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What about me? Embracing our students cultural capital

by Rebecca Thomas

(image from Child and Youth Wellbeing site)

Initially in the warm light of the fire, the happiness and kai sharing, I thought about the many cultural celebrations there are around the world related to new beginnings: Chinese New Year, Diwali, Hogmanay, are ones I am more familiar with, but with the help of Google I discovered others: Pongal, Oshogatsu, and Songkran.

What a beautiful diverse world we live in. These tapestries, these celebrations revolving around reflection, feasting, friendship, light, dancing and joy; celebration of a good life, a celebration of culture. It came as a good reminder of the importance of valuing the cultural capital nestled within our schools.

Whilst I smiled to myself about how diverse and colourful we all are, I began to wonder about the battle that some of us have had, and still have to have, to maintain our beliefs and our significance, our culture, our being - be that dress code, a symbolic right of passage, a special coming of age celebration.

What if you had to leave your cultural capital behind?

What if you found yourself to be marginalised?

Being marginalised means you are disadvantaged by aspects of your identity - be that gender, race, sexuality, disability, socioeconomic status or religion. Being marginalised means you are no stranger to disparities in life, health, education.

It’s a sobering thought, but sadly our Youth Health and Wellbeing Strategy has alerted us to the reality that is unfolding within our school's walls. Be it silent, or obvious, the students have spoken out and trust us with their voice.

When I frequently mention this strategic report carried out every three years to check on the welfare of our students it is barely a recognised title. Despite our core focus in schools since Covid being wellbeing; despite the abundant range of wellbeing programmes and resources decorating our classrooms; despite the fact it sits on the top line of the graphic unpacked on most school curriculum refresh days, and it is highlighted in the, Implementing Te Mātaiaho Readiness Tool - most of us are unaware that it is a driver.

If you are yet to find the report, and wonder about how it might reflect some of the voices in your school, below are just a few snapshots, some statistics from what our children are experiencing and are telling us is happening to them.

How do these statistics make you feel?

  • Children and young people indicated that racism is a growing concern - 37% identified racism as an issue for them in 2021, compared to 23% in 2014

  • More than half of learners reported seeing racist bullying and one in five had been bullied because of their ethnic identity or culture.

  • Children and young people told us that schools don’t always take racist bullying seriously.

  • Half of learners from ethnic communities told us that teachers said their name wrong in the last month.

  • 66% of disabled students aged 12-18 years had felt like life was not worth living.

  • 50% of disabled students aged 12-18 years reported experiencing bullying in the last 12 months.

  • 32% of ākonga Māori aged 12-18 years experienced discrimination.

  • 55% of rainbow students aged 12-18 years have seriously thought about killing themselves in the last 12 months.

  • 39% of MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin-American and African) students aged 12-18 years reported experiencing discrimination.

  • Pacific students aged 12-18 years experienced statistically significantly higher rates of discrimination than their non-Pacific peers.

These are just some of the voices of our marginalised communities, despite the world being a colourful place these disparities remain.

What worried me the most appeared on page 13 of this report. The students in the survey explained how they wanted their voices to be heard, but they never got to find out how their voice is used:

“We tell adults stuff like this all the time and nothing happens or changes.”

-Rangatahi Māori

As we move forward into the New Year, let’s make a pledge as adults, mums, dads, whānau, kaiako, aunties, uncles, let our young people’s voices be heard, acknowledged and involve them in the process.

“Young people talked about needing to be heard on matters that affect them and want good, accessible information to help them participate and make informed choices about their lives.”

Youth and Wellbeing Strategy 2021/22

If you would like help on your way our, Understand and Know Me Student Resources can help you start your journey today; empower them and take action on their voice.

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1 Comment

Derek Wenmoth
Derek Wenmoth
Jul 19, 2023

Thanks for drawing attention to this document and for your thoughtful comments and challenge here Rebecca.

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