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close this bookPolicy Development and Implementation of Technical and Vocational Education for Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific - Conference Proceedings - UNESCO - UNEVOC Regional Conference (RMIT, 1997, 520 p.)
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Maori in Education: Partnership to Overcome Disadvantage


Derek McCormack
& Catherine Husheer 1

1 Authors' address: Auckland Institute of Technology, Private Bag, Wellestey Street, Auckland New Zealand; Facsimile +64-9-3079983; Telephone +64-9-3079999; E-mail:


Theme of this Conference: Policy Development and Implementation of Technical and Vocational Education for Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific


'Policy development and implementation to address the technical and vocational educational (vocational education and training) needs of disadvantaged groups'


The participation of Maori in post-school education and training has increased over the last five years. However, growth has not been consistent across the tertiary sector or throughout all the levels of education and training and there is still significant under-representation of Maori. These participation trends are related to limited achievement at secondary school, as well as broader social conditions, including changing employment options. Significant progress in Maori education has been initiated by Maori communities themselves and their success is forcing mainstream providers to review the way they design and deliver their programmes. A key element of this review is the exploration of the notion of partnership between Maori communities and providers and how this might be applied in education and training. Also, certain Government policies have produced structural changes more conducive to achieving accessibility to quality education and training for Maori.

Whaia ko te matauranga - Hei whitiki mo te iwi - Ka toa ai (Pursue the wisdom of knowledge so future generations may thrive and prosper)

Maori Proverb


At the outset we must acknowledge that the topic we have chosen has a difficulty for us. Neither of us is Maori and hence we cannot speak for the Maori people or even as Maori people. However, we believe that it is appropriate for the topic of Maori in Education to be considered at this Conference because in New Zealand it is an issue of marked significance and is accorded high priority.

Secondly, it is probably useful to declare our definition of “disadvantaged” as the word can be problematic and it is not a term we would use in New Zealand within this context. We have adopted an interpretation that includes groups that are under-represented or experience difficulties accessing vocational education and training for a number of reasons. In New Zealand such groups are considered to be Maori who are the indigenous people of Aotearoa (or New Zealand as it is generally known), some immigrant groups such as Pacific Islands people and people with disabilities.

In this paper, however, we will deal only with issues of Maori participation and the policies and strategies which have been implemented to improve Maori participation and attainment in vocational education and training. Perhaps even more significant than government policies in this area are the developments that have been initiated by Maori themselves in response to a growing desire to control their own destiny.

We will note that this two sided approach has the potential of partnership between Maori and government agencies and partnership is itself a symbol of the ideal basis of society in New Zealand, formally envisaged by British and Maori over 150 years ago.

At the micro level we will also examine what a vocationally-oriented institution such as AIT is doing to meet its obligations to improve the participation rate and educational attainment of Maori.

Initially we will rehearse the general reasons for being concerned for equity of representation and attainment in vocational education and training.

The Imperatives for Equity in Technical and Vocational Education

It is widely accepted that barriers to participation in education should be removed and that there should be an equitable representation of cultural and ethnic groups participating and succeeding within the educational system. We rehearse four reasons for holding this view.

Firstly, there are reasons about people:

· Justice: In his important work A Theory of Justice John Rawls proposes the “principle of objectivity” for establishing just arrangements for the distribution of goods or power2. Rawls describes an ideal objective arrangement: the people who determine the distribution of goods and power within society do so before they know what position in society they themselves will occupy. In a “thought experiment” based on Rawls' ideal arrangement we might ask ourselves would I establish a system in which it would be possible for my own children to be unable to access education and training

· in which they can succeed,
· which teaches them in a way that is compatible with the values they have lived with,
· which helps them to acquire skills, attitudes and knowledge to empower them and enhance their life chances and choices

2 Rawls, J A Theory of Justice, 1971 Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts pp 516-519

If we say to ourselves in this thought experiment “no I wouldn't set up a system that with-holds all that from my children” then perhaps we need no other reason than justice for working for equity in education and training.

· Social Cohesion and Stability Vocational education is an instrument of opportunity. Access to it is the bridge across the widening gap between rich and poor which accompanies phases of economic development and adjustment.

Then there are reasons to do with money:

· Economic Development Vocational education and training which is accessible to all groups, not just some, ensures the fullest development of the human potential in the economy. Leaving out any group ultimately means that the economy is less developed than it could be.

· Commercial Imperatives Looking at it from a market perspective, any under-represented group is an undeveloped market segment for vocational education and training. Basically, the problem can be seen as one in which an under-represented group has not been offered education in a way its members like, want or need in terms of: delivery, cost, marketing and image or outcome. In some locations such as our own in Auckland, New Zealand the need to attract students who occupy the presently under-represented groups is pressing if we are to remain competitive. Soon more than half of the young people of the age typically attending our institution will belong to these groups. Our survival as a major force in vocational education and training in our region will depend on our ability to engage this market


A brief background to the Maori, who are the indigenous people of New Zealand, will be useful. Although there is no written history before contact with Europeans, oral tradition and archaeological evidence indicate that Polynesian races (from whom the Maori are descended) inhabited New Zealand for about 1000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans in the nineteenth century. The Treaty of Waitangi signed by representatives of the British Crown and Maori Chiefs in 1840 was the founding document of modern New Zealand and it holds a special place in New Zealand's constitutional history. In return for British sovereignty it guaranteed the perpetuation of Maori ownership and control of their lands, forests, fisheries, treasures and resources. The Treaty was for many years largely disregarded by the New Zealand Government Large tracts of land were appropriated by the Crown and by the new settlers from Britain and Europe, often by military force. Colonisation had a devastating effect on the Maori population and numbers and wealth declined into this century. Today, however, about 14% of the population describe themselves as Maori. They are the second most numerous ethnic group and constitute a significantly younger population than the average. Thirty seven percent of Maori are under 15 years of age compared with 23% for the total population. The Maori population is growing at a rate that is twice as fast as for non-Maori.

Over the years Maori have persistently demanded justice under the Treaty and the acknowledgement of their rights. Mounting impatience and activism on the part of Maori together with a renaissance of Maori cultural identity has prompted recent governments to focus on actively resolving Treaty grievances. This has raised wide interest in the implications and practical significance of the Treaty in a variety of situations. Present interpretations reveal a key principle within its conceptualisation, the principle of partnership and this is at the root of New Zealand biculturalism.

The partnership principle implies a broad and equal basis of participation by Maori in society, the economy and the government. It stands for self-determination but also for joint endeavour and mutual enrichment and support. The Treaty partnership is formally between Maori tribes and Government but the principle extends to a partnership of peoples - Maori and non-Maori - at all levels. Partnership is both goal and process.

Recent Treaty settlements negotiated by Maori tribes with Government have begun to restore the dignity of justice and economic power to Maori hands. But the effect of the implementation of the principle of partnership may have a still greater effect.

Economic reforms in New Zealand during the 1980s and 90s have had some negative by-products which have affected Maori more so than average.

Rapid shifts away from employment opportunities requiring lower skill levels and in rural areas has produced disproportionately high unemployment rates for Maori. Much of the reform of vocational education and training has been an attempt to mitigate these and other inequities.

Maori Status in Education

Maori participation and success in all levels of education from school through to vocational education and training and other tertiary education has traditionally been low. Differentials in participation between Maori and non-Maori emerge at the pre-school level and become more pronounced at higher levels.

In 1986 Maori participation in post-school education was less than a quarter that of the rest of the population3 However, by 1991 participation rates had increased to be half those of non-Maori.

3 When analysing data available on Maori participation it is important to note that the systematic collection of ethnicity data from tertiary institutions only began in the early 1990s. Polytechnic data is more limited than teacher trainee and university data little information was maintained on those studying in trade and technician levels. Although historical data is limited, current data on Maori participation is comprehensive and directly comparable to that collected on students from other ethnic groups. Data presented in this paper are from the Ministry of Education and the NZ Statistics Department.

The link from school to tertiary education and training is a crucial one. However, only 20% of Maori school leavers progress directly on to further or higher education compared with 45% for non-Maori school-leavers.

New Zealand has a binary tertiary education system with 25 polytechnics focusing more on vocational education and training and 7 universities doing more academic work. There is also a large number of private providers receiving government funding and offering mainly foundation level vocational education and training programmes. Maori students are more likely to go to a polytechnic than a university compared to non-Maori students and even more likely to go to a private provider that non-Maori.

As well as the issue of total participation, there is also a need to promote equitable representation across a broad spectrum of education and training. Maori education is extremely low in fields that are critical to Maori economic development such as commerce, business management and administration, natural science, agriculture, horticulture, forestry, fishing and hospitality and tourism.

Maori are less likely to be part-time students engaging in life-long learning and upskilling. The vast majority of Maori vocational education and training students are full-time. To some extent this is due to the greater impact of unemployment on Maori than non-Maori with a relatively high proportion of Maori students on foundation courses aimed at providing skills for those who are out of work.

Furthermore, while the proportion of Maori students exiting the education system with no qualification is decreasing it remains disproportionately high.

The indicators are still not satisfactory but the trend is for improved educational status for Maori as a result of initiatives by both Maori themselves and Government. An outstanding question, however, is whether improvements will be at a sufficiently rapid rate and whether they will continue until an equitable position is achieved for Maori?

Measures to Enhance Accessibility to Quality Education for Maori

In recent years Maori have successfully developed their own alternatives to mainstream education after generations of under-achievement in the traditional system. These have been in the medium of the Maori language and according to Tikanga Maori or the Maori way of doing things. The thinking behind the approach was that cultural pride would build self-esteem and success, at the same time assuring the survival of the Maori language.

In 1985 the approach was begun with a pre-school programme called the Maori language nest or Kohanga Reo. It began with widespread interest and support among Maori and has continued to expand. Following on from this Maori immersion schools teaching the full curriculum but in the Maori language have been developed in many localities - sometimes in conjunction with mainstream state schools. There are now also two small Maori language universities or Wananga4 in addition to the seven mainstream universities.

4 The first two Wananga were established in 1993. A third awaits official recognition and ten other Maori organisations with to explore the concept of Wananga status in the future.

The early indications are that the approach has been successful. The first language nest students have now come through post-school education and training - where they have engaged mainly in the mainstream system, not the Maori language system. They have been substantially more likely to take up post-school education than the total Maori cohort and much more successful in terms of course completion rates and average grades.

In addition to the Maori initiatives successive governments have implemented policies which have also influenced Maori patterns of participation.

1. Programmes targeted specifically at Maori have been funded An example is the skill enhancement programme for Maori between the ages of 16 and 21. It is designed to provide relevant on and off job training at apprenticeship level.

2. Programmes for unemployed people The Training Opportunities Programme is the major provider of training to young, low qualified and the long term unemployed. The objectives of the programme is to help participants gain basic skills, independence and recognised qualifications that lead to employment or further training. The Training Opportunities Programme is provided mainly by small private providers funded through a contestable system. Many of these providers are Maori organisations (not usually operating in the Maori language but owned and run by Maori) and most of the providers (Maori or non-Maori) have been able to target their offerings in a way which seems to meet the needs of Maori students better than the mainstream providers. Nearly half of all trainees in the Training Opportunities programmes have been Maori.

An interesting spin-off is that the approaches which have worked for Maori in these programmes - approaches which are grounded in Maori cultural values - appear to be equally successful with many non-Maori who have not succeeded in the traditional mainstream education. These are approaches with: an emphasis on the community and the group rather than the individual; an emphasis on an extended family model of organisation - often with older people present not as teachers but as elders and surrogate aunts and uncles; an emphasis on personal respect and self discipline; an emphasis on movement and music, and an emphasis on spiritual, values, in addition to a rigorous approach to the curriculum skills and knowledge.

3. Changes to the Recognition of Qualifications Through the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, established in 1990, qualifications are given formal recognition not simply by virtue of the nature of the provider that awarded them. Any provider can award any type of qualification, from a national certificate through to a graduate degree, based on approval and accreditation by the Qualifications Authority. As well, it is the specification and assessment of the learning outcomes not the methods of delivery that are the issues for approval and accreditation. This provides greater opportunities for Maori to gain recognised qualifications through their own private training establishments and Maori language based schools and colleges according to their own methods. The same standards are achieved but in a different way.

4. Recognition of Maori Qualifications Under its statutory warrant the Qualifications Authority is committed to recognising Maori-based qualifications for specific Maori skills and industries. It is also committed to ensuring that there is a Maori dimension where-ever relevant to qualifications. Furthermore, the approval of any degree level qualification cannot be granted unless the provider can demonstrate that it has engaged in consultation with the Maori community at an appropriate level over the content of the programme.

5. Requirements Placed on State Owned Educational Institutions Under the recent Education Act Institutions are granted substantial autonomy to operate but are required to turn this autonomy to a number of general objectives. These objectives include:

· to maximise the educational potential of all members of the communities the institution serves, with particular emphasis on those groups in those communities that are under-represented among the students of the institution5;

5 from the Education Act 1989, Functions and Duties of Councils of Tertiary Institutions, Section 181

· to acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. As mentioned above this implies an effort to establish partnership with Maori and to develop an equal level of participation by Maori within the life of the institution. But it also means that as an agent of the State or the Crown the institution must act within its sphere of operation to ensure the protection of Maori treasures and resources. Recently, judicial decisions based on cases brought by Maori have identified the Maori language and other Maori knowledge amongst these resources.

Institutions are able to respond to these requirements in any way that they find appropriate and effective. Our own institution, the Auckland Institute of Technology, for example established the first stand alone Maori faculty in New Zealand. Until then Maori studies had been a part of arts or humanities groupings. The new faculty has grown rapidly, ten-fold in four years and provides courses in applied Maori language - that is language which can be used in the workplace - as well as vocational programmes in performing arts, economic development, social work, travel and tourism and youth development. The main advantage of establishing a Maori faculty is that it has been empowered to develop its own programmes to meet the needs of the maori community. The faculty is also recognised by the Maori community as having a Maori structure and values and not merely an adjunct of the traditional academic organisation

There is also a recognition within the Auckland Institute of Technology that more than this is required and as part of its recent strategic planning processes it has examined how the model of partnership can further enhance the participation and status of Maori within the organisation and its education and training delivery.

The Future Challenges.

The measures outlined above have had some success. In 1995 eleven percent of student numbers in post school education and training identified themselves as Maori compared with a Maori population of 14%6 of the total. This is a significant advance on ratios of participation in 1991. However, there are still many problems and spokespeople for Maori are by no means satisfied with the situation.

6 The percentage of Maori in the typical age cohort for vocational education and training would be higher than this so the margin between 11 % participation and fun representation is still great.

Maori participation is still not spread across a broad curriculum and drops off differentially at the higher levels whether in vocational education and training or higher education. Also the effects of better access to and take up rates of training opportunities have not been fully reflected in the unemployment statistics which still show Maori as disproportionately disadvantaged.

Further improvements may come from

· more time with the present measures

· further development of Maori immersion programmes in schools and training programmes, although it is unlikely that Maori programmes will be able to establish an adequate range of vocational opportunities and the mainstream system will continue to be a crucial part of vocational education and training for Maori

· the purchase of education and training by Maori tribal authorities and commercial interests as they develop financial resources

· requirements for a more aggressive approach from the state owned Institutions to meeting targets for Maori participation

Whatever mix of these prevails the outlook for Maori educational initiatives is assured and they will continue to expand and evolve to meet the educational needs and aspirations of the Maori people. Self-determination will continue to be the essential driving-force for Maori as they use their growing economic resources to gain the skills they need to play a greater part in the new economy.

But the challenge of partnership is for mainstream providers to work more with Maori to provide educational delivery systems that are more conducive to Maori education and training achievement.