A fair go in education?

Deficit theorising

Māori and Pacific peoples continue to experience disadvantage in education. These gaps in educational achievement are still sometimes explained using a ‘blame the student’ mentality. In order for this to change, the education system, rather than the student, needs to be framed as the ‘problem’.

As with health, a ‘one size fits all approach’ clearly has not worked. Whose knowledge is important, what success looks like, what achievement matters and how schools are organised has traditionally been dominated by a Pākehā perspective. For example, education policies developed to address low levels of literacy among Pacific children actually referred to low levels of English literacy. Such policies do not acknowledge multilingual homes or the importance of bi/multilingual education.

Culturally responsive practices

One way of dealing with this bias is to develop culturally responsive practices and policies. One example is validating Māori cultural values, settings and tikanga, and building relationships with whānau and community.  Changing the curriculum to incorporate students’ different cultural frameworks is another. These practices acknowledge that ethnically diverse students may make sense of the world differently.

web Tongan Language Week 3 A fair go in education?

Pauline's Tongan Language Week poster, Addington School


Poverty also plays a critical role in children’s ability to engage in education. Students from low socio-economic communities are less likely to attain higher school qualifications. This is a significant proportion of the population, with a 2008 survey showing that 20 percent of New Zealand children live in relative poverty. The fact that Maori and Pacific peoples are disproportionately presented in these communities  makes them more likely to be affected by the impacts of structural discrimination.

Tertiary institutions have a significant part to play in increasing the participation and achievement of Māori and Pacific students. In 2006, only half of tertiary education organisations were developing relationships with Pacific communities. Most of these  focused on attracting more Pacific students with little understanding of  the needs and aspirations of the Pacific community. Creating an environment where students feel supported and engaged in tertiary life is also important. However, most research shows that early intervention is more effective in addressing systemic inequalities. Leaving it till secondary or tertiary level is often too late.

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