Maori educational achievement a focus for panel

DION TUUTA
Last updated 08:33 03/12/2012

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OPINION: 'He kai kei aku ringa - to be self-sufficient and responsible for the resources and capability you need to grow and develop."

So begins the foreword to the Maori Economic Development Panel discussion document released on November 19, a document which seeks to set a strategy to help Maori to "recapture and reconnect" to our past traditions of trade and entrepreneurship as part of a development strategy and vision to lift Maori economic development.

Last year, the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Minister for Economic Development established an independent Maori Economic Panel consisting of several high-profile Maori business leaders including Ngahiwi Tomoana (Ngati Kahungunu), Mark Solomon (Ngai Tahu), and Taranaki's own Debbie Packer (Ngati Ruanui Iwi chief executive).

The panel was charged with developing a Maori economic strategy and action plan covering three key areas: Provide recommendations to improve the performance and productivity of the Maori economic sector.

Clarify the role and identify the contribution the Government can make to improving the performance of the Maori economic sector.

Consider the role and contribution of Maori to their own economic development.

Anyone with an interest in the future of Maori economic and social development should take the time to read this discussion document and provide their thoughts and feedback to the panel.

The discussion document has been designed to seek feedback and ideas from the public on Maori economic development with reference to four key focus areas being strengthening capability, increasing collaboration, generating growth and using comparative advantage.

It is a timely report and one I hope will result in some tangible and effective programmes to enable more of our people to take advantage of the increasing opportunities which are becoming available as our economic potential grows.

The discussion document identifies the need to improve Maori capability as the foundation of Maori economic development - and the key unit in this process is the whanau.

Maori underachievement in education must be addressed if Maori are to achieve our full economic potential.

Education, training and improved labour market participation are significant areas of focus for the panel in seeking to lift Maori household incomes and therefore improve Maori socio- economic wellbeing.

The report sets out a common- sense set of ideas, including advocating for a shift of focus from relying on iwi for Maori economic development.

That idea might sound like heresy to some Maori leaders but the panel correctly (in my opinion) notes that individuals and their whanau are the key to Maori achieving economic self- determination.

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When whanau are well educated and skilled, and are meaningfully taking part in the labour market, they gain access to a much wider set of choices and opportunities.

In short they are able to exercise tino rangatiratanga over their own lives rather than being powerless.

Linking these skilled individuals with Maori collective enterprises should help in the development of the Maori and wider New Zealand economies.

These are important messages when we consider that the Maori population is young and predicted to grow by 20 per cent during the 15 years from 2011 to 2026.

As the report points out, in the future Maori will make up a larger proportion of the tax-paying workforce, meaning that young Maori today are in a position to influence and contribute to the country's economic future.

But this will only happen if Maori educational outcomes can be improved.

The Ministry of Education estimates about 66 per cent of year 11 Maori students meet the literacy and numeracy criteria for NCEA level 1, compared with 79 per cent for non-Maori, and that 54 per cent of Maori school leavers achieved NCEA level 2 or above compared with 77 per cent of non- Maori.

While some of us may tire of hearing the negative comparisons, this is a statistic which shows that many of our children are not gaining the basic skills they will need to make their way in the world.

We need to address this quickly if our children are to have any chance at improving the quality of their lives.

These are our children we are talking about.

The panel's report is ambitious in its scope and necessarily long term in its planning horizon.

The report notes that improving Maori educational achievement and economic prospects is an intergenerational process, but it is a process which must start now, and it must start at home with more focus on valuing education as a foundation for a better future with hope of improved economic prospects.

The scope of the panel's report is much wider than simply improving education and covers a diverse and extensive range of issues confronting Maori society. It is more important than I can do justice to in an 800-word opinion piece.

Get a copy of this report and read it.

It's important.

- Taranaki Daily News

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