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Flavell: Māori Education Agenda is a Development Agenda

The Māori Education Agenda is a Development Agenda

Speech by Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-leader of the Māori Party

to the Tertiary Education Summit, Auckland, 6 March 2014



Maori Education

I want to start a discussion of Māori education from first principles, in order to set a solid foundation for a shared understanding.

I have to say that sometimes debate on topics like the Māori Education Strategy can seem fruitless, when we are grafting one culture’s ideas onto different cultural rootstocks. The hybrid is sterile.

For Māori, the education agenda is a development agenda. And Māori development is about whānau, hapū and iwi reclaiming rangatiratanga, through development of human talents, our language and culture and our relationships with the natural world as the foundations of our identity as tangata whenua.

So Māori education is inter-twined with whānau development, and with cultural and economic development and environmental management, for the benefit of future generations as well as for individual students.

One very clear example of this is the development of a comprehensive kaupapa Māori education system from kōhanga reo through kura kaupapa Māori and wharekura to wānanga.

The impetus for kōhanga reo was the impending loss of Māori language. Kura kaupapa Māori were set up when whānau saw that all the effort they put into kōhanga was lost when children started in mainstream schools, and in that cultural environment, the children simply stopped speaking Māori. Wharekura followed as a Māori-speaking cohort progressed through the education system.

Wānanga developed separately, with Te Wānanga o Raukawa planned in 1981 as a central pillar of Ngāti Raukawa’s comprehensive tribal development programme ‘Whakatipuranga Ruamano’ – Generation 2000, which was launched in 1975. Te Wānanga o Aotearoa emerged from the Māori ACCESS schemes of the mid 1980s.

The practical, intellectual, financial and emotional burden was carried by whānau who were working together as tight teams, in control of their own projects. So education became a focus of whānau development, with individual whānau members gaining skills and experience in the front line of the battle to maintain their Māori identity and culture for future generations.

The wānanga, by providing access to education in Māori cultural environments, reopened the whole field of tertiary study to Māori adults who would never have considered enrolling in polytechs or universities. And in addition to developing their own knowledge and skills, many of those adults enrolled to provide role models for their children and grandchildren, and to normalise tertiary study in their families.

In doing this, the wananga reversed in part the effects of generations of compulsory education that was delivered in a way that alienated many Maori from school and disqualified them from higher education.

So, from both ends of the education cycle, at pre-school and tertiary levels, kaupapa Maori education has bridged a gap and closed a loop, motivating and supporting Maori students and their whanau to prepare themselves for tertiary study.

Maori Education Strategy

The huge difference between the current Maori education strategy 'Ka Hikitia' and previous efforts to promote Maori achievement in education lies, I believe, in the definition of the goal: Māori achieving educational success as Maori.

Implicit in that goal is a recognition that Maori educational under-achievement is a failure of the education system, not of the individual students. That recognition opens up the way for persistent problems in Maori education to be tackled at their roots.

Success for Māori in education is not just about passing exams. It is about being prepared to participate in Maori cultural environments; with confidence in one's identity; with education at school reinforced by experience at home; with the student understanding their place in the whānau and the purpose of their study. If a student recognises that their education is part of a whānau plan, then the whānau can provide critical motivation and support. They can also help the school to tailor education to meet the needs of the whanau. Schools and whanau must work together to enable educational success for Maori as Maori.

When the school system is offering Maori students ‘educational achievement as Māori’, then tertiary institutions will see Maori students arriving at their doors ready and enthusiastic to pursue higher study.

Tertiary Education Strategy.

I believe the Tertiary Education strategy released here yesterday falls short in some respects. Its vision, 'to raise the skills and knowledge of the current and future workforce to meet the demands of society', focuses on students as potential workers or economic units to meetthe demands of society - as defined by whom?

Maori education is defined in the strategy in terms of participation, completion and qualification - not in terms of contribution to the rangatiratanga of whanau, hapu and iwi, the maintenance and growth of Maori culture and heritage for the benefit of future generations, the protection of natural environments and landscapes; i.e. not in terms of educational achievement as Maori.

The Tertiary Education Strategy does refer to increased pastoral and academic support for Maori students, and teaching practices that are culturally responsive to Maori students. It also refers to the desire 'to strengthen the delivery of high quality te reo Māori provision'. While these are important, the Tertiary Education Strategy's criteria for success do not fully reflect the fact that a Maori education agenda is a Maori development agenda.

Other recent developments in tertiary education.

The government recently legislated to change the structure and size of the councils and boards governing universities and wananga. The aim was to make the boards smaller, more skills-based, more responsive to the needs of the job market and more competitive. In the process the representative character of the boards was reduced by the abolition of reserved seats for student, staff and community representatives, and a higher proportion of government appointees.

I know wananga saw that their councils could become more representative of their communities. For universities, however, it is likely that they will respond to their communities by becoming more competitive and focused on performance targets set by the government, in terms of numbers of graduates and responsiveness to industry and the job market.

In making this announcement, the Minister said the changes are in line with the government's moves to set Education Performance Indicators for tertiary institutions and Performance Linked Funding.

Unless Maori education is seen as serving a Maori development agenda, and the performance indicators for education are set accordingly, then these changes will likely entrench the persistent under-achievement of Maori students at universities.

Incidentally, we expect the changed criteria for the Student Loans Scheme to affect Maori students disproportionately, in particular by cutting older students' eligibility for loans. Māori students already carry a disproportionate share of student debt – around 20% of the total $12 billion.

Yesterday it also emerged that Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, the Maori Centre for Research Excellence hosted at Auckland University, has not been shortlisted to receive funding past 2015. This followed a review conducted by the Royal Society of New Zealand for the Tertiary Education Commission.

It seems hard to understand how Maori tertiary educational success as Maori can be enhanced by cutting funding to the only Maori Centre for Research Excellence. The closure of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga will be a serious blow to Maori education at post-graduate level.

The goal of Nga Pae has been to increase Maori research capability. Their success in that has been undeniable, with the number of Maori PhDs increasing almost exponentially in recent years, across physical, biological and social sciences. The body of research has supported commercial opportunities, and also underpinned improvements to the conservation and stewardship of our natural heritage, and the revival of Maori language and culture and resilience of Maori communities. In other words, the Maori research agenda, like the Maori education agenda, is also a Maori development agenda.

The decision to cut funding to Nga Pae o te Maramatanga seems inexplicable, except as a reflection of the fact that Maori knowledge and the contribution of Maori to our nation is still not properly recognised or valued. That was certainly the view of 70 Maori academics and researchers who wrote an open letter at the end of last year expressing concern that the defined areas and key themes of the National Science Challenges failed to reflect the key areas of concern for Maori communities. They called for all aspects of the National Science Challenges to incorporate Maori world views, tikanga and reo, the Treaty of Waitangi, matauranga Maori, kaitiakitanga and rangahau whai hua (a transformative focus).

There is clearly a widespread concern that cumulative changes in legislation, regulation and policy in Maori education and research are not supporting Maori development to enhance the rangatiratanga of Maori communities.

Maori Economic Development Strategy

'He Kai Kei Aku Ringa', the Maori economic development strategy, recognises the need for Maori knowledge and research to add value to Maori assets and create business opportunities. The Maori economy is growing rapidly, and Maori control significant holdings in land, energy, forestry, fisheries.

One of the key themes of the Māori Economic Development Strategy is adding value through the application of research, science and technology.

Again, Maori economic development is one aspect of the quest for rangatiratanga. It is not a single-minded pursuit of profit, but investment in people and communities, and sustainable development of their natural and cultural heritage, for the benefit of future generations. So understanding of Maori cultural and social dynamics is vital if economic development is to meet the needs of Maori communities.

Whanau Ora

A key organising principle in our communities is the primary role of whanau as custodians of knowledge, as promoters of learning and drivers of transformation. In this cultural context, education is always going to be most effective when educators understand and value the identity, language and culture of Maori students and their whānau. Culturally responsive services will be characterised by the ability of educators to listen to whānau Māori and respond appropriately to their aspirations.

The Maori Party has therefore strongly endorsed the Tataiako programme, which makes teaching more effective through promoting teachers’ cultural competency – that is, the skills to recognise and respect the diverse and unique perspectives of whānau Māori.

The Maori Party has also consistently advocated for institutional reinforcement of te reo Māori as a taonga and a gift of value for New Zealand as a whole. The language reinforces Aotearoa’s national identity in a way which distinguishes us from other nations.


Unless we bear in mind the broad purpose of Maori education, and the tight linkages between education, research, cultural maintenance,environmental protection, community resilience and economic development, then education strategies and plans are unlikely to resolve the persistent problems of Maori under-achievement in education.

But when education planners and decision-makers see Maori education as one aspect of Maori development, with the goal being to advance the rangatiratanga of whanau, hapu and iwi Maori; and when Maori education is designed and delivered accordingly, then we will see a transformation in Maori achievement, for the benefit of Aotearoa as a whole.


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