"We can do better": Kelvin Davis talks tackling racism in education

"Racism exists – we feel little and bad."

Those were the unprompted words of one student during an interview for the Education Matters to Me report produced by the Children’s Commissioner in 2018.

That study of nearly 2000 children - including 150 face-to-face interviews, with mostly Māori students – revealed many more insights like this.

In 21st Century New Zealand that’s disturbing, but to Māori whānau, not surprising.

As Māori, we all have friends and whānau who have experienced an education system where we have faced racism, deficit-thinking and low expectations.

These experiences leave Māori learners with the clear message that: you don’t belong; your culture, your identity isn’t valued; you’re invisible; you’re doomed to fail.

These insights were borne out in a series of regional wānanga held by the Ministry of Education in 2018, to provide the opportunity for Māori communities to contribute to the future of education in Aotearoa.

36 hui were held up and down the country, with over 2,000 participants.

Common themes were that racism continues to impact Māori achievement, that the system needs to better reflect Māori identity, and that places of education need to be welcoming to whānau. 

The education system has underserved Māori learners and their whānau for a long time.

We know we can do better.

That’s why I was so pleased to be at Takapūwahia Marae in Porirua today, with Ngati Toarangatira, celebrating the launch of Te Hurihanganui for the Porirua and Tawa community. Today’s launch is an important milestone in the work needed to address racism in the system and improve outcomes for Māori.

Te Hurihanganui is a community-wide kaupapa that says tackling racism and inequity is everybody’s responsibility; and that this can only be achieved if ākonga, whānau, hapū, iwi and communities lead this journey alongside educators and policymakers.

Nothing like this has ever been tried in our education system before.

Budget 2019 included $42 million over three years to put Te Hurihanganui into action across six communities, and the Porirua/Tawa community is now ready to begin implementation. 

Communities are at the heart of this because they know their people, their local contexts and histories, and what works best for them. They will lead the work, learn new skills, test their own ideas, and then implement them. Eventually, these changes will be built back into the education system so that everyone benefits. 

Our Government is committed to improving the outcomes and experience of ākonga Māori and their whānau. We have already made progress through the Education and Training Act, refreshing Ka Hikitia, Tau Mai Te Reo, and boosting investment for Kōhanga Reo and initiatives like Te Ahu o Te Reo Māori.

Now, through Te Hurihanganui, we will be supporting everybody in the education system to change behaviour and practices to address racism, support whānau to better engage in learning, and most importantly support Māori learners to succeed.

We know racism exists in our education system. We now putting into action our plan to rip it out and transform the learning experiences of our Māori students.