The Tokona Te Raki team spent two and a half years researching culturally responsive education practices at three tertiary sites: Telford Agriculture Training Centre in Balclutha, construction apprentices at the BCITO and tourism students at Otago Polytechnic. From this research we produced a 56 page report (here) and a 24 page summary (here).
Sometimes with research, important insights and key messages get buried in the mass of information and data. So what have I taken away from two and a half years of work that makes sense to me personally and as a practitioner? Well, to be honest it is both a feeling of despair and a feeling of hope.
My sense of despair comes from what the data brought to light. It’s not all bad news, but some of it is deeply concerning. In particular, findings showed fewer than 50% of Māori students are succeeding in some courses. I find myself asking, ‘why has this fact not raised alarm bells across the education system? Why has this fact not resulted in a concerted effort to address this obvious failing by the education system? Why is there such a reluctance in the system to confront this kind of data?’ And then there were the human stories behind the data. I heard the utter frustration from one Māori student at her worldview being blanked out and simply ignored. She spoke of feeling like an outsider where her culture was not recognised as the obvious strength it was.
The sense of hope I found was in a group of tutors I met during our research on Hūtia Te Punga. They were all Pākehā. They did not know a lot about Te Ao Māori but they absolutely cared about their students and were passionate about their success. This caring and positive attitude was a great foundation to build a more culturally responsive practice. They were determined to learn how to pronounce Maōri names correctly and to learn the stories behind those names. They wanted to figure out how the Treaty was relevant to their workplace and with a little support they did.
The practice of education is the practice of connecting with our students. The tutors I met through Hūtia Te Punga were able to shine a light on one of the more subtle aspects of this process of connection that is often not even mentioned. The tutors talked about the importance of positive banter between themselves and the students. They hadn’t really analysed it, it was just a natural part of the classroom culture they had established at their institution.
As an outside observer, I could see straight away how this friendly, relaxed, and informal communication helped the students to feel included and to be themselves, and how this simple technique brought joy and fun to the experience of learning. The quality of banter and the accompanying humour was like a magnet that brought the tutor and the learners together and supported the learning process.
I remember reading about a former principal of Makoura College, Tom Hullena, who asked the high school students at his school what factors led to positive relationships with their teachers. They spoke of the vital role of banter and humour in the classroom. They especially liked self deprecating humour where the teacher made fun of themselves and showed that they were human and didn’t take themselves too seriously. What they didn’t like was sarcasm and that corrosive kind of humour that gets a laugh but at the expense of their fellow students.
So as you read the insights and data in Hūtia Te Punga, please remember the human stories behind the data, and those dedicated education professionals who care deeply about their students and have a passion for their success.