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Turia - Manawatu Combined Principals Day

Whanganui - Manawatu Combined Principals Day; Whanganui Racecourse

Tariana Turia; Member of Parliament for Te Tai Hauauru; Co-leader, Maori Party

Friday 27 October 2006; 9.30am

As I read some of the ideas issued to me about what you would like to hear from me, in facing the challenges of our education system, our schools and our students over the next fifteen years, I wondered if it was not a politician that you were looking for, but maybe a prophet. And so I consulted one of my tupuna from this rohe, Mere Rikiriki. Mere Rikiriki was a descendant of Maata, a noted healer from the 1840s from Oroua on the Manawatu River.

She was of Ngati Te Rangitepaia and Ngati Apa whakapapa with strong connections to Rangitane iwi; and grew up and lived at Parewanui Marae - so in her terms of your Association for Whanganui and Manawatu Principals, she is perhaps the ideal agent of transformation for this area. Mere Rikiriki said: 'He ringa kaha, he ringa poto, kaore e whakahoa;. In this she called us to always hold true to ourselves, to be self-controlled, without friend or favour. Her vision motivates me to live by a value of self-discipline, to face the truths and to act with the courage of my convictions.

And so when I think of the major challenges facing our education system over the next fifteen years I think about the need to be true to what we believe in, to provide for diversity, but always within the context of catering for every possibility, without friend or favour. Given the educational qualifications of this esteemed audience, I thought best to apply a model you are all familiar with - the three Rs'. But as you are probably also aware, the Maori Party always tries to keep just that one step ahead, and so I present your model, with Maori Party adaptations - the three Ps.

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The first P is the notion around Population. What will the challenge of our population, our demographics, present schools and your communities with over the next fifteen?

For a start, we signal - and welcome with open arms, the browning of the population. In fifteen years time, in 2021; tangata whenua are projected to make up 16.5% of the New Zealand population; Asian people's share of the New Zealand population will have increased to 14.5%; and 9.1% of the New Zealand population will be Pasifika.

So that's just over 40% of the population as a whole will be Maori, Pasifika or Asian. In the case of Maori and Pasifika children, however, the proportion of brown faces in your schools will be even greater than today. In 2001, Maori made up 25% of children less than 15 years, while Pacific people made up 11% of children.

What is also important to remember, is that when we think of Pasifika people it is not one category of Pacific Islanders - but the unique and distinctive cultures of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tokelau, Niue, Tuvalu, Rarotonga.

Likewise, the label, "Asian" obscures a great diversity of countries and ethnicities, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan - as well as other countries.

Adding further to our diversity, in speaking to you today, I am always conscious of the legacy that comes as a descendant of Whanganui; Ngati Apa/Nga Wairiki; Tuwharetoa; Nga Rauru - although I know it is far simpler for people to identify me as Maori.

So when we plan and predict for the fifteen or fifty years ahead, we must always take as a starting point, the diversity that comes with our emerging complexity, where our people will be proud of their dual or multi-ethnic ancestry, affiliations and cultural practices. Rather than deny that - dismissing our growing diversity as insignificant because of some dubious notion of diluted blood counts or pretending we are all one people - the Maori Party prefers instead to celebrate our growing confidence as a nation.

We know also that inter-marriage, and embracing and living within other cultures, will undoubtedly influence the shape of the children walking in your door. A person with neither a Maori surname nor indeed any Maori whakapapa, may have Maori children, a Maori partner, be fluent in te reo, have been heavily involved in kohanga reo, indeed may have been inspired by some Maori ways of knowing which our schooling must be prepared for.

And this brings me on to the second p, Parenting. In terms of our cultural values, we believe that no two people have the exclusive rights to ownership or possession of their children. Children are held in trust for the whanau, and the wider hapu and iwi. The challenge and opportunity that presents our schools over the next fifteen years, is to know your communities, to extend and embrace open arms to the families that have nurtured the children of our future.

And to do that, may take courage, he ringa kaha, to be open to learning the child rearing practices of another culture, to be exposed to the history of their people, their origins and stories, the experiences that may have the greatest influence on their lives.

It may require a fearless approach, to put yourself into an environment which is perhaps different to the ways you perceive the world to be.

I often talk to my mokopuna of the concept of 'kaua e takatakahi te mana o etahi ake' - literally do no belittle the integrity of others. I believe it is putting ourselves into situations of new learning which contribute to our growth.

It is also incumbent on me as a grandmother of 26 and indeed a great grandmother of eight, that I pass on the legacy of my grandparents, who taught me how to manaaki manuhiri, and how also to behave, respectfully, as a guest.

Of course, in walking into the lives of those who parent your students, there is always a risk that you may find more than you are looking for. I believe that this is part of the challenge of our future that we must face up to the worlds some of our children live in.

Their homes may be stricken with horrific violence; the abuse of drugs and alcohol may have overtaken the lives of the adults around them; the environment may be impoverished by the relentless assault of a gambling addiction or criminal behaviour.

Far too many of the children of this nation live under the devouring grip of poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that even after the Government's Working for Families project has fully kicked in, 175,000 children in both working and beneficiary families will remain in poverty. I know that there have been some within your sector, that may say what happens at home stays at home; school is the place for learning between 9am and 3pm.

But I know also, the appalling statistics around suspensions, stand downs and truancy. I have to wonder why it is that in 2004, while 21% of the school population were Maori; they accounted for 41% of all stand-downs (8383) and 47% of all suspensions (2244).

I wonder if it stems back to a failure to connect, an alienation, that our young people feel dis-enfranchised, dis-engaged with the learning process.

Where children come from, their home lives, the environments they inhabit, all make them ready - or not - for learning. It is your responsibility to extend that learning, based in some knowledge of 'what's on top' for each child, when they turn up each morning.

It is your greatest responsibility to make the connections; to do what you can, to assist each and every one of your students, to create their own reality.

There used to be a school of thought that children were empty vessels, waiting for teachers to pour knowledge into. Thankfully I think those days are gone, and the teaching profession has the generosity to realise that what turns the light on for any one child, may be the learning that they already acquired from others around them, indeed the learning that has been taking place in utero.

But what can sustain that spark, what can ignite the passion for knowledge, will be the connections that can be made from the emotional, intellectual, mental, physical, social learning that is within each and every whanau. Connecting to other worlds is the way we can transform education into the process of liberation.

Education for liberation brings me to my last point, that of principles. What are the principles that inspire your learning? How do you apply knowledge of key values in practice and theory, towards making a difference.

As a nation, we find principles for learning which stem from Te Tiriti o Waitangi -the vision that sets this country apart. We must place value and assign significance to the ideal of nationhood that our ancestors, yours and mine, believed in, when signing the Treaty.

That is why the Maori Party has so strongly opposed the moves of the Government to support NZ First's Bill to remove treaty principles from legislation; and indeed the Minister of Education's decision to take the Treaty out of the new curriculum.

Our children, yours and mine, must have a vision to aspire towards, which places the Treaty firmly at the centre of our relationships. Relationships built on respect and the recognition that together, we can build a future based on principles of justice and fairness for all.

There will be other values and beliefs - for tangata whenua we hold strong to kaupapa and tikanga which we believe will benefit not only Maori, but all those people who lay claim to this country as their homeland. The challenge in front of us all, is how to engage in dialogue, to prepare for our future together.

Finally - I have talked about prophets, about people, about parenting, about principles - and even the scourge of 'P' which continues to devastate some communities.

But I realise there are a couple of other p's I've missed out - politics and power. This was deliberate. For the Maori Party truly believes that the real power lies with the people. That our job as politicians is to do the very best job that we can for the people who have given us the privilege of representing them.

And in saying that, I want to also explain why I did not, this morning, take on the opportunity to suggest the changes that you need to make to the system of education in order to respond to the challenges of our future.

That is your area of expertise - your wisdom will lead you towards the best pathway, and my role is to listen and learn from your leadership.

Representation of the people's issues is our bread and butter work. And in saying that I am reminded of the words of English poet, Robert Browning, who said:

"If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens".

It is our honour and our privilege to do what we can, to ensure the people walk the path of the greatest potential.

I wish you well for the day you spend together as Whanganui-Manawatu Combined Principals. May you focus on all the stars and all the heavens while also taking time to taste the bread along the way.


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