Whose Fault is it Really?

One of the most amazing – and challenging – aspects of my innovation mahi with Tokona Te Raki is that I get to work with my friends. I’m not just talking about my colleagues, I am talking about the opportunity to run focus groups with other rangatahi who I have grown up with here in Ōtautahi.

Last week we hosted a focus group with some of our most beautiful friends. What this rōpū had in common was that they had all ‘dropped out’ of tertiary studies, and we wanted to try and understand why that was. To be honest this was probably one of the most eye opening, heartfelt yet mamae experiences I’ve ever had with my friends. I thought I knew them well, but after hearing about their lived experience of high school and university, I’ve realised that even with people we call friends there are so many important things we don’t get to talk about.

Hosting that focus group helped me understand what happened – and didn’t happen – for them to get to where they are now. This was a hearty kōrero, but it was also a difficult conversation to lead and be part of. It was mamae. I was sad for them, I was worried, disappointed, and I felt like I needed to be protective. But we also really wanted to understand why so many awesome, talented rangatahi are not able to complete their tertiary studies.

What really struck me was that with every pātai we asked and every answer they gave, they brought it all back to being their fault. “It’s my fault because I wasn’t motivated.” “It’s my fault because I didn’t know my class wasn’t UE approved.” “It’s my fault that I didn’t pick relevant courses.” “It’s my fault because I didn’t have anything I was passionate about.”

This didn’t just make me feel mamae, it made me angry.

At what f**king point do schools, tertiary providers, the Government, even Iwi recognize that the culture in our schools is broken? The education system is not only failing to make schooling enjoyable, it is making our young people feel worthless.

The Prime Minister 2017 Youth Mental Health Report showed that rangatahi Māori in Christchurch East are suffering the most in the whole country. 43% experience low self-esteem. 28% are self-harming. 36% experience depression or high anxiety. 36% have no sense of belonging.

Why do we think this is happening? Education should be an experience that cares for and supports our rangatahi and enables them to realise their potential. We should be worried about our young people’s minds and the value they place on themselves.

Did you know that 80% of young Māori men are streamed out of maths and science by the age of 14-15? What was once a mamae kaupapa turned to a rage of riri. My brother is 13, are you trying to tell me that in 2 months he’s going to lose opportunities he doesn’t even know exists because of his whakapapa. The whakapapa that gives him a sense of belonging, grounds him, connects him to people and place because he is a shade darker than his peers, and he says “kia ora” instead of “hello”.

I would love to ask teachers, principals, and politicians like Chris Hipkins and Jacinda Ardern what they would do if their child had opportunities taken away from them at age 14. How would they feel if their son or daughter had their future prospects ripped away from them?Exciting opportunities for careers that aren’t even invented yet.  not an option because of the colour of their skin or colour of their hair or their name or who their parents are. This is what they did to me, to my parents, to my friends and I am not okay with allowing them to do that to my brother.

So during a focus group we were hosting last week I decided that streaming in our education system is actually a mental health crisis. To be honest I don’t even know how to put these feelings into words. As a nation we are allowing our education system to be a breeding ground for mental health issues. Discredited and discriminatory practices like streaming need to stop now.

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