Māori cultural standards in education – New Zealand

The place of Cultural Standards in Indigenous Education
Huia Tomlins-Jahnke

[…] Why cultural standards?

The development of cultural standards in indigenous education in North America and in  New Zealand has evolved largely as a response to nation-state education systems that, for the most part, are culturally and epistemologically disconnected from indigenous communities. The cumulative effect of this disjunction between the school habitus and that of the communities they serve is a system of schooling that continues to generate consistently high levels of poor achievement rates and deficient educational outcomes for indigenous students when compared with all other students. Government tolerance of indigenous underachievement remains high. This level of tolerance is reinforced by decades of poor outcomes for indigenous education as a result of state schooling and evident in official documents, government funded reviews, research reports over many decades of recorded disparities. In short, indigenous children receiving nation-state education are located at the ‘tail-end’ or bottom 20 percent of achievers (In Hattie, 2003). […]

Cultural standards as guiding principles

Internationally, the work of the Assembly of Alaska Native Educators is an exemplary model for the development of cultural standards that has informed tribal processes in Aotearoa/New Zealand and which have been adapted by some tribes as a basis for their plans. There are at least three reasons why the Alaskan indigenous model has resonated with Māori tribal communities. Firstly, the sets of standards they have developed in Alaska offer schools and their communities’ ways to measure their effectiveness in providing for the educational and cultural wellbeing of the students in their schools.

Secondly, the standards are predicated on the assumption that grounding in the heritage language and indigenous culture specific to a place is fundamental to the cultural health and wellbeing of the students and communities who live or are associated with that place.

Third, rather than producing standardization in the manner of the ‘No Child Left Behind policy’(Bracey, 2005; Margaret Maaka, 2005; Margie Maaka, 2006), schools in Alaska and their communities are encouraged to develop appropriate standards that accommodate local circumstances based on the rich and varied traditions still practiced throughout Alaska. In other words, and this is an important factor for Māori, the emphasis is on connecting what students experience in their lives out of school with what they experience in school (AlaskaNativeEducators, 1998). Rather than prescriptive, the standards are described in ways approximating guiding principles with sets of indicators that can be adapted to fit local needs. The principle of ‘culturally knowledgeable students’, for example, has an expectation that students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community. Among listed indicators that measures whether students have met this cultural standard is their ability to recount their family genealogy and history (AlaskaNativeEducators, 1998).  […]

A way forward: kaupapa Māori and invitational education

The development of cultural standards for primary schools in the Ngāti Kahungunu district will depend on a collaborative relationship between schools and their communities both Māori and non-Māori alike. These communities along with schools and educators will need to be committed to the process. The response by tribes to the underachievement of Māori children in education has been to insist on a proactive approach to the educative process and to be actively involved in decisions affecting Māori education. It is a process that offers a democratic framework for incorporating localised aspects of Māori language, culture and history as integral to the school habitus. A democratic framework supports the view that “…those affected by decisions should have a say in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of these decisions…and that people close to the issues have something important to offer” (Purkey & Novak, 1996:8).

Ngāti Kahungunu cultural standards, the philosophy and traditions upon which these are based should underpin the education of children through inclusion in all aspects of schooling. This includes the curriculum, school practices, policies and procedures, the principals, teachers, administrators, parents and everyone else involved in the educative process in the community. The application of Ngāti Kahungunu history, language and culture as an integral part of the school habitus will enhance the learning pathways of all children in the region. How educators respond to the challenge proposed in the development of cultural standards is critical.

The process of strengthening relationships between schools, their constituent families, the local tribe and the wider Māori community to ensure meaningful engagement and increased participation by Māori families in the education of their children may be expressed in the principle of mana tangata (Tomlins-Jahnke et al., 2006). This is also a core value that embodies, among other ideas, the notion of upholding the dignity of a person or persons. Mana tangata extends to assumptions about continuity manifest in time past (ancestors), present (family) and future (grandchildren). Children are seen as representing their ancestors, amilies and future generations who are always with them in the present. Educating a child is about educating a family in line with aspirations of the ancestors for future generations.

The principle of mana tangata assumes people will be treated as such because they are ‘able, valuable and responsible’ (Purkey & Novak, 1996). Education should be a cooperative and collaborative activity underpinned by the principle of trust and whakawhanaungatanga thereby leading to positive outcomes. The development of cultural standards in Ngāti Kahungunu depends on the commitment of educators, tribal groups and the wider community maintaining positive relationships, mutual obligations and a collective vision.

Source: MAI Review, 2008, 1, Article 1, http://www.review.mai.ac.nz
Accessed: 11 June 2012

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