Beyond Māori boys’ writing: Reading and writing our WORLD [part 1]

This seven-part blog series is based on a symposium presented at the 2017 New Zealand Association for Research in Education conference by a group of student Warrior Researchers from Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, South Auckland. 

Supported by their past principal, NZARE member Dr Ann Milne, the group of 10 Māori, Samoan and Tongan students investigated the Government’s Investing in Education Success (IES) policy and, in particular, the development within this policy of Communities of Learning|Kāhui Ako. Underpinned by critical theory, youth participatory action research, and tino rangatiratanga perspectives, the students’ research included policy analysis, engaging with literature, and interviewing and surveying students, teachers, and principals.

The Kia Aroha Warrior Researchers’ symposium was a highlight of the 2017 conference and NZARE is proud to publish the students’ research in this blog series. E ngā mana, e ngā reo, āta whakarongo ki ēnei whakaaro, ēnei werowero hoki nō tā tātou rangatahi toa.

Overview of the series:

  • Post 1 (this post) provides an introduction to the work, identifying the local context and explaining the students’ research methods
  • Post 2 provides the students’ critical analysis of their community in Ōtara, South Auckland, disrupting the messages commonly expressed in the media
  • Post 3 provides an analysis of Kia Aroha College and how the school provides a culturally responsive and relevant learning environment for its Māori and Pasifika students
  • Post 4 critiques the Communities of Learning policy and practice, identifying institutional racism and ‘inequity by design’
  • Post 5 reports on interviews with Māori principals who discuss the tensions they encounter around Communities of Learning and racist education policy
  • Post 6 critiques the Communities of Learning initiative against the principles that underpin the Ka Hikitia Māori education strategy, again finding evidence of racism, deficit thinking, and a lack of genuine partnership
  • Post 7 shares some of the more culturally responsive practices used at Kia Aroha College and reports student voice about the Communities of Learning initiative and what Māori and Pasifika students feel would be better strategies going forward.


Jasmine Bellamy | Year 13 | Ngāti Kahu | Ngāti Kahungunu

Kia Aroha College is a decile one, Year 7 to 13 secondary school in Ōtara, South Auckland, with a designated character focused on bilingual, critically conscious, culturally responsive, social justice education.

Kia Aroha College is structured into two distinct strands: our Māori whānau, Te Whānau o Tupuranga, and Fanau Pasifika, which is made up of our Samoan and Tongan bilingual units, Lumana’i and Fonuamalu. All these groups are represented in our 2017 group of Warrior-Researchers.

In 2017, our Warrior-Researcher group decided to take another look at what the government thinks “we need” in terms of our education. The Government’s education initiative for “Communities of Learning” was an obvious choice of a policy that impacted our school and our learning —and our community. Communities of Learning are a part of Government’s Investing in Educational Success (IES) initiative to help raise the learning and achievement of all children and young people, particularly students at most risk of underachieving.

Paulo Freire (2005) claims that educators

“need to use their students’ cultural universe as points of departure, enabling students to recognize themselves as possessing a specific and important cultural identity”.

Freire thought that he couldn’t teach poor farm workers in Brazil, who were starving, to read by focusing on the words alone, without teaching them about the reasons behind their experience of hunger. We think that is a lesson schools are still struggling to learn.

Research Methods

Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna

Kole ke u hufanga ‘i he ngaahi fakatapu kuo ‘osi aofaki mei mu’a ni kae ‘ata mo kita ke vahevahe atu ‘a e ongoongo lelei ‘o ‘emau ngāue. ‘Oku ou fiefia keu kau fakataha mo kimoutolu ‘i he konifelenisi ko ‘eni.

My name is Pilisi Mafi and I am in Year 13 in the Tongan bilingual unit, Fonuamalu, at Kia Aroha College. My parents migrated from the Kingdom of Tonga to New Zealand in 1998 seeking a better future and education for their forthcoming family. I asked them, why Ōtara? Their response was that family had been living in Ōtara and that

“the community accepted people like us and it was safe”.

They told me how my great–grandparents and my current nanas refused to move out of Ōtara because it felt like home and the people in the community understood their ways.

In our Warrior-Researcher group, we have a total experience of 81 years of life in Ōtara – it’s our world!

Our research journey in 2017 began with first having to select a topic that impacted our education as Māori and Pasifika learners. We decided that Communities of Learning was a good fit with the work the whole school had been doing looking critically at our community of Ōtara.

  • We watched several videos – about our own school, about issues that impact our community and other communities, and about other schools like ours.
  • We asked our families about their experiences of racism and being marginalised in our society.
  • We learned about the government’s initiatives and vision for our learning, like Ka Hikitia, The Pasifika Education Plan, and Communities of Learning, and we learned about other researchers’ and writers’ views on education.
  • We learned to develop surveys, and then we surveyed other students, our teachers, our families, and our community members.
  • We interviewed principals and analysed the achievement challenges of communities of learning.
  • We developed our research proposals in the form of a video which included our research questions and our methodology.
  • We learned about ethics, information sheets, consent forms, analysing and triangulating our data!

Our school follows an approach we call Youth Participatory Action Research, which Cammarota and Fine (2008) describe as

“providing young people with opportunities to study social problems affecting their lives and then determine actions to rectify these problems.”

Youth Participatory Action Research teaches young people that conditions of injustice are produced – they are not natural or normal. These conditions are designed to privilege and oppress; but ultimately we can challenge and then change these conditions – if we know about them.

Earlier this year, our whole school was involved in a critical study of our community of Ōtara – over a wide range of different aspects. For example, some groups investigated the “shopping trucks” that prey on communities like ours, offering exorbitantly priced goods on payment plans resulting in massive debt for many of our whānau. Other groups explored Ōtara’s history as a site of struggle and protest, and provided counter-stories to the prevalent negative media attention our community regularly experiences. Our work as Warrior-Researchers took this work further and deeper. Read on through the six blogs that follow in this series to continue hearing about our journey!

This post has introduced the seven-part series. The next post provides the students’ alternative ‘reading’ of their local community context (Ōtara).

Kia Aroha Symposium 2017

The 2017 Kia Aroha College Warrior-Researchers Group was made up of eight students in Years 12 and 13.

The following six students presented the group’s work at the 2017 NZARE Conference in Hamilton:

  • Jasmine Bellamy | Year 13 | Ngāti Kahu | Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna
  • Foloiola Finau | Year 12| Hufangalupe | Lotokaiano
  • Matthew Katipa | Year 13 | Tainui | Ngāti Whātua
  • Jacob Harris-Kaaka | Year 12 | Te Aupouri | Ngāti Kuri
  • Timitimi Ropata | Year 12 | Ngāti Toa Rangatira | Ngai Tai

Two further students, Aneeva Cherrington-Christie and Harry Seuala, also contributed during the year. The group acknowledge the support of their past principal, Dr Ann Milne, who mentored them through their research.


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