$42m Anti-Racism Education Reform stalls for eight months

updated By Iulia Leilua

The chair of a Māori think tank charged with tackling education’s racism says she’s frustrated their blueprint hasn’t been implemented after eight months.

In 2018 the Ministry of Education worked with a team of experts, chaired by Professor Mere Berryman, to develop Te Hurihanganui - a blueprint for lifting Māori student achievement.

Te Hurihanganui was given $42m from last year’s Wellbeing Budget, to support Māori students by testing ways of addressing cultural bias and racism in education.

Although it was hoped the initiative might roll out last year it has yet to start.

“Māori education is hugely political and we’re in an election year,” says Professor Berryman.  “While we’ve got something really exciting it frustrates me that it’s taken such a long time to get started.  I have great hopes that it will achieve huge outcomes for our communities.”

Te Hurihanganui is the latest attempt to reform education and lift Māori achievement. In the 2000s Professor Berryman worked with Professor Russell Bishop and others on a previous project, Te Kotahitanga, to address Māori failure in education. The programme was scrapped by the National government in 2015 for cost reasons.

Professor Berryman says New Zealand’s education system has underserved Māori learners for a long time. She says a number of factors contribute to this underperformance, many of these stemming from the racism and bias inherent in the education system. She says other factors include negative bias in teacher judgements, low expectations of ākonga Māori, devaluing mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori, and poor knowledge of and access to te reo Māori.

“The statistics of disparity are everywhere and in every sector - health, corrections, education,” says Professor Berryman. “I see it in our people being less confident, being less confident in who they are.  But I also see that young Māori today are also more confident to express their resistance in a way that I never did as a 17 or 18 year old. I was never ‘woke’ enough to voice my resistance like that.”

In June last year the Labour and New Zealand First coalition announced the Wellbeing Budget (2019) would invest $42 million over 3 years to implement and evaluate Te Hurihanganui. It expected around 40 education providers in up to 7 communities nationwide would be involved. This included iwi, hapū and whānau working alongside 10 schools or ECE settings to complete a seamless learning pathway.

“Over successive generations, our state education system has socialised a dominant narrative reinforcing privilege based on the English language and colonial values,” says Professor Berryman.  “Subsequently, education has been largely undertaken against a deficit background of misunderstanding, bias and racism which, together with the devaluing and suppression of Māori language and values, has perpetuated ongoing disparities and disadvantage for Māori.”

Te Ao With Moana asked the Ministry of Education why the project has stalled, when it will begin and to confirm how the $42m will be spent. 

Rose Jamieson Deputy Secretary (Acting), Parent Information & Community Intelligence from the Ministry of Education has responded with the following statement:

"Work on Te Hurihanganui started after the announcement of the Wellbeing Budget 2019.  We are taking the opportunity to explore new ways of working as part of this kaupapa.  We have been engaging across the regions and with mātanga to identify six communities who will be invited to participate in this kaupapa.  The six communities reflect the need for Te Hurihanganui to test what works across a range of different settings (urban vs rural, high Māori populations vs high Pākehā populations).  Discussions are currently underway with iwi, education providers and their communities in those six communities to confirm participation and we hope to announce participating communities by the end of March with the communities working together to address racism and inequity through transformative support, resources, tools and coaching by June 2020.  We have also established a programme team; are in the process of setting up a joint oversight board (with Māori, Ministry, community and expert membership); and a design and implementation body where we will work collaboratively with experts, and together walk alongside communities."

In terms of how the funding will be spent for Te Hurihanganui, Jamieson stated that:

"The majority of Te Hurihanganui funding will be used to support six communities on their journey to strengthen kaupapa Māori and build critical consciousness – this will include direct support to communities to build capacity and capability through the provision of resource, support, coaching and tools.  We will also undertake an iterative evaluation to support ongoing improvement of Te Hurihanganui implementation across communities and they education system.  The community action and evaluation will inform changes happening across the education work programme and be built back into the system."