Back in the bad old days, Māori children were punished for speaking Te Reo at school and Māori culture had no place in the classroom. Our education system has come a long way since then. Unfortunately, Māori educational achievement is still trailing behind, but gains are being made and public schools work very hard to meet the needs of Māori students while also educating all students in tikanga Māori and Te Reo.
Kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and kura a iwi movements also play an important role in the education of Māori students. However, the vast majority of Māori children attend public schools, so it is important that we as teachers continue to work hard to ensure all children – particularly Māori students – experience success in their local school and leave ready to take on the world.
It is therefore disturbing to hear Māori leaders pushing charter schools as the magic bullet solution for Māori education. Leaders at a recent Iwi Chairs Forum resolved to lobby the government to actively promote and expand the charter school scheme, in the belief that these schools are some sort of “circuit breaker” in closing the educational achievement gap between Māori and non-Māori.
We can understand the appeal of a model in which communities supposedly have greater autonomy and freedom in the shaping of their children’s education, but it’s a lie to suggest that this is not already possible in our hugely diverse education system.
Establishing and running a school is really hard work. It takes particular skills and expertise and strong partnerships with school whanau. A number of the first charter schools appear on the surface to have made a reasonable go of it, thanks in large part to the massive per-student funding they receive. But even if charter schools were producing amazing results (which they’re not, especially compared to what public schools could achieve with the same amount of funding), less than one percent of Māori students attend these schools. What about the 99 percent? Proponents surely don’t expect to spend billions setting up charter schools all over the country to suck Māori students out of their local schools?
Iwi education authorities really need to get behind kura and Kohanga reo and engage with mainstream schools where the majority of Māori student are already.
Principals’ and teachers’ message to iwi leaders and Māori whanau is simple – don’t write off public education and disengage from your local schools. Your tamariki and mokopuna need you and we need you. Let’s work together for a strong public education system in which all children can succeed.
Te Reo Areare Kaihautū
Paeone Goonan, Winnifred Morris and Lauana Thomas
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