be fluent in who they are – fluent in their identity, their language, their culture. The curriculum should be learner-driven – ensuring all opportunities are in place to thrive.

We must increase the level of te reo Maori in mainstream education, we must ensure there are more trained and competent teachers in te reo, we must nurture te reo Maori as the official language of this land.

We want to promote a strengths model of education – not a system dominated by suspensions, expulsions, stand-downs and failure – but a system which builds on the existing knowledge and experience within our families as a foundation for future learning.

We want to ensure that Boards of Trustees are held accountable for the achievement of Maori pupils against set targets for literacy, numeracy and cultural strength. These results should be part of the public record, available through the publications of the Education Review Office, available to every whanau.

We know that if we are to see the changes we so desperately need, our community must value teachers, we must invest in professional development, and we must give them the support they need to do the job properly. Central to this, is our commitment that we will pay teachers what they are worth.

Finally, we in the Maori Party salute Nga Maata Waka for your decision to celebrate learning as we set our sights on 21st century education.

John W Gardner suggests that “much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants”.

We must challenge ourselves to be visionary, to value creativity and innovation as the core learning blocks of a 21st century education. We must be prepared to embark on multiple pathways, to openly initiate and respond to the capacity we have for global entrepreneurship.

We are well equipped for that journey, if we think of the philosophies and values that have guided our people over many journeys to the widest range of destinations.

The spirit of our old people is seen when we look in the face of our mokopuna, and make a commitment to their future. We must search for solutions and strategies that will allow us to answer that question with a huge smile – what happened to you?

I became educated.

Ends


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