Written by Ethel Bainbridge

We took everything away from our Maori students’ ancestors and we expect them to succeed on the same level as white students without creating an even playing field. How is that fair?

We put our kids into a white education system which only seems to result in white succeeding. Maori and Pasifika high school students are pushed into vocational studies instead of academia. I had attended a lecture by Ann Milne, titled “Colouring the White Spaces”, where we heard a Maori Father-in-Law of a local high school principal speak about his education growing up. His education consisted of how to live off his land, speak his first language and look after his community. He was then forced into a white education by the government. What we know of education back then is that children were punished for speaking Māori. How was a white education more important than what he was learning at home? Being culturally responsive seems to be the Ministry of Education’s new buzz word, but how is anything we do being culturally responsive? Because we put a few cultural things on the wall, have a few language weeks a year and use Te Reo in the class? These concepts, while still vital in an educational space, are not enough to give genuine representation and empowerment to Maori and Pasifika youth who are constantly fed images of success through a lens of whiteness while also being cornered into negative stereotypes perpetuated in our society.

How can we expect Maori and Pasifika children to succeed when education has the opinion of them that they all are below or well below National Standards before a teacher has even met them? I know I don’t want my children starting school and having people judge them because of their skin colour or race. If my children succeed, I don’t want to hear it’s because of their palagi mum or having a teacher for a mum. I want them to succeed because they worked hard despite of everything the education system is throwing against them. We’re taught at uni to cater to children underachieving (specifically Maori and Pasifika students) but we’re never taught to take into account their culture. We’re just taught to try different tactics but rarely encouraged to be mindful of their cultural upbringing.

Let’s not even go into how National Standards are a load of shit. How can I measure a child who’s been to kindy, has a stay at home mum, and a dad who works “normal” hours against a child who didn’t go to kindy, has parents who work 2 jobs or may only have 1 parent at home and expect both children will meet standards?  Supposedly, it’s a level playing field. But National Standards don’t give a shit about a child’s background or reasons why they can’t achieve. They just see it as the teacher not doing their job. Nevermind a teacher only has 25 hours a week with a child. TWENTY FIVE. 25 hours where we have to fit in reading, writing, maths, digital technology, art, Te Reo, physical education and health. I *will* find time in my day to hear one of my kids read one/two/three more times or give them extra time on writing when I know they won’t have it at home. Why are we not helping parents too? Help those that want to learn. Teach them. Guide them. Often children are struggling because their parents are unsure or lack confidence in their own skills to help their child due to their own experiences in our education system.

Parents are the first teachers a child encounters in life.  In the home, a child learns their identity, their family history, and so much more.  But the focus shifts to a whitewashed history once children start school.  Christopher Colombus. Captain Cook. Hitler.  Why must the focus be on white history?  Don’t our Maori and Pasifika kids deserve to hear their history?  Shouldn’t we give voice to history from an indigenous perspective in mainstream education?  Why not teach about the murders and atrocities white people did when they “discovered” land? Why not teach that the culture that built structures preventing Maori and Pasifika from succeeding is the one that has it’s own history of taking from others and not giving back or supporting who they’ve stolen from?  How do we expect them to form an identity connected to their culture if we deem their history unimportant in our classrooms? 

How can we expect our kids to be proud of who they are when they don’t see themselves in their schooling? <3


As a teacher, I’ve never been offered Professional Development in supporting Maori and Pasifika kids. I’ve never been offered Te Reo lessons. Hell, my Te Ao Maori course at uni wasn’t even a semester long. I’m confident enough to use Te Reo in my classroom where I can. I’m still a beginner but I would like the Ministry of Education to see ALL teachers using Te Reo as a goal. Provide us with development. Encourage us. I tried to attend a course through NZEI for Non-Pasifika teachers supporting Pasifika students but apparently, “Pasifika students are not our target at the moment”. At $160 for a 1 day course on a Saturday, it’s not something I could afford without support from my employer. 

It’s so easy for schools to get PD for Reading, Writing and Maths but if you want PD for children with autism, Pasifika children, Te Reo…Well, I hope you have deep pockets because that’s coming out of your own budget. Being a beginning teacher and having multiple children with ADHD, Selective Mutism, Autism and Aspergers in my class… it was up to me to google and find out my own strategies. It wasn’t until I resigned from that school that they decided that the Ministry would fund me attending a course to help but oh no, too late, you’re leaving. How convenient. Special Needs education is another topic for another day (hey, we’ll fund your students for 90 minutes a day. Obviously special needs go away after morning tea. Who knew?!)

I remember in my last year of uni sitting in a Cultural Anthropology lecture next to a blonde Palagi girl. A few rows in front of us were a few Pasifika girls on their laptops and checking Facebook, online shopping and chatting. Some 95% of people are guilty of doing this during a long, boring lecture. Skip forward to our tutorial later that afternoon where blonde Palagi girl was also sitting next to me. She made the comment that “those Island girls make me so angry on Facebook and talking during a lecture that I want to listen to. They’re probably only here because they’re on scholarships which they’re wasting. I could’ve used that money because I actually want to learn”. Hold up, entitled white girl. Until you ASK someone if they have a scholarship, don’t get angry or make judgements. ALSO. Check everyone’s laptops, you’ll find most people are on Facebook. I would’ve been if I had my laptop at uni. I’ve tried to find scholarship data but NCEA only broke it down by gender. Financial Aid in the USA says that “Caucasian students receive more than three-quarters (76%) of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding… Caucasian students are 40% more likely to win private scholarships than minority students”. So please, tell me, how unfair is the scholarship system towards white students with a sense of entitlement? Maori scholarships in New Zealand are generally given out by private businesses, iwi or through education funds paid for by proceeds from Maori Land development.  

I’ve heard comments that Maori students are marked “easier” to help them get into university or pass courses. How would that help a student succeed? You’re setting them up to fail the following year. ALL IMPORTANT ASSESSMENT IS MODERATED BY A TEAM. There is no official guideline to mark Maori students easier. We also use our Official Teacher Judgement for final work. Meaning if I don’t think you did your best and I know you can do better. If the results say you’re below standard but I have proof in your workbooks that you’re AT standard, I can use my judgement to say so. Official tests don’t take everything into account. It’s a one off assessment on one day. A day where you might have had devastating news. A day where you might’ve been taking care of your family all night and had minimal sleep. I don’t take your work and go “oh you’re Maori so yep you’re ‘AT’ standard”. 

We took everything away from our Maori students’ ancestors and we expect them to succeed on the same level as white students without creating an even playing field. How is that fair? How can we expect our future generations to break cycles that we’re not willing to support in breaking? We took your land, we took your language and we took your education. What else is left?