Arise, Sir Toby Curtis

HONOURED: Sir Toby Curtis at his marae on Lake Rotoiti in 2007.
HONOURED: Sir Toby Curtis at his marae on Lake Rotoiti in 2007.

A Te Arawa leader's outstanding service to Maori education has earned him a knighthood but he said too many Maori children were failing at school and more work needed to be done.

Sir Toby Curtis was made Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM) after 45 years in the education sector from primary school to tertiary level.

Sir Toby said he was humbled by the knighthood and said Maori education had made significant steps.

"When I started off everything in terms of Maori aspirations had to fit into a Pakeha framework, now everything we want fits into a Maori framework to the point that Maori - in order for us to get proper success - Maori language is central to that development."

He said the education system was in good hands but was concerned that too many Maori children were failing at mainstream school.

"It has come a long way and it has still got a long way to go because the majority of our children, the best part of 200,000 of them or even more, are still in the state system and they are failing miserably on an intergenerational basis to the point it is almost an expected norm.

"I simply cannot accept that, because the Maori schools are doing outstandingly well."

Sir Toby worked as a clerk for the Maori Affairs department before teacher training and a job as a primary school teacher. He has been widely respected for his innovative techniques in education.

He taught intellectually disabled children which, he said, was a significant moment in his career. He has also had senior roles at Hato Petera College, Auckland Teacher's College, Auckland Institute of Technology and Auckland University of Technology.

He was appointed chairman of the Iwi Education Authority for tribal immersion schools, has been involved in Maori broadcasting and was deputy chair of Te Wananga o Aotearoa Council.

He has seen thousands of faces come and go through his classrooms and said it was impossible for him to remember them all.

"I still see them today and I wouldn't have a clue who they are, there are just so many, but you get to know the general time period when you are talking to them," he said.

Sir Toby has four children and he acknowledged his Te Arawa whanau for his success.

"I wouldn't be the person that I am if it wasn't for them," he said. 

Waikato Times