Upsize my education

Niu Sila / New Zealand is an interesting nation.  With a large indigenous Maori population, and a diversifying multi-cultural citizenry, there are constant debates about the place of Maori (and other minorities including Pacific peoples) in modern Niu Sila.

The Maori Party, currently in co-alition with the National Government, recently stirred up the radio talk-back red-necks with a call by co-leader Dr Pita Sharples to allow open access for Maori students into tertiary education.

Of course that’s not all he said, but that’s all the mainstream media picked up to get their revenue tills ringing.   Dr Sharples also said:

“My speech made clear that educational under-achievement by Maori students is obvious at school.  That is why the Government allocated an extra million to expand the Kotahitanga programme in secondary schools, and almost million to extend the 20-hours free early childhood education to kohanga reo and playcentres,” said Dr Sharples.

There is no doubt there is underachievement by Maori and Pacific students in education.

The Starpath Project at Iunivesite o Aukilani / The University of Auckland has warned in its report that many Maori and Pacific students may not make it to university because they are making ill-informed NCEA subject choices.  The study reports anecdotally on students who aspired to tertiary education but chose vocational subjects instead of academic ones.  It found parents did not understand NCEA so were ill-equipped to advise their children on subject choice, and the wide range of subjects available under NCEA meant students were being diverted from the narrow range of subjects which lead to tertiary success.

This is supported by other programmes I have been involved with, that too many schools with predominantly Maori and Pacific students are under-resourced (and sometimes mismanaged) with poor quality of teaching, offering limited subjects that would increase the chances of the students to get into tertiary education, instead offering easier vocational subjects.  Furthermore, many of these vocational subjects may give a student enough NCEA credits, but in order to get into many tertiary institutions the credits need to be ranked, which many vocational subject credits are not.

Dr Sharples states “But the point is: what can universities do to overcome the crisis? It is not good enough simply to blame schools.”

Dr Sharples also said “Wananga have transformed Maori aspirations for tertiary education, by making courses easily accessible, and providing a kaupapa Maori learning environment. So will the universities respond, by stepping outside conventional thinking, and embracing new approaches?”

A wananga is a type of tertiary education provider that provides education in a Maori cultural context.  Yet mainstream New Zealand (and some Pacific people) are up in arms about it, saying it’s racist, it’s segregation etc.  Those arguments only attempt to hide the differences between peoples.  By trying to say we are all the same, we conceal the inequalities that do exist between people.  There are structural inequalities inherent in our society that have many Maori and Pacific peoples starting at a disadvantage.

This isn’t purely politicking, but it’s statistically evidenced.  If you go to a high decile school the probability of gaining University Entrance is higher than a low decile school.  Where do most Maori and Pacific people’s live?  In low decile school areas.  How is that fair, that just because you are born in a area that has crap schools, thereby affecting your probability of gaining a tertiary education?

Again, from a mathematical point of view, ethnicity is the lowest common denominator when assessing on how to spread the limited public funds into education (and health etc).  It’s not a permanent characteristic, but it’s the most effective way to target disadvantaged groups: through targeting ethnic groups that dominate the poor socio-economic statistics.

Looking further ahead, with large youthful populations and higher fertility rates, Maori and Pacific people’s will make up the majority of the future workforce of Niu Sila.  Statistically, if this future workforce is born of a community that continues to fail in many academic areas, we will have a poorly skilled, poorly equipped workforce. 

For the aging Palagi population, they should be worried.  Statistically, they will make up the majority of the pensioner age group in the foreseeable future.  The elderly population will need a productive highly skilled work force to keep paying the taxes that will pay for their pensions.

If we were all born into families with the same level of wealth, attend the same quality of schools, given the same opportunities, then yes, then we can argue it’s an individuals own fault for not working hard enough to get into a tertiary institution.

But that’s not reality.  We do have poverty.  We do have crap schools.  We do have large concentrations of ethnic groups in low decile areas.  There are a whole host of other reasons that should also be taken into consideration when we start criticising some-one for not ‘working hard enough’.

Many Iunivesite’s do have programmes and scheme’s in place to assist disadvantaged groups with access into degrees and support services while studying.  But most people only point out the ethnic schemes: Maori and Pacific Island entry quota’s.  They don’t point to the mature student quota’s or the people with disabilities’ quota, or the women’s quota.  These are all disadvantaged groups, that the Iunivesite’s have identified as having under-representation in doctors, lawyers, engineers etc.

Many degrees have limited spaces.  To limit the number of student’s entering the degree the Iunivesite artificially creates a cut-off point, for example to get into a law degree student’s must have a A- average.  But that’s not to say a person with a B+ average is any less capable of completing that law degree than an A- student, it’s just that a line had to be drawn.  In fact the Iunivesite o Aukilani has chopped and changed the entry level for Law school many times over the last few years.  Therefore it is false to assume that students who enter a degree under a quota won’t be able to complete the degree.

Quota’s aren’t an easy ride to getting a degree.  It’s providing an opportunity to participate in tertiary education, acknowledging the societal inequalities that prevent many people from those disadvantaged groups of gaining entrance into the degrees.  Once in, they still have to meet the same level of academic excellence as everyone else, they still have to pass the same exams everyone else sits, they still have to prove themselves just like everyone else.

When a person graduates with a Iunivesite degree it’s because they earned it, bearing no consequence on the quality of that soon to be doctor or lawyer etc, since they all passed the same exams.

Dr Sharples also stated “I also called for universities to meet Maori educational needs half way, by interweaving kaupapa Maori into their own strong European academic traditions to create win-win outcomes for Maori and non-Maori students alike.  A New Zealand education for all citizens should draw on the strengths of both Maori and European traditions and pedagogy.”

Doesn’t that sound like equality to you?

So when Dr Sharples called for open access for Maori students into tertiary education it’s not an attempt to create inequalities but to redress the existing inequalities (amongst other measures).  After all, our futures depend on it…

0 thoughts on “Upsize my education

  1. I tell you what NiuZila:

    The most, most difficult process of my schooling in the United States was the fact that my education reflected almost nothing of my Samoan way of life at home.

    My parents came here to the U.S.A. from Upolu and Tutuila in 1969. My parents knew very little about the American culture: politics, science, medicine, community network, and so forth. This American culture was entirely foreign to them, leaving their children at a disadvantage, perhaps, seriously challenged. My parents could not help to guide, to counsel, or to support us with our American studies.

    My father governed our home fa’aSamoa. He maintained obedience with a heavy hand, as was the ways of his childhood. Any questions we had about what we were learning in school was entirely up to us to figure out. We were expected to leave the ‘palagi’ world (my father’s reference for his children’s American academic life) at school.

    We’ve made it through our studies, and continue to do so, but our academic achievements were sorely difficult because our studies lacked a relevant cultural frame-of-reference for me and my parents. My father’s arguments are entirely correct on many levels, had we been living in Samoa, but not entirely applicable because his children were being raised in America. The good part is our established experience serves as an advantage for the next generation and first-generation Samoan residents.

    Leveling the playing field for all Polynesians alike requires incorporating parental/citizen participation in their communities at large: government, academic, health care institutions, and so forth.

    A general issue of slight annoyance (similar to that of a mosquito bite) for me is when Polynesians receive guests (tourists) we go all-out to make them feel like family. We provide them with a thoroughly structured education and experience as to what the Polynesian culture is about for our guests (tourists). We are always glad to hear our guests (tourists) walkaway with a wonderful experience that they can share with their family and friends. Sharing our alofas for our guests is a natural expression of who we are, but what about our youth?

    I appreciate reading blogs from students/tourists about their experience in Samoa, but at the heart of their blogs for me is: “What about our youth? Where is their opportunity to gain an equal foreign-exchange student program? How can we feel good about creating opportunities for others and not our own?”

    Broadening our guests’ (tourists) experience of who we are is good, and hopefully a source of revenue for community participants. But I can’t help but feel that our youth, consequently, are being robbed of opportunities to broaden their life’s experiences as well.

    Which brings my thoughts back to the Maori seats at the table of Supercity. You know what I mean?

  2. Hey John62. I’m a bit fuzzy on the connection between our cultural upbringings and Maori seats in a SuperCity Auckland. But I’ll take a guess, and by all means please correct my assumptions.

    Is your premise that by engraining into our youth a strong focus on our own cultures (whether it is faasamoa or Maori culture) we may be missing opportunities for our youth to experience other cultures, or broaden their experiences?

    And therefore, by demanding representation for Maori (or Pacific peoples) whether it be in the academic arena or in local governance, we may be losing an opportunity to see the bigger picture: ie what our youth could gain from a re-focussing of issues?

    Like I said this was a total stab in the dark – hehe. Am keen to respond…

  3. Clearly, I have done a poor job at providing my personal experience in concurrence with your “Upsize My Education” blog.

    Regarding, Maori seats at Auckland’s SuperCity government re-organization, I meant to circle-back to my commentary of your “SuperCity” blog.

    Specifically, I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Sharples and your elaborate review of his ‘talk-radio commentary,’ in as far as you are my sole source of reference to fact.

    To clarify, my premise is a recollection (mind you, a few years past) of my American studies in “intellectual quota,” I.Q. for short – hehe. For the purpose of simplification, it’s safe for me to presume that you are thoroughly versed in the ‘immigration IQ’ examination of peoples migrating here through ‘Ellis Island.’ Arguments against the equalities of the infamous ‘IQ Test’ led to throwing out the results of the IQ tests. The arguments? Essentially, it’s like expecting my parents to answer English language-written exams regarding “Life in America,” or, to further elaborate, it would be like me answering questions written in a not-in-English language about ‘Life in America.’

    Tools used to measure a ‘level playing field’ were inadequate, to say the least.

    Now, in regards to ‘demanding Maori’ seats. I’m not ‘square’ upon your statement of ‘Maori demanding’ seats, because my understanding is that ‘Outsiders’ are the groups demanding and overtaking seats at their (Maori) table. What I know is that any person or group not familiar, intimately, with the cultural challenges of the Maori population is NOT qualified to speak for the “Maori Peoples.” Whether by ancestral birth, or cultural obligations, intimate relations are the quantitative voices that can objectively determine the long-term ramifications of present-day political decision-making of life in New Zealand/Niu Zila.

    And, I believe that the ‘Maoris don’t demand a seat,’ I interpret political events in New Zealand as the ‘Maoris being seated upon.’

    Okay, so, I may be a tad-bit, or more, naive about politically-motivated decisions, but in terms of your “UpSize My Education,” well, I say, “UpSize Our Education!”

    LMFAO! My English teacher say to me, “…speak from the heart, write from the heart. Don’t let me read your mechanical reflections, because, I, your Reader, cannot be endeared in that manner…” I, too, am confused–LOL! “Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Talk to me like I’m a 5th-grader.”

  4. Hey, NiuZila,

    Regarding my last paragraph, I meant for You to explain stuff to me like I’m the ‘5th-grader,’ because my thoughts tend to be scattered, and I do my best to try and isolate my ‘point,’ and you’re commentary helped to remind me of that fact.


    Mister Scattered-In-Thoughts.

  5. Thanks John62. I know the feeling: life would be so much easier if things were broken down so even a ‘5th grader’ can understand it hehe. I think I better understand your posts.

    My comments would be that New Zealand is a multicultural nation built on a bi-cultural relationship. In February 6 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Maori version) was signed between (most) Maori tribes and the British Crown, thereby allowing the British to colonise Aotearoa/New Zealand. Therefore the Treaty/Tiriti forged a fiduciary relationship between the parties.

    But for most of Palagi New Zealand history, the Palagi’s either pushed it aside, ignoring the Treaty/Tiriti or totally forgot about it. Inequalities then started to developed as Palagi’s expected Maori to live just like them, as British subjects, and later New Zealand citizens.

    What has developed since the 1970’s Maori renaisance is some political and legal recognition of Maori as partners under the Treaty/Tiriti with the Crown. But it’s by no means a complete partnership.

    That’s why Maori demand an equal seat next to the State at the national level, AND at the local level (SuperCity). Maori want a say in the governance of New Zealand as promised at the signing back in 6 Feb 1840.

    What should have been an equal partnership from the signing of the Treaty/Tiriti, then became onesided in favour of the Palagi’s, and only now is slowly climbing back to a partnership.

    I say all this because, until the state recognises the inequalities that exist because of the injustices of not adhering to the Treaty/Tiriti, we can’t address other people’s inequalities.

    Once Maori are represented at the governance seat, then everyone else (including Pacific Islanders) can then ask to have their inequalities addressed.

    Maori aren’t just another minority. They are in partnership with the Crown.

    Hope I answered your question.


  6. I have no questions about your perspective.

    However, what is worth noting is that fiduciary obligations are ‘tactical.’

    In short, as per our American cliche, “it’s the squeaky wheels that gets greased.”

    Malo lava le fa’aaloalo!

  7. Just out of curiosity…Do you recall a documentary that aired on NZ television…Not sure what channel it was…It aired a few years back…The documentary was based around South Auckland and was narrated by the late David Lange?

    Keep in mind the ex-prime minister actually lived in South Auckland.

    He took a stroll through what I like to call, the slums of Shaolin (South Auckland)…Basically discussed religions, the island culture and education.

    But what really struck me was the amount of money that went into building some of these churches…Now were not talking hundreds or thousands here…Were talking about millions gone into building these churches.

    David actually brought forward a great idea…Which was getting all the religions together to create or build a institution of learning…If you can raise millions to build a church, why not build a institution of higher education…Not trying to take anything away from ones religion…Wouldn’t you like your siblings to have all the opportunities in life?

    I can’t knock someones hustle, in trying to improve his culture or to get ahead in life.

    What are we doing for our people?

  8. Thanks again John62. Yes, it is all tactical. In a modern democracy Maori are all too well aware that they won’t get a perfect partnership as their ancestor’s envisaged when they signed the Treaty, so every inch they win, they’ve battled hard for. Hence the Maori Party’s unlikely coalition with the governing conservative party. That is a tactical coalition. But Maori struggles are generational, so true partnership might not happen tomorrow, or the next day, but they hold out a hope that eventually it will come to be.

    Malo lava 2face. Yes I do remember that documentary vividly. He made some good points like the ones you’ve raised. But the funny thing is, he never came to my church in Mangere and espoused his virtues. I never saw him at Mangere Town Centre preaching about the millions the churches get. Yet he felt compelled to make a documentary about it for all of NZ to see it? David Lange was a brilliant speaker, the gift of the gab. But he was also leader of a Govt that introduced neo-liberal economic ideologies that ripped up workers rights, ran down Unions, cut the social security blanket, and brought in Rogernomics. So on one hand he preaches to South Auckland churches about their buildings, while on the other hand he disenfranchised the workers of South Auckland.

    But on the other hand, I have seen a change in the churches (many, not all) that have refocussed on youth and the community. There’s plenty of room to improve for our churches, but let’s not pretend David Lange really gave a damn.

  9. LOL @ NiuZila with many hands.

    Hey, 2face, thanks for joining in on the conversation.

    Always appreciate reading the many perspectives.

    UpSize, SuperSize Our Education!

  10. Pointing out a mans imperfections or whether he gave a flying hoot about polynesians is irrelevant…What is relevant, is our education…He brought forward a great idea…No one has jumped that bandwagon or even given it a shot…Why?

    Once again you have a hori associated with parliament who’s trying to do something for his people…You cant knock someones hustle, for trying to improve a better way of living/to get ahead in life.

    My question was…What are we doing for our people?

    I haven’t attended church in twenty plus years…I have no idea what goes on in those churches…For all I know, they could be playing tiddley winks?

    Greetings and good morning to you John62

  11. Hey John62. Yeah I re-read my post and realised I have 3 hands! Thanks again for the convo.

    Sorry 2face if I came across angry in my last post, but to tell you the truth I don’t rate Lange much. Nothing against you or what you’ve said in here. I just think there are a lot of things Lange did that are overlook, because he was ‘great’ in other ways.

    As for what are we doing for our people? It’s a hard battle, and by no means are we winning. But Crosspower Ministries have set up 274 and 275 youth programmes. There’s also the Bring It On inter-school hip-hop dance battles, run by Break Through Church. The Malaeola Samoan Catholic Community in conjunction with the Ministry of Health are colaborating to bring about community education targeted to our people, which will soon be rolled out to the PIC synod. But yes, there’s a lot more we can do.

  12. Here’s a great article by Tapu Misa, a Samoan columnist in the New Zealand Herald, talking about the “Business Case” for targeted education for Maori and Pacific Islanders:

  13. LOL @ 2Face, come’n on strong with her clarification in regards to her ‘question.’ I got a bit confused myself with NiuZila’s ‘3 hands’.

    Great conversations. Come one, come all!

  14. As an Educationalist, Chair of a local primary school and previous representative of Pacifika Education in New Zealand everyone has missed the point and the context of what happens here in New Zealand. Firstly, The Maori have a Treaty of Waitangi that acknowledges them as having rights and control over a number of areas. One of them is education! This was not always the case and only recently has the Te Tiriti O Waitangi been accpeted by Westminster thinking. Comparing Samoan education isn’t applicable, full stop! Also as an ex stuent of Woodrow Wilson High in San Fran, to compare the education system in the States to New Zealand again is totally out of context and non-applicable!

    From a Samoans persective having worked in the Education field for over 14 years in New Zealand I believe that creating an us and them approach to education limits and restricts us! The point I will make will be brief! If you want your culture and heritage recognised, Go to Samoa! If you want an education that will deliver, forget about your culture and focus on what is on offer! I know that when I went to Samoa with my family for 6 months, there was no different treatment or rights for us New Zealand born Samoans! So why do we expect it from countries like New Zealand? Get real and take responsibility!! Don’t like it then go back home! Quite simple!!

  15. Hello, Kokonut,

    I appreciate your passion for educating our youths, all our youths, from Poly to non-Poly, from 5-year-olds to 50-year-olds. Second to parenting, ‘teaching’ is one of the most challenging professions, some colleagues consider it a ‘thankless’ job, and most consider it one of the most self-fulfilling jobs.

    Aside from all of the above, I offered my initial response to this “Upsize My Education” blog as a testimony to the challenges that bi-cultural students face domestically and academically. There is a common denominator that all bi-cultural, or multi-cultural, students face: “assimilation vs. acculturation.” Academic consideration of students’ cultural familiarity is one of many key ingredient towards improving the success rates of bi-cultural students; other than the challenges of the cohort factor, the dual-languages, the cultural fashion trends, economic, and family obligations.

    One of the conditions of my undergrad scholarship (full-tuition) was my continuing to tutor first-generation college and multi-cultural students. My popularity with my students (coeds) was directly related to being acutely aware, or sensitive, to the relationship between education at home and school. None of whom were more challenging than the football players–LOL.

    Education helps us to identify, isolate, and empower us to value our God, our parents/families, ancestral sacrifices, and to appreciate our individuality and each others’ gifts. Historically, the Bourgoises established education institutions for the sole purpose of having a more skilled labor force. Presently, academic cultural consideration broadens our ability to capitalize on cultural identity: medicinal, craftsmanship, sports, culinary, philanthropy, ecology, and so on.

    This discussion reminds me of the time my niece started kindergarten. Back then, the school lunch programs included the usual, hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches with a side of apple sauce. Whenever the school served hot dogs and sandwiches, my niece would not eat. She would go through the entire half-day without having eaten. Well, my niece’s parents were questioned by the school and expressed their concerns regarding her nutrition. My brother and his wife explained to the school people that their daughter did not eat hotdogs or sandwiches at home; she ate mashed fa’i, falaipitati, alaisa, sapasui, and hampoka. So guess what happened? My niece’s parents started incorporating hotdogs and sandwiches in their family meals, in other words, they began to Americanize their diet. Assimilation? Not for my brother and his family, they acculturated. But, because the school did not begin to add sapasui to their lunch menu, that was assimilation.

    What’s my point? I’ve forgotten, maybe, somebody can remind me. LOL! Auooooiii!

    Malo Soifua!

    By the way, Kokonut, I don’t know if you intended to, but did you note the pardox in your response?

  16. Hi Kokonut.

    I agree with some parts of your comments but others I find it hard to believe.

    Yes, as you’ve said, and as I’ve stated above, Maori have the Treaty/Tiriti to rely on. However, their second argument is need. That’s the same argument we have as Pacific peoples. We are under-represented in educational achievement. Therefore there is a need to address this problem; nothing to do with a Treaty, but based on need. Of course I could’ve gone into an emotional argument surrounding need, about our trials and tribulations, coming to this foreign land etc. But I’ve done that in other blog entries. In this article I wanted to point out from a statistical “business case” economics scenario point of view, that there is still a need.

    As I read your comment, it appears it is largely addressed to the issue of culture rather than any economics argument I’ve put up, so I’d like to respond here concurring with much of what John62 has said on this point.

    What I find hard to agree with is your comments about leaving culture. You say you’re a “Chair of a local primary school and previous representative of Pacifika Education in New Zealand”, yet in the same post you say “forget about your culture”. What I don’t get is that your previous title is indicative OF your culture, as a Pasefika person, but you don’t think “culture” is relevant?

    If you are like me, I was born and bred in New Zealand, just like over half the Pacific population in New Zealand. This is our home. We have every right to be here with every other New Zealander, and that includes our cultural beings. Therefore you can’t separate our New Zealand identity and our Samoan cultural identity with a one way ticket back to Samoa.

    Just as New Zealand benefits from our Pacific arts, cultural and sporting achievements (amongst other areas of success), so too must New Zealand (Pacific peoples inclusive) deal with our aspirations and needs. We all make New Zealand into the vibrant multicultural nation it is, the good and the bad. Just as Pakeha culture has become engrained into New Zealand society, so too has the Pacific identity become part of New Zealand (and the growing Asian culture for that matter).

  17. Laughing and laughing and laughing out loud at NiuZila’s point-of-order:

    By all means, do allow me to point-out the paradoxes…

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