By: Simon Collins

Year 13 student Foloiola Finau talks racism and poverty and their effect on the community.

A Tongan Auckland high school student is issuing a plea to educators not to make her a “brown Palangi” – a brown-skinned person with European values.

Foloiola Finau, a Year 13 student at Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, says education initiatives should aim not to “fix” Māori and Pasifika students who are seen as “failures”, but to fix “the whiteness of our education system”.

She and five other Kia Aroha students will tell a conference of the Association for Research in Education tomorrow that their success should be measured in their strength in their own cultures as well as in their knowledge of English or maths.

“We are challenging the idea that Western academic achievement is the primary measure of student success,” Foloiola said.

“Our group wanted to know why all of our education initiatives focus on fixing us, instead of fixing the racism, the quality of teaching, the whiteness of our education system and our schools.”

Foloiola, who has already achieved University Entrance, challenged schools to reject the racist view that Māori and Pasifika students are “dumb”.

“A transformed education system would actively reject that stereotype and stop expecting that we should change into some brown version of Palangi to be seen as ‘successful’.”

Foloiola Finau and her fellow “warrior researchers” are challenging schools to reject racist stereotypes. Photo / Greg Bowker
Kia Aroha College is a designated character state school with 207 students, 52 per cent Pasifika and 42 per cent Māori. Its has one European student.

Students don’t move around to different subject teachers, but each class has three teachers who teach an “integrated” curriculum, which includes the students’ own cultures.

Year 13 Tongan student Daniel Hopoate said he couldn’t speak any Tongan when he started at the college in Year 7, but was now fluent in Tongan language and dance.

“Attending Kia Aroha College has developed my knowledge about my cultural identity and language and I can stand proudly and say I am Tongan,” he said.

“To me and my family, that is learning at the highest level.”

He also expects to leave school with Level 3 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and hopes to study software engineering at Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

Year 12 student Sesoni Finau attended Tangaroa College in his first two years of high school and said he had little knowledge of Tongan language until he came to Kia Aroha last year. He said Tangaroa teachers only saw him for their subjects and didn’t really know him.

“They don’t want to really help you if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said.

“Here they want to discuss pathways. They are like our actual family, we can just talk to them like how we want.”

He said learning in Pasifika and Māori cultures was co-operative, not individual.

“It’s not just the teachers, it’s all of us, we all achieve together,” he said.

The group used an app called Streetwyze to map where students had experienced racism, often at other schools where a teacher had told one girl she was “smart for a Tongan girl” and another teacher, after asking students to introduce themselves, asked a student: “What’s your English name, not your Samoan name?”

One student told the researchers: “I was followed around this store as if it was assumed I was going to steal something.”

Another said: “I was racially profiled as a Māori by a white man and was asked where to buy dope.”

The team also mapped places that celebrated their cultures, such as local marae, kōhanga reo, Samoan and Tongan early childhood centres and the students’ own homes.

Dr Ann Milne, the college’s former principal who coached the students for their presentation, said the school called all its students “warrior scholars” because they were encouraged to analyse unfair situations and take action to change them.

The “warrior researchers” took that one step further by surveying their community in order to change it.

Source: NZ Herald

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