A belief that every child has the right to a good education, meaningful employment and a decent income in order to thrive in a free, fair and just Aotearoa is at the heart of He Awa Ara Rau. A collaboration between Waikato-Tainui, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, The Southern Initiative and BERL, the data research project tracks the journey of over 70,000 rangatahi through education into employment.
He Awa Ara Rau: A Journey of Many Paths  is a summary of the research findings telling the story of 100 rangatahi Māori starting their education journey on the awa.
“As iwi, our vision for our rangatahi is one of tino rangatiratanga where they thrive in whatever pathway they choose – it is their birth right. We want them 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,” says Dr Eruera Tarena, Tokona Te Raki Executive Director.
However, as the report highlights some kids don’t get the chance to believe in themselves. It identifies streaming of Maaori into low expectation classes as one of the key barriers that severely limits their options and future pathways (33 percent of Maaori do not enrol in the Year 11 Algebra assessment). Of the 100 who begin the journey, almost 20 percent leave school with no qualifications and only 14 percent complete a degree.
Waikato-Tainui General Manager, Maatauranga / Education & Pathways, Raewyn Mahara says, “Our 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 Maaori and Pasifika tamariki are being told ‘you can’t do it’, as teachers stream them into low expectation classes with no emphasis on achievement. This old fashioned and damaging policy is hurting our rangatahi and limiting their opportunities and it is dividing our communities.”
Gael Surgenor of The Southern Initiative reinforces the even more immediate need that has arisen given the impacts of the coronavirus. “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. Anything less is not ok.”
The report aims to elevate the focus from individual circumstances to understanding the awa, or 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,” says Raewyn Mahara.
The streaming of Maaori into low expectation classes is a concrete example of how racism gets embedded in a system. However, it is a human problem and one that can be changed.
Eruera Tarena says, “Our call to action is for whaanau, hapuu, iwi, teachers, school leaders, policy makers 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 Maaori success.”
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