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{Be warned, more questions here than answers. As in most my posts, this comes from the heart and from 15 years in the NZ education system - but I feel I never have enough time to truly get to the bottom of other people's ideas and research that influence my thinking so I am thankful for anyone who can 'put the record straight' or help me answer some of my questions.}

In education in New Zealand there is a lot of talk about success and potential. Ka Hikitia - Managing for Success - is the MoE strategy for raising Maori students' achievement. It includes a lot of positive approaches no doubt. Maori students, Pasifika students and students with special education needs are three of the four current priority groups for MoE. Ka Hikitia aims for "Maori enjoying education success as Maori". This raises a few questions for me:
1. How do you define being Maori?
2. What is education success?
- What is education success as Maori - and how is this different to success as xyz?

1. As per my previous post on identity, I can't see that there is an easy definition of what someone is. We just receive the NZ census forms, qu9 asks in which country you are born - that is straight forward, then in qu11 Which ethnic group do you belong to?. I asked my 12y old, he straight away said NZ European. I have shared with you before about my taking on the NZ citizenship and giving up the German passport. Does this make me NZ European? I don't think so, I think still that having been raised in Germany by German parents and educated in a German school systems makes me closer linked to Germany than NZ - though is 'German' truly an ethnic group? So if I tick German, can my children tick NZ European? Well, so far I always have ticked this box for them, but I would be interested in what others think. Should they rather tick NZ European and Other - German? What shade of grey are they? So what about being Maori? Are we talking about the child of Maori parents, about someone who speaks te reo, about someone who knows tikanga, who lives tikanga or all of the above? What about someone who clearly looks Maori but does not want to know about it, are they not Maori? What about someone who is white on the outside but brown on the inside?
If we have difficulties defining the ethnicity, how can we decide who of our students are Maori? And what about my theory of your identity changing with time and place? (E.g. here I might be 'the German', when I visit Germany in winter they will see our family as 'the New Zealanders’ - I hope we're going to be respectable representatives of NZ lol).

2. Educational success (="to reach one's potential") for most of us would include the ability to read, write and have basic numeracy. For some of our students this level might be reached after only a few years at school, others might need longer. This in itself is not enough of course, so let's weave the Key Competencies into it: thinking, using language, symbols and text, managing self, relating to others, participating and contributing. Our basic baseline of reding, writing and numeracy actually only seems to come under 'using language, symbols and text’ but there is little doubt that the remaining key competencies need to be taught as well. However, MoE's statements of intent also include "Maximise the contribution of education to the NZ economy" which includes increasing the proportion of learners successfully completing tertiary qualifications. To successfully complete a tertiary qualification, a very important prerequisite is the completion of secondary qualifications, in NZ mainly the NCEA Levels 1-3. To achieve this, students need content knowledge in a range of subjects - as well as work ethic, basic lit and num skills and the key competencies. There is a certain amount of choice in the process as someone who has 'the potential' say to achieve NCEA L3 and enrol in a law degree at university does not necessarily make this choice - or can make this choice if there are circumstances beyond their control (what about financial situation of the parents etc.).
So what exactly is educational success? Is it for every New Zealander to gain NCEA L3 to qualify for university study? What about a student who is clearly unable to achieve this, have they {been?} failed educationally (as the opposite of success)? My friend just told me the other day how her teachers were disappointed when she chose to leave school after Y12 and enrol in a polytechnic course, they thought she had 'more potential' but she was and still is happy with her choice. Has she failed educationally? We can take this into any level of education, primary, secondary, tertiary, the question remains how do we define educational success for a particular individual?
If I decided what a student's potential is, does this not limit my students with this one path being 'success' and all others being not success (failure)? Who am I to so limit a child???

3. If we can't define Maori and can't define educational success, how can we say that a Maori student is achieving educational success as Maori? What does it mean to achieve "educational success as [insert your ethnicity]"? I understand the part of being who you are, being true to yourself, not having to twist yourself out of shape . Wouldn't this also apply to say a vegan, a homosexual, a Christian etc. (please note these are in no particular order and certainly not exclusive of each other!)

So what now?
I am very aware of the difference in achievement between Maori and Pasifika and other ethnic groups in NZ. I am committed to doing my bit to help make a difference. I have a problem with blanket statements I am unable to understand and no one else has been able to explain to me in a way that I understand them.
How can I support Maori and Pasifika student to be successful? I believe I need to treat every stunt as an individual. Yes, I need to be aware of their background, the context they come from, the context they move into. I need to have a connection to my students and to their families, have an understanding of their communities. I need to support my students to become connected, life long learners no matter whether they're Maori, Pasifika, Asian, European, boys or girls, young or old, gay or straight, religious or atheists etc.
Is it hard work? It is hard work at the beginning, but the benefits are priceless :-)

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Comment by Monika Kern on March 3, 2013 at 9:56
Hi Leigh,
I wholeheartedly agree with what you say about Maoi students being failed in the system and their rights as tangata whenua. My problem is more the definition of what makes a student 'Maori' or 'Pasifika' or 'Korean' etc. (while living in NZ). Who defines this? The whanau? The child? Certainly not the teacher? Just like with potential - and thanks for pointing that out the unlimited nature of it - a firm end result can't be reached in my opinion as we are always influenced by time and place (say a Maori student grows up in a Pakeha dominated environment and discovers their Maori roots later in life).
I like your take on potential, and I agree. I have been annoyed for way too long by people proclaiming "students to reach their potential" in a way that led me to believe they mean one and only one firm end point. "The ability to understand how we learn and apply it throughout our lives" makes so much more sense - thank you!
I will continue to struggle with "achieving success as Maori" because I struggle with the definition of in this case "Maori". I have met some very proud and successful Maori, and I have met proud and successful people who clearly have Maori blood but are not interested in this part of their heritage. I don't believe that the latter have failed (as opposite of success). They might not have been given the opportunity while growing up to explore this side of themselves as times and the education system were different. But I have also more recently observed students being more or less forced to explore a side of their cultural heritage that they had absolutely no interest in. Yes, I know, we also force our children to clean up their rooms which they have no interest in. It is probably a matter of the HOW rather than the WHAT.
I also agree with you that we must no longer leave Maori, tangata whenua, behind. My approach at this point in time is an individual one, looking at every individual child while I wait for the point when I can understand what it means to belong to one particular ethnicity or the other.
Comment by Leigh Hynes on March 2, 2013 at 18:56

Well here is my opinion for what it is worth.

1.Maori achieving success as Maori.  This is allowing students to achieve success within the cultural context that is their right as tangata whenua. You have to understand that the education system that we have been using in NZ, is based on a European industrial model.  And many Maori have been failing in it.  Hence the need to recognise cultural differences that exist and try to educate while acknowledging and even immersing in the Maori culture, and therefore adapting the way that we teaching.  Hence the cultural competencies - Tataiako- have helped teachers recognise and adapt accordingly to this.  I do not know how well Germans succeed in this cultural context but it has been shown that strategies which have been designed for Maori students, also help other students in NZ.

2.  I believe that your definition of educational success is not quite right.  When will we ever reach our potential?  It is not limited.  It involves improvement, enlightenment and learning through all stages of life, as you point out, we should be lifelong learners, so "educational success" may be reflected in some snapshot moments like NCEA Level 3 but, more importantly is the ability to understand how we learn and apply it throughout our lives.

3.  I view " educational success as Maori" as getting to where you want to go, within your own cultural context, not denying or suppressing it.  And the same applies for any culture, but for NZ's success as a national, focus must be on improving outcomes for Maori as a race.  You quite rightly acknowledge the role of a teacher is a complex valuable supporting one and long may we value this!   Thought provoking stuff!

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