The well-being of the Māori education system

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, University of Waikato

This is the third post in a four-part series. The other posts are available here (post 1), here (post 2), and here (post 4).


In my last two blogs (here and here) I talked about aspects of Māori education and the education system. Now I want to turn to the overall health and well-being of the Māori education “system” and its contributions to Māori aspirations.

The Māori education “system”?

Firstly, is there such a thing as a Māori education system? Yes, I think there is. If we put everything into it related to Māori in education from Māori philosophies of knowledge and learning to Māori aspirations expressed through years of hui, from early childhood to tertiary sectors, from pre-service training to governance, from neo-natal programmes to kaumātua IT programmes then we have a “something” we could name as a “system”.

If we add our Māori specific institutions (e.g. Te Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa), Te Reo programmes, and the programme components of all educational institutions, our Māori teachers, professionals, Māori related curriculum, qualifications, networks of Māori members of boards who represent Māori interests, researchers, support systems than we have a system.

If we include Government-led and funded, Māori-led and funded, and other philanthropic or private initiatives then we have a substantial system.

If we add what has been said and written from multiple hui and consultations, multiple strategies, decades of research, stories and data then we have a knowledge base.

Does this sound a bit messy and fragmented? Yes, that is partially the point. Māori education in 2018 can be described as fragmented and disjointed, well-intentioned and yet flavored with fatigue, with examples of brilliance and inspiration alongside examples of systemic inequity of outcomes for generations of Māori. While we have Māori capacity in education at all levels, it is still uneven and I am not sure we are retaining that capacity and mentoring our capacity into all levels of education.

Questioning this system

If we think, however, of all these components as a whole and don’t get too hung up on what belongs or does not belong in, or what counts as Māori education we can focus on some high level ideas about a system and start asking questions about the health and wellbeing of this system.

Before you rush into asking who will run this sector, will it be Crown-led or Māori-led, STOP!

It’s not about that. It’s about stepping back a bit and seeing the whole elephant in context (yes, the farting elephant I wrote about in the previous blog). By health and well-being I am thinking about the impact of education on whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori as a whole population. I am also thinking about the health and well-being of matauranga and Kaupapa Māori approaches and their sustainability and impact. I am also thinking about the impact of education on improving Māori social and economic aspirations, reducing racism and on improving rates of things such as incarceration, mental health, and employment.

I know many of my colleagues have thought about these matters deeply, think about Māori education holistically and theorise our experience at a system and structural level. For example, see Leonie Pihama’s 2017 Herbison Lecture, and refer to the works of Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Joanna Kidman, Jenny Lee-Morgan, Wally Penetito, Angus Macfarlane, Margie Hohepa, Huia Jahnke, Mere Berryman, to name but a few Māori scholars who think deeply about Māori education and about ways to meet Māori aspirations through education.

So, some questions we can ask of Māori education are ones like the following;

  • What are the powerful educational ideas that inform Māori education in 2018?
  • What is it that all parts of this system are trying to achieve?
  • What kind of educated person are we trying to create through Māori education?
  • How does Māori education contribute to cultural and language well-being?
  • How does Māori education contribute to the Māori economy?
  • How is Māori education strengthening whānau, hapū, iwi?
  • How does Māori education contribute to the mental health and well-being of our rangatahi?
  • What does it mean to be a learner or an educator in this sector?
  • What are the career trajectories of our learners and educators?
  • How are we developing capacity and leadership in Māori education?
  • How robust are our own institutions?
  • What system barriers are they dealing with?
  • What are the challenges for Māori representatives on Boards of Trustees, Tertiary Education Institute Councils?
  • How well are Māori student programmes faring across all institutions?
  • How is funding allocated across different parts of the system?
  • How effective are Crown strategies?
  • And much much more….

I can see merit in an independent but well resourced group, governed and led by Māori being charged with doing this kind of work in both monitoring and providing advocacy for Māori well-being through education. I do not see this group as being or being like Te Puni Kōkiri or the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Nor do I see this group doing Best Evidence Synthesis from a Kaupapa Māori lens, although it could.

One of my worries about what we have learned in the system is that it is mostly dominated by what the Crown or the Ministry of Education has learned rather than what Māori have learned. The Ministry of Education’s questions better serve their drivers and do not necessarily serve the needs of whānau, hapū, iwi or Māori more broadly.

More importantly, over time their knowledge shapes and then dominates what matters in Māori education. In terms of mana motuhake I think the intellectual leadership and aspirational education expressions of Māori needs to be generated by Māori independently of the Crown. While one could argue this already happens, I would argue that the Crown mediates, often stands in the middle of these discussions, and therefore shapes that agenda. This idea of focusing on the health and well-being of Māori education as a system is not about letting the wider system off the hook but holding the wider system to better account by really getting a sound grasp of what is happening for Māori.

I would be interested in how others might respond to this suggestion.


This post was originally published at Te Puna Kōrero, a new blogging platform focused on Māori perspectives on issues past, present and future. The post is reproduced here by permission. 


linda-tuhiwai-smith.jpgLinda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa) is Professor of Education and Māori Development and Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori at the University of Waikato. She is a Fellow of the American Association for Research in Education and the Royal Society of New Zealand | Te Apārangi, and a life member of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. Professor Smith was made a Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013 for her services to Māori and education.

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