Mātauranga Māori: Māori in Education

by / 27/07/09

Māori in tertiary education have come under much scrutiny of late thanks to Pita Sharples’ recent comments calling for open access for Māori into University study. Whether or not we agree with Pita Sharples, the comment has succeeded in generating a wide debate throughout the country and has brought into the minds of the people the fact that the education system is failing Māori, and therefore something must be done to alleviate the problem. This has also been highlighted in the Government’s focus on secondary school success and improving the transition of students from secondary school to university. At a recent conference of NZUSA, the Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, presented the government’s strategic direction on tertiary education. The six main priorities in their statement of intent are:

  • To have relevant and efficient tertiary education provision that meets the needs of students and the labour market;
  • To simplify the tertiary education funding system;
  • To reduce central bureaucracy;
  • To strengthen quality and require accountability;
  • To support and encourage students; and
  • To improve the interface between schools and tertiary institutions.

To accommodate these priorities, a new Tertiary Education Strategy is currently being worked on by the Ministry of Education. The government realises that participation in tertiary education has increased rapidly over the last decade and the cost of tertiary education has grown significantly. Despite this, in the recent budget there was no extra funding directed toward tertiary education. The government is also aware of the increasing number of Māori and Pacific peoples in higher levels of tertiary education and therefore in an effort to supporting educational achievement, there must needs be co-operative interaction between government, institutions and communities. Moreover, the contemporary socio-economic environment of New Zealand is increasingly influenced by global and technological changes which mean that tertiary qualifications are becoming a prerequisite for participation in the knowledge society.

The tertiary education of Māori has national repercussions and universities have a responsibility, as the critic and conscience of society, to redress the current level of disparities between Māori and non-Māori to enhance social cohesion and improve the quality of society in New Zealand. This is significant in an environment characterized by the changing demographics of an ageing Pākehā population which contrasts with the young population profile of Maori.

The Impact of Racism – Colonial / Post Colonial Perspective

The determination of Māori to retain autonomy over their education results in no small measure from the impact of racism – institutional, cultural, personally mediated, internalized – on our educational achievement. This can be viewed within the context of colonial and post colonial perspectives. From a colonial perspective Māori education was restricted to a limited non-academic curriculum. This was with a view toward civilising the race and quieting the country. Controlling Māori access to knowledge was justified by the ideology of the inferior intellectual ability of natives. Western education would liberate Māori from the burden of their ethnic characteristics. State education provided a mechanism by which Maori would be effectively assimilated into Pākehā society. Thus education was instrumental in the expansion of Pākehā hegemony and Māori self internalization of their natural suitability to manual vocations. Māori underachievement was not officially recognised until 1960 when the Hunn Report was released. The Hunn Report afforded official ascendancy of cultural deficit explanations. The assumption was that the homes and communities in which Māori children socialized precluded the acquisition of cognitive skills and cultural characteristics necessary for scholastic success. Hence the development of remedial programmes designed to compensate for Māori economic, cultural and emotional deprivation.

The re-emergence of culture and the significance placed on multicultural / bilingual education in the 1970’s resulted in the deficit being transmogrified into difference. Michael Young’s (1971) thesis, Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education, provided a critique of the “socially constructed nature of knowledge” and argued that disparities in outcomes were “a product of the education system at all levels”. Young’s analysis was applied to Māori education and the structural impediments of the Pākehā dominated system, which included the imbalance of Māori-Pākehā power relations and a Pākehā curriculum which endorses the superiority and validity of western knowledge. This imbalance of power has created the Politics of Difference which is formative in the negative representation of Māori and their culture primarily because Pākehā control the definition of difference. There are two contradictory views of difference. The first view which is defined by the dominant group is ‘what counts as difference’ and the second view of ‘what differences count’. In the first view Maori will always be viewed negatively because Māori will be compared with the Pākehā norm. The second view acknowledges the validity of Maori conceptions of difference. This is exemplified by Kaupapa Māori endeavours which focus on the realization of rangatiratanga and redressing structural inequalities by challenging and contesting negative definitions of Maori differences.

The racist underpinnings of state education in the post-colonial context has exacerbated educational inequalities and encouraged acceptance and entrenchment of inequalities as being an appropriate, natural and unavoidable outcome of education. The issue of negative schooling experiences remains a reality for the majority of Maori students. Maori educational failure is indicative of how stereotypical Māori identities are defined, constructed and shaped within the asymmetric power relationships of Aotearoa society. (Bishop and Russell, 1995:29). The process of defining Māori identity within particular power relationships leads to internalized identities that are divided, inauthentic and thus gives rise to a shame response. Educational success is thus dependent on offsetting the shame response to one of esteem.

Current issues for Maori in Tertiary Education

Māori participation in tertiary study has increased rapidly over the last twenty years. The number of Māori school leavers entering into University study has increased in line with national demographics. This has meant a review of the tertiary education environment. Although there have been a number of changes implemented to better meet the needs of Māori students, there is still a wide gap between the completion rates of Māori and non- Māori within the Universities. Statistics show that Māori are less likely than non- Māori to remain in study and complete a degree. These statistics highlight the need for support services for Māori to try and change the statistics to a more favourable outcome for Māori.

The majority of Māori tertiary students are second chance learners with two-thirds of Māori students over the age of 25 years. One-third of those adult students are over the age of 40. For a number of Māori they are the first in their family to participate in higher education. It is this reason that foundation courses are so important to ensuring a successful transition of second chance learners into tertiary study. A large number of Māori enter into tertiary study at the certificate level, then staircase onto diploma level before moving into degree study. These courses will be affected by the government’s decision not to invest further in tertiary education.

At a time of recession, history shows that more people enter into tertiary education until such time as the job market becomes favourable again. The decision of the government not to increase the funding for education makes the ability for those people to participate much more difficult.

A major area of concern that is going to impact negatively on the ability for Māori to participate in higher learning is restricted entry to all courses of study. This will mean second chance learners will have less opportunity to study at University. The focus for capped entry will be on school leavers first, the rest second. This goes against the education act which gives open entry to any person over the age of twenty.

The Labour Government created a lot of difficulties for Māori in tertiary study through the axing of a number of Māori grants and scholarships such as Manaaki Tauira. National will also be fazing out a number of scholarship under the proviso of having to help pay for a number of unfunded student initiatives. Anne Tolley stated, “We’ve had to make the hard decision that our country cannot continue the growing cost of tertiary education by simply expanding the number of places. We need to reduce the government’s administrative costs and the compliance costs faced by providers”.

A part of the solution in reducing the government’s administration costs is by restructuring the governance of Polytechnics and then Universities. One of the proposed changes is to remove all Maori representation from positions within Councils. This seems to go against the Minister’s next statement: “We are committed to improving the efficiency of the tertiary education system to maintain its effectiveness yet ensure the access for priority groups is not compromised”. The Minister in her speech continually stated that the priority groups the government were looking at were Māori, Pacific Islanders and students with disabilities. Removing all Māori representation from the decision making forums inhibits Māori from having a voice within the governance structure and compromises the ability to meet the needs and aspirations of our people.

Although participation is increasing, completion rates are still poor. Prioritising spending around successful retention initiatives should see an increase in completion rates. Programmes such as Manaaki Pihipihinga in the Faculty of Commerce, and the Awhina programme in Faculty of Science at the University of Victoria, are examples of successful programmes. There have been some successful programmes in other Universities, however they are reliant on the equity funding that has been incorporated into the investment plan. This creates uncertainty in the continuation of these programmes from one year to the next. If institutions are serious about insuring the retention of students then retention programmes need to have proper support to ensure they operate successfully.

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