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May 11, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Pita & I: An Interview with Pita Sharples

According to Dr. Pita Sharples, “life is pretty full”. The Maori Party Co-Leader who “never wanted to be in parliament” saw his political profile increase dramatically with his appointment as Minister of Maori Affairs, Associate Minister of Education and Associate Minister of Corrections.

On 20 April 2009 Sharples paid a visit to the Eastern Institute of Technology. The Hawkes Bay born politician seemed candid and relaxed after his welcoming powhiri by EIT Te Manga Maori students, and took time out to discuss education in the recession and answer a few questions from EIT students.

There are a number of issues that affect students in a recession; is the Maori Party going to be focussing on some of those areas that affect students?

We have a widespread policy on student issues for loans, things like that. Having bought into a relationship with the government, this limits our capabilities in certain areas in terms of voting. Mind you, no one voted for us anyway. We are looking at a reform of the student loan program—we actually want to eliminate it completely, and get back to reality.

You know the people who made the rule, that practice of student loans; they all got paid to go to university when they were young. They were all paid salaries like I was when I was young, and they got three percent loans for a house, and they got a house at a cost of nine thousand dollars for a section and a house as late as the seventies. They had it good, yet they are pursuing this practice now of taxing the students.

The student loan thing was the main thing that we were concentrating on. We had quite a detailed program for it actually, and that’s still got to come up. Because of the recession [we’re] trying to get the heavy stuff done first. One (avenue is) to create opportunities in small business, so we can keep our small businesses. Another one to look at jobs sanctions, another one to look at the use of iwi assets, another one to look at primary produce and how we can benefit. So this is a Maori entrepreneurialship that we’ve just done, and it’s being carried out now to ease the crisis.

What is the Ministry of Education’s official vision for students?

That’s a hard question to answer because I’m not really happy with their vision myself, and I say that out of school as Associate Minister for Education. But you see, that was the whole reason we re-invented the Kaupapa Maori education system, so that user-friendly ways of teaching can bring results. It really does work for us, but it’s been marginalised in terms of resources, teacher training and so on. So part of what my portfolio is to get some money to train teachers of all kinds.

Some of us were brought up with Te Reo Maori. Some of us don’t have any Te Reo. Some of us speak Chinese as our first language. Some of us have difficulty pronouncing New Zealand words—we’re all different. We have different backgrounds, and the education philosophy should be broad. The implication there is it’s not the program’s fault, it’s the student. And this is what’s happened to us since 1960 right through to forty years to the end of 2000, when these reports came out and said the gap’s still here between Maori and Pakeha, in terms of achievement, within the system. That’s really big in my world of education—that we actually provide programmes that fit the students.

Are there specific messages you’d like to leave with students today?

Enjoy life. We’re supposed to be in a recession, we are financially and there’s worse to come, and some of our best friends are going to be out of work and there’s going to be stuff that’s not so nice, but the reality is we have a beautiful country, we have beautiful cultures, and we should carry on living life and being happy and useful to each other. And then, when the opportunity comes for you to make your move, recognise it and make your move.

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