Maori Education

Donna Awatere

The Education system is the major gate which keeps the Maori out. There is an invisible sign over every kindergarten, playcentre, shool, and university. That sign reads: 'Maori Keep Out: For White Use Only'. White people can't see this sign, you have to identify or be identified as a Maori before you can see it.

Kindergartens are the first educational gate. A bastion of white power. Kindergartens have frightened Maori people off pre-school education. As He Huarahi, the report on Maori education pointed out, the percentages of Maori children getting pre-school education is way below that of white. In Otara, kindergartens have falling rolls. In an area chock full of pre-schoolers. Maori parents, in particular, won't take their children there, not because they don't want to, but because kindergartens in particular and play centres to a lesser extent don't meet their needs. One could tell kindergartens to take down the sign warning Maoris to keep away, but the Kindergarten Association won't listen. As far as they are concerned, because they can't see the sign, it doesn't exist.
Primary schools are no different. Some think that putting up tapa cloth and having a Samoa week will make the sign 'Maori Keep Out' go away, but it won't. In 1977 the NZEI report showed that Otara had among the lowest levels of reading in New Zealand. A University of Waikato research team found that the failure of children in Mangere and Otara to achieve in basic skills was related to low teacher expectations and low quality instuctional programmes. The children were given instructional programmes which would cause their failure and then they were blamed for their own failure. Or at least their "home and ethnic backgrounds" were blamed.

What disturbs me about this, both as a psychologist and as a Maori, is that our kids are being taught how to fail. Not just taught to fail but taught how to fail. Academics have long pointed out the relationship between failure at important tasks (e.g. reading) and lowered self-esteem.

Lowered self-esteem shows itself in a life destined for failure. For us Maori this shows itself up in depression, high self-mutilation rates, high risk-taking, for example drinking and driving, a suicide rate up six-fold, trebling of the numbers admitted to mental institutions, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver three times the white rate and a rocketing incidence of solvent and multi-drug abuse.

The wonder is not that this is so. The wonder is the numbers of Maori children who succeed in spite of it all. A statistic like this: in 1974 seven times more white children than Maori got UE (28.1% compared to 4.6%) may seem quite bad. But considering what Maori children are up against in New Zealand schools, those 4.6% must be a very bright, determined and courageous bunch. (From Maori Sovereignty, 21-33)

Postcolonial Overview New Zealand Australia

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002