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

Māori don’t need Chris Hipkins to tell us what’s best for our mokopuna

Shane Te Pou looks at the Ministry of Education’s plans to close down the current charter school model, and what it means for Māori education.

Unleashing the Rogernomics revolution on New Zealand without warning and without care for the short-term consequences was Labour’s greatest shame of the 20th century.

More recently Labour shamed itself with the Foreshore and Seabed confiscation and the Electoral Finance Act attack on free speech.

But there were reason for these disgraces, even if you disagree with them. David Lange knew something had to be done to stop running New Zealand like a Polish shipyard. Helen Clark worried the foreshore and seabed litigation would alarm Pākehā and she wanted to stop the Exclusive Brethren from spending millions to influence elections.

Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins have no such excuse for her attack on charter schools. Their move is pure ideology and nothing more. It shames the new government.

Māori were the most enthusiastic about the new charter school model and with good reason. There is no doubt the school system has failed many of our people (while also doing a fantastic job for others).

Compared with everyone else, Māori are underrepresented in early childhood education, start truanting at primary school, drop out of high school early, don’t move on to tertiary education, fail to obtain qualifications, become pregnant and unemployed, commit crime and get sent to jail.

The reasons are complex, a legacy of colonisation and racism. But Māori have not sat back and whinged. Instead, one of the greatest sources of pride in Māori communities over the last 40 years is how we have assumed responsibility for our tamariki and mokopuna from the colonial power, taken the initiative and provided at the flaxroots the kind of education that we know will allow them to succeed in modern Aotearoa and globally.

First with Te Kohanga Reo, then Kura Kaupapa Māori and wānanga, Māori have taken it upon ourselves to prepare our children for the modern age, and to ensure the survival of our reo and tikanga.

When the history of the second thousand years of the Māori people is told, the likes of Jean Puketapu, Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Katerina Mataira, Pita Sharples, Graham Smith, Linda Smith, Cathy Dewes, Tuki Nepe, Rahera Shortland, Pem Bird, Toni Waho, Toby Curtis, Rongo Wetere, Iwi Kohuru Mangu and Rewi Panapa deserve to be seen as among the greatest of our people.

Added to that list should be Māori charter school pioneers like Roana Bennett and Raewyn Tipene.

As a former Labour Party member and activist, I would like to be able to say it has been my party that has helped these leaders to succeed as the Treaty partner but sadly I cannot.

It was the Muldoon Government that first got behind Kohanga Reo, the Bolger Government that first funded Kura Kaupapa Māori and Wananga and launched Te Whāriki and Māori-specific curricula, and the Key Government that first backed charter schools.

Whether any of these prime ministers backed these initiatives because they saw themselves as the Treaty partner or just because they wanted to try something new to tackle Māori failure makes little difference.

They backed Māori education when it counted.

Sadly, Labour can’t point to anything like the same record.

Now, in an (unsuccessful) effort to please the teacher unions, Chris Hipkins has decided to close down the charter school model that was about to unleash the next wave of Māori educational innovation without having to go back and beg the Treaty partner for financial support.

In response to criticism, Hipkins says he doesn’t believe Māori students “should be forced to leave the public education system and go into a form of private school to get the education they deserve” and nor does anyone else.

But Māori frankly don’t need Hipkins to tell us what’s best for our mokopuna. For 178 years we have waited for the Treaty partner to meet our children’s needs. Despite the best intentions of some of the giants of the Pākehā political world including King Dick Seddon, Peter Fraser, David Lange, Lockwood Smith, Trevor Mallard and Steve Maharey, we are still waiting. We don’t have any confidence that Hipkins, a former student union president and Labour Party careerist, will do any better than they did.

Get out of the way Mr Hipkins. Give Māori the freedom to teach our children in our own language, in our own culture and using our own pedagogy, and we will close the gaps between Māori and Pākehā students and deliver to Aotearoa New Zealand the artists, business leaders, scientists, jurists, musicians, writers, legislators and mums and dads of the future.

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