Dark cloud gathers over Maori-medium schools

RAWIRI TAONUI
Last updated 08:56 08/02/2013

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OPINION: Consultation over kura kaupapa and bilingual units has been inadequate, writes Rawiri Taonui.

The warmth of the best summer for some years does little to dissipate the cloud of uncertainty over Christchurch as we await Education Minister Hekia Parata's February 18 announcement on which schools are to close or merge.

Announced last September, the proposals reflected a need to make decisions about our post- earthquake future. Exaggerated estimates of damage; nonsensical proposals to merge Shirley and Christchurch Boys', and Avonside and Christchurch Girls', now withdrawn; criticism from the ombudsman over Official Information Act requests; ignoring growing student rolls once the suburban rebuild gathers momentum: all make equally clear a ministry intention to recoup the $174 million savings lost in last year's class-size debacle.

Although that has been calamitous, more ruinous are proposals to close or merge two kura kaupapa and five of eight bilingual units, including wiping the entire intermediate provision of bilingual units (at Branston and Shirley).

A national trend towards mana whenua kura-a-iwi (tribal and subtribal-led schooling) is trans- morphing the 1980s urban-Maori- led revolution that established kohanga reo and kura kaupapa. The new philosophy underpins the growth of New Zealand's three wananga.

More will follow. A new national body, Nga Kaikokiri Matauranga - the Iwi Advocate for Education attached to the Iwi Leaders Forum was formed last year. Parata, her sister, Apryll Parata, who is the ministry's deputy director of education performance and change, and Associate Education Minister Peter Sharples are seen as kura-a- iwi advocates.

Although this is positive, the new direction can marginalise urban-Maori majorities in larger centres as iwi individuals dominate the mana of decision- making and remuneration by virtue of affiliation rather than ability alone.

Through the unique circumstances of post-earthquake Christchurch, a pro-kura-a-iwi ministry leadership and separate mana-whenua-led initiatives to establish a special-character Te Pa o Rakaihautu school and Waitaha Advisory Board are facilitating such an inequality.

Five of the six trustees of the Noku te Ao Early Childhood Education Centre leading the Te Pa o Rakaihautu school proposal are Ngai Tahu, including chairwoman Rangimarie Parata and Reihana Parata, both relations of the minister and deputy director. Submitted in April 2011 and endorsed by the ministry in November 2011 when Apryll Parata was Maori education deputy secretary, processes around the proposal raise several questions.

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The Rakaihautu project implies the new school will perform better than existing providers. Lacking evidential backing, one assumes this is simply because it will be mana-whenua-led.

Consultation for the Rakaihautu proposal fell short of Treaty of Waitangi expectations. Three senior Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu staff, including a brother-in- law of the head proposer, and two runanga, Taumutu and Tuahiwi, were directly consulted.

By contrast, consultation with bilingual and immersion units occurred just one week before Christmas 2010 when few could organise proper representative attendance. And, rather than visit kura or bilingual providers, those communities were summoned to the workplace of the chief trustee at Te Wananga o Aotearoa where the daughter of another trustee is area manager.

Furthermore, the ministry endorsement cited higher pre- earthquake kura kaupapa enrolments to contextualise potential enrolments for the new school, then one year later applied lower post-earthquake kura and bilingual units numbers to justify closing or merging its competition.

The ministry has withheld the names of a 14-member establishment board, claiming it was not "in the public interest" to know. But with much at stake and with at least five people from one whanau connected to the proposal, including the minister, deputy director and several of the proposers, transparency would seem paramount.

The ministry withheld its Rakaihautu endorsement and close or merge proposals from a May 2012 Maori schooling consultation - Maori learned of the endorsement when documents were leaked in September.

That consultation, conducted by ministry-hired mana whenua educationists, focused instead on a proposed Maori Waitaha Advisory Board.

In a classic box-ticking exercise during a supposedly three-week process, the ministry's consultants distributed questionnaires at a kapa haka competition, sent an email to five Maori resource teachers, emailed a mana whenua marae and piggybacked into already-organised hui on other matters at a mana whenua marae and Freeville Primary School.

Few in the community appear to have known or attended a wider community meeting. In summary, just three meetings in three days and none at the kura or larger or more-longstanding bilingual providers at St Albans, Woolston, Shirley and Branston.

Although the ministry lauded the significance of 74 submissions received, a later community- initiated survey eliciting 400 responses opposing the September announcements highlights the inadequacy of that assumption.

The process for the appointment of the Waitaha Advisory Education announced in November last year also appears unclear. There appears to have been no advertisement. Moreover, seven of eight appointees are Ngai Tahu and most are drawn from the mana whenua communities of Tuahiwi, Rapaki and Taumutu which are just one part of the 30 per cent of Christchurch Maori who are Ngai Tahu. And, extraordinarily, three of these represent the 70 per cent urban Maori majority and Maori- medium school community.

Sure, the board is advisory and barred from commenting on the proposed changes. Nevertheless, as the key future advocate, it excludes many of the builders of Maori-medium education, including the first kura, and the stalwarts that maintained te reo and kapa haka before the post- settlement resurrection of Ngai Tahu.

Kura kaupapa and bilingual units are perplexed by the proposed changes. The kura have minimal if any earthquake damage. In 2009, Te Kura Kaupapa Whakapumau was the only Canterbury school to achieve a 100 per cent NCEA pass rate at all levels. Woolston has a lengthy waiting list.

Many fear the sector may be a sacrificial lamb for the kura-a-iwi Rakaihautu project. Rather ominously, and contrary to the Ka Hikitia Maori Education Strategy, the Christchurch bilingual units are excluded from the Maori Medium Cluster on the Shaping Education website about the restructure.

One also ponders the December 7 deadline for school submissions on the restructure that came after an October 31 deadline for submissions on the new Maori- medium education strategy, one that now excludes bilingual units, but only in Christchurch.

There is every indication that ministry officials rather than the minister that are responsible for this debacle. The Rakaihautu proposal and work on the restructure precede her appointment. After criticism in Parliament, Hekia Parata visited the Maori-medium providers that her officials expended some effort to avoid.

Ministry officials, proceeding upon the unfathomably short- sighted fallacy that less is more, risk decimating Maori-medium education in Christchurch.

Maori children do well when their parents have a say. The duping of the community to support a board that excludes them and a mock consultation over their children's future risk a Maori exodus in Christchurch into mainstream education.

Such a strategy is foolhardy when we know that nationally tmost Maori children remain outside Maori-medium education. No wonder.

Rawiri Taonui is professor of indigenous studies at the Auckland University of Technology.

- The Press

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