Sarah-Kay Coulter shares three solutions to promote positive change for the 187,731 Māori students in education in New Zealand today and tomorrow.

Māori make up 15% of the population in New Zealand. Currently, 187,731 Māori students are in compulsory schooling of which 9.6% are in Maori Medium Education. The vast majority are in either English medium primary or secondary school in Aotearoa. If you trained as a teacher in New Zealand you would have heard, have seen and felt the narrative of ‘under-achievement’ of Māori in mainstream education.

It is almost certain you would have explored the work of Te Kotahitanga programme during this training which has been used as a pivotal study to navigate this space. Although this is a highly simplistic overview, through this initiative you may have explored the importance of pronouncing Māori student names correctly, learnt that it is tapu (taboo) to pat someone on the head or step over legs and learnt that you should include whānau in curriculum should you wish to engage your Māori learners. You would have also identified what is effective for engaging Māori, is in fact, helpful for all learners regardless of ethnicity.


This work of Te Kotahitanga makes vital progress in the way we think about Māori education, yet how much systemic impact is this having? It is disheartening to see a recent report from UNICEF (2018) indicate that New Zealand still ranks 33rd out of 38 in regard to educational equality and continually Māori learners are disproportionately represented in under-achievement in mainstream education.


The government is continually exploring solutions and providing funding to address the needs of Māori in the education system. Te Reo initiatives, as well as improvements and inclusion of Maturanga Māori in NCEA achievement standards and substantial funding toward Te Hurihanganui are some examples which we see. These initiatives are due for implementation in 2019/20 to which outcomes are yet to be seen, however change can feel slow, fatigued, political and legislative. We can find further ways to develop our education system so that Māori can flourish. Here are three alternative innovative solutions that you can do in your classroom / school community to promote positive change for the 187,731 Māori students in education in New Zealand today and tomorrow.


1 – Include waiata (Māori song) and collective singing as part of your classroom / or school each and everyday.

Research explains that when we sing our brain is engaged, it connects us to others, regulates moods and is important for wellbeing. Studies also indicate there is a reduction in depression and anxiety amongst those that regularly participate in group song. Māori use songs, chants, words and expressions to preserve the wisdom and knowledge of ancestors and perhaps at school we need to incorporate group song with more regularity, not just the Māori version of the national anthem, but each and everyday finding space for waiata and song (even if you are in secondary education!). Attend any hui, marae or Māori event or just day to day living, you will realise that waiata/song is part of life. Bring it into your classroom, fearlessly, each and everyday.


2 – Discuss openly what’s often left unsaid in regard to social class and the profound effect colonialism has had on the development of Aotearoa.

For many reasons we are often whakamā (shy) about talking about treaty issues, about social class, about colonisation. Yet we need to cast that aside and find a place within the curriculum to discuss the story of our past and the impact this has had. As adults we can own our history, talk about it and role model ways to discuss themes and subjects that are sensitive and uncomfortable. If we continue to ignore colonialism and don’t talk about social class, we perpetuate the view that others are ‘sorting it all out’ and it isn’t something we need to know about and as a nation we continue to remain indifferent, yet divided. It is only through these critical conversations that we can fully embrace the future without denying the past.


3 – When looking at your Māori learners, stop measuring success of a learner only by academic scores or NCEA results.

Although these are vital key performance indicators to measure the success of a system and one which encourages an upward trajectory toward work and higher education (which is necessary), in what ways can we celebrate additional strengths of our Māori learners? For example, what about the measurement of relationality, the idea of good healthy positive human connections and sustainable connections beyond school. Is this young student connected to their iwi? Are they invested in the outcome of this child? How can Māori learners connect with the whenua of their whakapapa with regularity (due to urban drift)? How can we measure their connection to their past, when they sit within a system that promotes an individualist version of success?

Recent evidence shows that Iwi currently have $9 billion dollars in assets. How are Māori learners developing the capabilities needed to continually rejuvenate and protect and use these assets for community good? It is an injustice if we only provide one indicator of success (NCEA scores) for our Māori learners, we need to find other ways to measure success as the aim of Māori in our education system so we do not create ‘Brown-skinned Pākehā’ but young people with whom have had the opportunity to explore their unique strengths and identity and demonstrate various ways of their success within the education system in Aotearoa.




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