Streaming Māori students into low-expectation classes limits future pathways - report

updated By Jessica Tyson

A report has identified that streaming Māori students into low expectation classes is one of the key barriers limiting their options to future pathways.

The report He Awa Ara Rau: A Journey of Many Paths is a collaboration between Waikato-Tainui, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, The Southern Initiative and BERL.

The findings

The data research project tracked the journey of more than 70,000 rangatahi through education into employment. The report is a summary of the research findings, telling the story of 100 rangatahi Māori starting their education journey.

The report found that at the age of 25, 69 of the 100 Māori school leavers were employed. Out of the other 31 who were not employed, 19 of them had no tertiary education, five had achieved Level 1 to 3 NCEA, five had achieved Level 4 to 6 at tertiary level and two had a degree.

The report finds some students don’t get given the chance to believe in themselves. For example, 33 percent of Māori were found to not have enrolled in the Year 11 Algebra assessment. 

Of the 100 who began the journey, 19 percent left school with no qualifications and only 14 percent completed a degree.

Of the 19 rangatahi leaving school with no qualifications, the report found 11 were on a work or health-related benefit, and eight are in employment. Their average income was $20,000 while the living wage is about $40,000.

"At age 22 only a very small percentage of those in employment are earning $40,000 and that’s because they engaged in further education or training. By comparison, those who left with Level 1 achieve an average annual income 24 per cent higher ($48,000) than those with no qualification. Those with Level 3 have the lowest average working income – equal to students with no qualifications – however many of this group are in tertiary education and only working part-time," the research says.

Of the 50 with no tertiary qualifications, 31 are in employment.

Of the 30 with higher qualifications, 25 are in employment. However, a high percentage of them are under-employed working low paying jobs such as retail and hospitality.

Locked out

Waikato-Tainui general manager, maatauranga / education and pathways Raewyn Mahara says the current education system works for some but not all.

“So many of our rangatahi get locked out of learning opportunities, and this breaches their rangatiratanga and the ability to determine their own paths. We see it all the time in schools across Aotearoa where our Māori and Pasifika tamariki are being told ‘you can’t do it’, as teachers stream them into low-expectation classes with no emphasis on achievement,” she says.

“This old-fashioned and damaging policy is hurting our rangatahi and limiting their opportunities and it is dividing our communities.” 

Tokona Te Raki executive director Dr Eruera Tarena says, “As iwi, our vision for our rangatahi is one of tino rangatiratanga where they thrive in whatever pathway they choose – it is their birthright.”

Tarena says he wants Māori students to believe in great things and to be passionate about learning.

“We want their teachers to believe in them and equip them with a love of learning and we want all classrooms across Aotearoa to be a safe environment where everyone feels confident about themselves in their learning. It’s simple really.”

The streaming of Māori into low-expectation classes is a concrete example of how racism gets embedded in a system.  However, it can be changed, researchers say. 

Urgent need

Tarena says, “Our call to action is for whānau, hapū, iwi, teachers, school leaders, policymakers and the Minister for Education to join us in collective action to remodel this part of our education system to ensure our rangatahi thrive in whatever pathway they choose. Together we can become culturally responsive and passionate champions of Māori success.”

The Southern Initiative's community and social innovation director, Gael Surgenor, emphasises the urgent need for immediate change given the impacts of the coronavirus. (The Southern Initiative is an Auckland Council initiative that works to find radical solutions to some of South Auckland’s most pressing social and economic challenges)

"Covid-19 shone a light on the urgent need to address inequity and create changes to enable all rangatahi to learn in a fair and just system that supports them to participate meaningfully in the economy and get an income to live a good life," Surgenor says. "Anything less is not ok."

The report aims to move the focus from individual circumstances to understanding the awa (path) rangatahi are traveling upon and the deeper patterns, forces, and currents that shape their options, directions, and destinations.

 “Our hope is that by ‘seeing’ the awa we will better understand where we should focus our collective efforts to keep it free from any barriers so our rangatahi stay in their learning flow,”  Mahara says.