The Orwellian world of cultural competency

Maori, Pacific and Pakeha teachers are calling on government to back up the rhetoric with funding and commitment. The doublespeak is wearing thin. Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013-2017, the…

Maori, Pacific and Pakeha teachers are calling on government to back up the rhetoric with funding and commitment. The doublespeak is wearing thin.

Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013-2017, the government’s Māori Education Strategy, emphasises the importance of valuing Maori success as Maori, and the Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017 supports Pasifika success as Pasifika. The importance of cultural identity as a basis for learning, and the involvement of whānau, families and communities are cited as core principles.

“At the moment, for me, they’re just empty words,” says  Lagi Leilua, president of NZEI Komiti Pasifika.  There is no requirement that the Pasifika Education Plan be implemented, and little guidance or support to do so, she says.

A Pasifika Competency Framework to build teachers’ Pasifika capability has yet to be developed, there is no Pasifika Professional Learning and Development, and no funding, she says. “As a school in South Auckland, with a predominantly Pasifika population, it’s something that we’re definitely interested in being part of!”

An urgent need

Leilua works as student pathways manager, and says her school is using a programme designed for Māori as a guide. “We’re having to ride alongside that, sneakily keep an eye on it for Pasifika as well, because we can’t find any initiative that will help us cater for Pasifika.”

Some schools use Kia Eke Panuku: Building on Success, designed for Maori students, for Pasifika students.

A report by the Education Review Office in 2012 noted that even amongst the schools they judged to be most effective, less than half provided any report to their Board of Trustees on Pasifika student achievement, only a few offered Pasifika languages and culture as subjects, none conducted analyses for effectiveness with Pasifika students, and few were aware of and using the (Ministry of Education’s) Pasifika Education Plan.

“There is an urgent need for validated organisational approaches for home–school–community engagement and for the development of individual teacher knowledge, understandings and use of culturally responsive approaches to promote positive connections to family and community for Pasifika,” stated the New Zealand Principals Federation in February this year.

The Federation has also requested funding from the Ministry of Education for a national co-ordinator for its Maori Achievement Collaborative initiative, which provides cultural competency support to principals. It currently has six facilitators. “We need to double that,” says Liz Hawes, editor of New Zealand Principal magazine.  In Auckland, the Pacific Education Centre – the oldest provider of its kind in New Zealand – has seen its government funding slashed, and faces closure.

The lack of funding is thwarting progress. Schools are having to find money for hui, fono and other cultural and community engagement programmes out of their operational funding. The result is stretched budgets, difficulties in planning consistent programmes, and patchy commitment throughout the country.

Standalone training

“Schools and ECEs are being asked to tell ERO what they’re doing to meet the needs of priority learners – Maori, Pasifika and special needs. While some schools can answer that, others haven’t even started to consider how to meet those needs”, says Caroline Mareko, senior manager at Whanau Manaaki Kindergartens (Wellington Free Kindergartens).

If there is any professional development available on the topic, it is tied to literacy and numeracy. Jan Tinetti, principal of Merivale School in Tauranga, contends that understanding and supporting student identity is a key factor in student success, and so warrants stand-alone training within professional development.

“Recent research shows that it’s actually that sense of identity which is going to make the biggest difference. When children feel great about who they are, then they’re going to thrive, and that’s what we see! Literacy and numeracy are critically important, but let’s put cultural identity up there alongside, because that’s also critical.

“It’s not just about Māori having success as Maori, or Pasifika having success as Pasifika, it’s about Tuhoe having success as Tuhoe, Kai Tahu having success as Kai Tahu, Samoan having success as Samoan,” says Ms Tinetti. “It’s about actually understanding at that deeper level, getting to know the whānau and what’s important to them, making sure the whānau feel comfortable, proud and strong in who they are.”

“And don’t just say schools aren’t doing a good enough job – put the support and the resourcing in to actually help this! Don’t just put out the plans, what’s the resourcing that’s actually going to help schools with those plans?”

See the success

Seventy five percent of children at Merivale School are Maori and about 18 percent are Pasifika. The school has some Maori staff and includes a bilingual and Maori immersion class, and has also recently employed a Samoan staff member part-time.

“One girl came up to me and said, ‘whaea, you need to do something around all the Pasifika children in the school, we just don’t feel strong’.” The Pasifika children felt disrespected by some of the labelling they were getting in the playground, and were consequently hiding their own cultural background. Employing the Samoan teacher part-time has built understanding and connection between the school and the Pasifika families, says Jan.

“They came in and we started some fono with them. The first one we catered, and then they said, ‘don’t do that, we’ll cater!’ They could have fed the whole school with what came in the door!”

Staff also realized that many of those families spoke English as a second language, so they needed to find someone who could translate. “It wasn’t until we found the right people who could talk with first language with them, that we actually made the connections with them. We understood what they wanted for their children, and they understood that we valued who they are.

“From that moment on, you should see the children in the school, the growing success that they’ve had because they feel strong! We now hear them talking their first language in the school, which is just fabulous!”

A useful resource to support teachers is “Tataiako, Cultural Competency for Teachers of Maori Learners” which Merivale School used to integrate cultural competency into teacher appraisal systems.

“That’s made a big difference. I’ve got teachers that came from overseas who had found it a real struggle when they first came, but when they made the connection to their own cultural identity and understood how important that was for the children, they became some of the strongest teachers in this area – they really got it!”

Ms Tinetti and other staff at Merivale School have developed strong partnerships with their community (whanau, marae,  iwi, families, local community centre, kohanga reo, early childhood centre), which help them understand not only cultural differences, but also some of the other issues facing local families.

“We can talk about wider issues, things like housing. We can’t take those issues on board, but we can signal to (our teachers), this is what’s going on for our whānau. We try to keep the partnership strong so there’s that total understanding of the community.”

“The reward is seeing kids succeed, and whānau feeling strong in who they are.”

Is it reasonable to expect all teachers to get that competency, even if they don’t have many Maori, Pasifika or other ethnicities in their classroom? “Absolutely it’s reasonable to expect it! We’re New Zealand, that’s who we are!”

In relation to Pasifika cultural competency for teachers, a series of one to three-day courses called “Carrying the Tapa” are being run through NZEI’s Te Kete Aronui by Caroline Mareko and her colleague Vaia’ua’u Alailefaleula. The courses cover cultural context, effective engagement with students, families, and communities, and best professional practice.

While more than 200 early childhood, primary and secondary teachers have attended the programmes, the courses are funded by the teacher unions, not the government. Leilua praises the quality of these courses, but says there are too few of them and such initiatives should be better supported by government.

See Te Kete Ipurangi for further resources on supporting student identity, exploring shared values, developing an inclusive classroom culture, engaging your local community, and so on.

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