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Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote
Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote

ĀteaFebruary 19, 2018

Why public education works for Māori students

Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote
Nan Bella at Waiwhetu School, July 1991. Image: Mark Coote

Opinion: Some would have you believe that charter schools are the only ones transforming education for Māori and Pasifika children. That’s just not true, argues Laures Park.

Success for all tamariki is the aim of education. It’s what their parents, their whānau, their teachers and their communities all want. But claims that charter schools are significantly better for tamariki Māori than state schools just don’t hold water.

The evidence shows that there is nothing that can be achieved in a charter school that cannot be achieved in the state system with the right funding and support. Māori student achievement has, in fact, been increasing steadily in state schools. Between 2009 and 2016, the percentage of Māori students leaving school with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher increased by 20.8 percentage points to 65%. In contrast, only 59.7% of charter school leavers left school in 2016 with at least NCEA Level 2 or higher, and 20.2% of 2016 leavers from charter schools left without even attaining NCEA Level 1 (stats compiled by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ).

The fact is that tamariki Māori can, and do, thrive in a well-funded and well-resourced public education system. That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t be doing better. But if you have any doubt about what can be achieved in the mainstream state system, I’d like to introduce you to “Bobbie Maths”. Officially named Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities, it’s a great example of a culturally responsive programme for children, and it’s working right now in schools in Porirua and elsewhere.

Developed by associate professor Roberta (Bobbie) Hunter of Massey University, DMIC is an inquiry-based approach to maths that aims to raise achievement in low decile schools with a predominantly Pasifika student cohort. It’s based on the principle that children learn best in environments where their identities are valued and where children can engage with maths problems set in contexts they can relate to. Students work together to unravel a problem such as the weight of a taro or the dimensions of a tapa cloth. This approach is a major factor in breaking down barriers that inhibit many from engaging and achieving in maths.

The results have been staggering. In one decile 1 Porirua school with 58% Pasifika and 26% Māori students, the average scale scores for all children increased over a two-year period. And there were some unexpectedly large improvements: for example, in 2015, Year 2 students achieved scores in line with decile 9 schools.

Last year, a Statistics New Zealand report also vindicated parents who choose kaupapa Māori education for their children. Kura kaupapa (and bi-lingual units for both Māori and Pasifika children in mainstream schools) have led the way for students’ success.

Data shows that 78% of students stay on in kaupapa Māori schools until they’re 17 or older, compared to 68.8% in the general roll. Kura kaupapa Māori help tamariki form a better sense of their personal and cultural identity, and speaking te reo helps students to grow as learners. They discover more ways of learning, more ways of knowing, and more about their own capabilities.

So while there is no doubt much more can be done in state schools to ensure personalised and culturally responsive teaching, well-supported kura and schools are changing children’s lives right now.

The driver of the charter school model for ACT and National has not been the wellbeing and success of tamariki but instead the privatisation of education by way of contract. The fact is that more than 85% of Māori tamariki go to mainstream public schools. It was a cop out for the National/ACT Government to present charter schools as a solution for Māori, while failing to adequately resource the schools that the vast majority of tamariki Māori attend.

Charter schools were funded to a level that the local school down the road could never dream of. For example, comparing the 2015 financial statements of charter school South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) and Manurewa Intermediate, the local state school, makes interesting reading. SAMS received $11,740 of funding per student after paying the rent for its premises. In contrast, Manurewa Intermediate received funding of $5,907 per student, with its property provided by the Crown.

Charter schools have been a distraction from years of underfunding of kura and schools. With the policy now scrapped, we need to support teachers in all kura and schools better. For the past decade, the previous government invested in a one-size fits all, Eurocentric approach – National Standards – while simultaneously cutting funding for bilingual resources and for the world-leading Te Kotahitanga programme. It froze school and kura operations grants and capped support for children with additional learning needs, while providing teacher professional development solely in reading, writing and maths.

With the scrapping of National Standards by the Labour-led government, we can now focus on the NZ Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, which both value Te Tiriti and the spirit of bi-culturalism and diversity in schooling.

Wider societal forces outside school, including inequity, colonisation, poverty and immigration mean that teachers need to keep challenging themselves to build a system that is even more responsive to all students if they are to achieve their full potential. But teachers and school leaders need resourcing and support from the system to do this, not teacher-blaming and charter schools. As the union and professional body for primary and early childhood teachers, NZEI Te Riu Roa has been advocating for universal access to te reo, a focus on language, culture and identity, professional learning on cultural responsiveness for teachers, and resourcing and support for resource teachers of Māori for more than a decade. It’s time for action on this so that every teacher in every school and kura is supported to continue to do what is in the best interests of tamariki and their learning.

Laures Park is the matua takawaenga for the union and professional body for primary and early childhood teachers, NZEI Te Riu Roa.

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