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Speech: Turia - NZAPEP conference

Hon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment
Thursday 13 September 2012 3.30pm SPEECH
Closing keynote address to NZAPEP conference,
Waipuna Hotel, Auckland

[delivered on behalf of the Minister by Kirsten Rei]

Tangata whenua, business leaders, staff and conference attendees, tēnā koutou.

To John Fiso and the Board of the New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers, thank you for the opportunity to share with you some thoughts at the closing of your conference.

The writer Alvin Toffler, once said, “the illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn”.

In short, there has been a virtual festival of learning from exploring the strength of foundation pathways in numeracy and literacy right through to international education and careers bench-marking.

The thousand dollar question of course is – what difference will it make?

And I make that question with my household in mind as much as the illustrious workplaces of the private training establishments and tertiary education providers gathered here today.

In my home in Wellington, currently there are four mokopuna living with us.

One little girl of just eleven years, Piata, poised to enter her middle school years and raring to go.

One sixteen year boy, Pakaitore, proudly representing Wellington in rugby, but yet to determine the pathway of his future career.

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And two older mokopuna, Taylor and Yishay, currently enrolled in sport and recreation programmes at a local tertiary provider.

As I thought about this hui today, I thought about them all – on the verge of their adult lives – and wondered what they would have learnt over the course of this conference.

And so, as a grandmother I ask - how will our mokopuna directly gain from the focus on quality, choice and innovation in the sector?

What have you learnt about how our young people learn? How do we keep the fires of knowledge alit to ensure our school-leavers and students keep learning and relearning?

What inspiration have you acquired in the breakout groups and the plenaries, that equip you to go out and educate – and to encourage our whānau to keep the fires burning?

Is the sector ready for Piata – a young woman with so much energy to burn? How can my mokopuna feel ready when the time comes to leave school to take up the opportunities of the world that awaits them?

These are hefty questions for any provider to answer – let alone a parent or grandparent.

But they are very much the questions that keep us all accountable. It is the same responsibility we share in all our whānau, to protect and prepare for the safe and successful passage in life of our younger generation.

And so it is that I relish the opportunity to share with you the issues that keep me awake at night. To be frank, of all my six portfolios across Whānau Ora, health and disabilities, social development, employment and housing – this is the one that leaves me feeling worried the most.

Uppermost in my mind is how can we best restore and maintain the resilience of whānau to do for themselves.

In my capacity as Associate Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, I get to view a small slice of what is happening in tertiary education and indeed in the Private Training sector.

And I want to say I applaud your collective efforts as a sector to create the opportunities you do every day, for the thousands of students that access your programmes.

Before I came to Parliament sixteen years ago, I too used to run a private training provider based in Whanganui, trying to achieve the same things you do – and to do it in a way which guaranteed quality outcomes for all.

I know intimately the hard yards that you have to do with your students. I understand implicitly the lessons that you gain as you work alongside each student.

I also know what drives you. Quality education pathways for our people to achieve sustainable employment outcomes is the reason most of you took mortgages or loans to set up or buy your PTEs.

This sector takes business risks like no other in tertiary education, and your ability to maintain the kind of presence you do, and to keep growing, is testament to your deep commitment and the responsibility you feel, to make the world a better place for the people who choose to be your students. Tēnā koutou.

My delegation in this space relates primarily to developing initiatives aimed at addressing Māori and Pasifika employment so today I intend to focus our attention on these issues, rather than focus on the tertiary education specific issues that will have occupied your agenda over the past two days.

I don’t need to remind you about the environment that we find ourselves in. The impacts of the global financial crisis, the high dollar, the cost of living and rates of unemployment all paint a pretty bleak picture.

The impacts of these environmental issues are most sorely felt by those at the end of the food chain; invariably made up of Māori, Pasifika and low skilled workers.

The profile is mixed as our statistics confirm.

• 52% of Māori leave school without NCEA Level 2.

• There are just about 300,000 Māori in the labour force, but unemployment for Māori is at nearly 14%.

• Yet on the flip side, Māori employed in highly skilled and skilled occupations grew by nearly 30% over the past decade.

So we are positioned on a policy precipice – and we must mobilise to ensure our students do not fall off – and that we do not fail.

We must not fail our future.

Māori are a young and growing population. By 2026, the Māori population is predicted to grow by 20%. There is no denying the reality – our future in Aotearoa – relies heavily on Māori success.

Our whānau are united in their view that there must be an improvement in Māori participation in, and contribution to, the New Zealand economy.

So how do we turn the spotlight on economic opportunities that bring out the best in our people?

Nothing dismays me more than to see policy after policy that focuses on individuals. We require a fresh approach to working with Māori and you don’t need a new contract or investment plan to help you do it. It simply requires a different conversation. One that reaches in to the very heart of whānau aspirations.

If our current focus remains on interacting with individuals as lone entities, we will continue to perpetuate the ills of deprivation and loss of opportunity. You didn’t build your businesses on your own – you relied on a wealth of support to help steer you through.

I implore you to start a different conversation today. Whānau are the driving force behind the economy. There is enormous potential to further lift their participation and achievement. It just requires us to all lift our gaze, and take a different approach – a whānau-driven approach.

As I have been reflecting on the topic of your conference: “Quality, Choice and Innovation”, I am reminded of the different kind of quality than the one you have become akin to thinking about with your NZQA quality assurance ticks.

The kind of quality I’m referring to is the quality of service that you provide, to not just the individual student who wanders through the door to sign up for your courses, but the kind of quality of service that you notice every time a whole whānau is engaged to make transformative and life changing decisions.

If we want to provide the best start for our tamariki/mokopuna we need to focus our overall policy on strengthening our families.

Our policy needs to be geared towards including whanau in everything they do with their tamariki, and indeed it should work towards establishing closer links between tertiary providers and whānau.

In order to transform the lives of our children, we must break down the old boundaries between social, health, housing, economic and educational policy.

All of you recognise that there is so much more to education than what we get from those influences outside of the home and family.

Indeed, we know that our work is never done in education.

But we do have a choice – we can either choose to keep doing what we’ve always done, and hope for the same, or we can have a different conversation, and prepare those that we are responsible for, to ensure that whānau lead in decisions that affect their lives, and in delivering quality services with the support of the community.

Our whānau need sustainable solutions. Empowering and resourcing our whanau is the best way to build resilience.

I know that the hardest conversations to have with our own whānau are the ones that often teach us the harshest lessons. This is a sector that has never shied away from challenges, and it has been a privilege to share with you the issues that have been occupying my agenda of late.

Like you, I am prepared to have the tough talks, and make the right calls for change. Doing nothing or doing more of the same isn’t going to get net us the gains we need for all our whānau to look forward to brighter futures.

I hope you have understood clearly the message I have for you regarding lifting the numbers of Māori and Pacific whānau who wish not to be left out of mapping their own destinies.

Let us not waste the opportunity to learn the harsh lesson that our incumbent reality offers, and let us seize the moment to start a new conversation.

My hope is you will leave here today and gather your resources to start a quiet revolution amongst our whānau – to put the key to their success firmly in their hands.

I believe you have the most important role to play in transforming the lives of whānau, and I will continue to do all I can to support you to do just that.

Tēnā koutou katoa.


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