Teachers in New Zealand are in the middle of an industrial dispute over pay and conditions. The usual back and forth, issuing vague threats through the media, nothing very new, I believe it’ll get sorted out reasonably quickly.
But yesterday a new article appeared in the press and other media regarding Maori achievements. Coming from Dr. Pita Sharples, the co-leader (or is it leader now? not sure) of the Maori Party, and an educator, these words will carry some weight, and are bound to have an effect on teachers and teaching. ERO (the NZ school reviewers and auditors) added that they will now be looking at Maori achievement with emphasis on classroom teaching methodologies.
Now on the surface, both of these are fair comments, but the following has to be considered to make a more balanced judgement.
ERO has had Maori achievement as one of its priorities since at least 2006.
Many schools have undertaken multiple approaches to identifying Maori under-achievement and using Ka Hikitia and the Te Kōtahitanga research tools, and many have already made serious efforts in raising the achievement levels of Maori, especially boys.
Now here’s a funny thing. Our school has been aware of the shortfall in Maori achievement for at least the last 8 years, and we have been making major efforts to raise it. We used the Te Kōtahitanga based approach, which means from my own perspective in increasing the mutual respect shown between students and teacher, and using the idea of progressing together into a learning experience. It works to a certain extent, as some of our less co-operative students wouldn’t show respect to anyone, unless you were grinding the barrel of a Colt .45 into their ear (Yes, I have fantasized this image; more than a few times).
But it increased the Maori achievement levels. We think. Because it also increased the achievement of all students. There is still a gap between Maori, Pakeha (NZ European) and Pacific Island students, but the gap is at a higher level.
I have always treated my students with respect, and try to maintain a good-humoured and positive atmosphere in my classes. I, like many teachers, do not always pontificate and expound as if we were the font of all knowledge, but we try to get the students to use research-based learning methods, converting them from pupils to life-long-learners.
But there is still the Maori achievement gap. Now while Dr. Pita Sharples is an educator, he has (as far as I know) never actually taught in a school, but has always remained in the glorious isolation of academe, and he seems to be dumping on schools and teachers without any valid reason. The main problem is not in the schools, it’s at home. This is recognised by ERO to a certain extent, and they urge closer links between schools and whanau. Education is not valued as much in many Maori families as it is in Pakeha families (and the winners are always the Asian families, who almost always push their kids at education as hard as they can).
I would suggest that Dr. Sharples would be doing his people a greater service if he, and his party, began to push the idea that education is the way forward, to better jobs, more money and more mana, for all Maori.
I know that in class, I treat each student as an individual, not breaking them down to an ethnic stereotype. I was asked recently how many Maori students I had in my Year 11 Computing class. I couldn’t immediately say. I could see each of their faces in my mind’s eye, but I had to think really hard to make the link to their ethnicity. I care more for J’s ability to ask constructive questions rather than he is Ngāti Porou; I get frustrated with P not because she’s a dumb Maori, but because she won’t try; “It’s too difficult”, is the wail.
I completely agree with carefull analysis of the student achievement, we have to know what’s going well, and what needs fixed, but don’t blame the teachers or the schools. The real problem (like many other faults dumped on schools) is in our society, and it’s society’s attitude and values which needs attention, not the schools in isolation.