Updated: Jun 23
by Rebecca Thomas
(image Waitangi National Trust )
Tūrangawaewae, the title of the conference Dr. Melanie Riwai-Couch spoke at yesterday, during a TOD at Albany Senior High School for Whānau Ki Te Ako.
Spending five hours driving home, having time to dwell on Melanie’s kōrero was good therapy. I mused about what her message meant to me in my role as an educator.
Fittingly, at the start of her talk Melanie acknowledged our fallen soldiers, the brave men who fought and lost their lives. Initially, my thoughts drifted to all who played their part on the front line or at home, ANZAC is part of all of our histories.
"Anzac Day allows the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of all New Zealanders during times of war,” - Pita Tipene
As I dwelled on what followed, I acknowledged her rallying call, urging us to take action, asking for our contributions.
Melanie shared with us some statistics from 2011, statistics that predicted that in ten years time (from that date), an inequitable percentage of our Māori students would be: attending low decile schools; be stood down; be absent from school; be disengaged, and leave school with inadequate maths and literacy skills. Sadly, that disparity, that predicted data from ten years ago, is true. Even sadder still is the underlying fact that despite the predictions and warnings nothing enough had been done to evade its conceptualisation.
It was noted that along the way key spearheads, key champions, tried to disrupt the status quo (if I listed their names you would nod in agreement); key people who wrote ‘the book’, key people who tried desperately to turn this disparity around.
As much as they all gave a good fight, Melanie reminded us at the end of her kōrero unless we ‘all lift together’, changing the system at the same time, shoulder to shoulder, then sometimes individual or small group efforts will be in vain.
Not on our watch
As educators, if we sit and do nothing, if we sit and explain away injustice with excuses and complain about familiar cyclical action or politics, if we delay and procrastinate some more, despite knowing the stories and the data about how education has not served our marginalised students, then that is unacceptable.
We all have a duty to do something, especially once we know the truth.
The whole NZC refresh is about knowing the truth, knowing that Te Tirirti o Waitangi hasn’t been upheld, knowing that our curriculum wasn’t fit for purpose. For those of us still anxious about readjusting our mindset towards a new curriculum; concerned about devoting time and unpacking the whakapapa; finding our positioning and our partnership, be assured that this action is not only necessary and long overdue, it is our obligation (no matter how tired and spent we are at times) and what ākonga have asked for. It is our duty to act for our young people.
Our students want us to understand and know them; listen to their stories.
As Brigham Riwai-Couch explains in this truthful and heartfelt video clip called, ‘10 ways to teach me’, it is the collaboration of many people, a whole community, that can support that change, and we need to try and try again.
Failure is not an option.
‘Listen to your ākonga, listen to their whānau, build relationships and lift where you stand.’
-Dr. Melanie Riwai-Couch, Niho Taniwha