Supporting Māori aspirations in education

Ko te ahurei o te tamaiti hei ārahi i ā tātou mahi

Let the uniqueness of the child guide our work.

As we welcome new teachers onto our postgrad programmes, multiple times a year, we’re constantly looking for new ways to approach the real education challenges out there. One of the ways we do this is ensuring we incorporate education focus areas.

In 2018, Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education published this Statement of Intent 2018-2023, indicating their plan to deliver on their purpose to shape an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes. “Supporting Māori aspirations” was identified as a domestic trend for 2021, which is why we’ve chosen to create a kōrero around it.

“Supporting Māori aspirations – The Treaty of Waitangi requires the Crown to work in partnership with Māori and to support Māori aspirations. We know the education system is uniquely placed to reflect and support Māori aspirations.”

I chatted to Te Mihinga Komene, our Pou Ārahi, nō Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Tamaterā me Ngāti Porou, about why this topic is so important – and how it’s playing out in education settings at the moment.

Why is this topic important?

We have a responsibility to ensure we’re upholding what’s been outlined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, to give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. This means we need to start by understanding that not everyone has the same opportunities as others, through no fault of their own, and the effect this has. This part of the process is incredibly important.

It’s our role as educators to create environments that support learners no matter what – no matter what’s going on at home, who they are as individuals, their cultural values – we need to create spaces for them to succeed. It’s a difficult task! However we are the ones unleashing the potential of our tamariki and mokopuna, and empowering them to be the best they can be, so we must keep improving for them.

This isn’t just for the students of today. The changes we make are paving the way for the future generations. Of course progress has been made but there’s so much more to do, so we need to have these discussions, and confront what supporting Māori aspirations really looks like, to ensure we are constantly getting better.

Currently the education system used in a lot of english medium schools, where the majority of our rangatahi are, aren’t set up to support them. They can be places of disempowerment and completely ignorant of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, all those fundamental values that help connect Māori students with their identity, language and culture to help them thrive in education. We should be asking ourselves how do we implement the successes of Māori medium education into these school settings? If your school has a high percentage of Māori students and/or Pasifika students, is the New Zealand Curriculum the best curriculum you should be following to provide the best outcomes for those ākonga, why not Te Marautanga o Aotearoa? Next year Aotearoa New Zealand Histories will be taught in all kura and schools, and pretty shortly te reo Māori will be a compulsory learning area as well. Supporting Māori aspirations has never been more essential. Schools should be continually addressing their cultural capabilities and competencies to make this happen.

What are some examples of Māori aspirations being supported?

It’s good to acknowledge that positive change is happening. It’s been a long journey, with a lot of mahi to get to where we are now – but there’s still a long way to go before we can say we have equity in education.

One incredible story we can learn from is Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Kura Whakapūmau i te Reo Tūturu ki Waitaha in Ōtautahi. To rebuild the kura after the devastation of the earthquakes, Tumuaki Merita Waitoa-Paki and kaiako worked really hard with each whānau and their aspirations for their tamariki attending a Te Aho Matua kura. They looked at ways to increase and reinvigorate Te Aho Matua principles in everything they do, everyday. 

Image sourced from

Now, this kura is thriving. They’re leading the way in Māori medium education in implementing Hangarau Matihiko into their teaching and learning, they’re increasing mātauranga Māori curriculum wide and running te reo and tikanga Māori programmes with whānau to help revitalise te reo Māori in the homes, and they’ve strengthened their relationships with mana whenua by embedding their mātauranga into the curriculum as well. More importantly, Raukura (graduates of the kura) are now kaiako, whose tamariki are at Te Kura Whakapūmau and they’re now up to the third generation of Raukura. This is sustainability in action which stems from strong leadership, with a strong vision, understanding the importance of engaging whānau and succession planning.

Another great example of a school working to support Māori aspirations is Nawton School in Kirikiriroa. We currently have three of their kaiako on our DCL programme and their school leadership is amazing. Te Kura o Nōera is an example of how to successfully implement a dual curriculum in a low socio-economic community. Their ongoing commitment in continuing to improve in their teaching and learning, with the tamariki and whānau aspirations and the centre of everything they do, is awe-inspiring.

Where can this be improved?

When schools and educators are focusing on grades and grades alone, we’re not supporting Māori aspirations. This singular focus doesn’t create an environment where all students are encouraged to succeed, and it doesn’t acknowledge the disparity in opportunities.

Where there’s a focus on data and individual assessment results over the culture, identity and values of an individual child, we’re not supporting Māori aspirations. Where we’re not considering the importance of the aspirations of whānau, and the values of the surrounding community, we’re not supporting Māori aspirations.

A child should be embraced for what they bring to a school, their culture and identity, and the values that surround them. This is how we can support them to succeed.

Maori mother and kids at home. Image sourced from iStock.

We’re also not supporting Māori aspirations if we’re not exposing Māori (and Pasifika) learners to great enriching experiences that help them learn and grow. If we don’t work to give our learners a wide variety of opportunities, and force them down traditional channels that don’t incorporate their values, we’re failing them.

Where to from here?

We’re very aware that some of these statements are really big, and it’s hard to know where to begin, especially when it comes to changing curriculum or measurement factors. However we can’t shy away from the fact that our role as educators is vital, as we all need to work together to create impactful futures for our tamariki.

Other than their whānau, we’re the most influential people in the lives of those we teach.

We know teachers are primed for this change. A lot of teachers are at stages in their career when they’ve been in the game for a while, they have ideas and they’re curious about what’s out there, especially when they see others ahead of them – they know they need to up their game.

Our advice? It’s time to harness your curiosity and get something out of it. Begin by listening, opening your mind to new ideas and strategies. Start connecting with people who are on the same mission, as many hands make light work. Be curious, find your why, collaborate, and go from there.

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