Te pakeke hei ākonga: Māori adult learners

Publication Details

This report explores success in literacy and language learning for Māori adults. It captures the perspectives and voices of learners, tutors and providers in foundation learning programmes. It describes how Māori tutors reinforce and strengthen their Māori learners’ identities through ensuring that Māori tikanga and values pervade the teaching and learning environment.

Author(s): Colleen McMurchy-Pilkington, University of Auckland

Date Published: August 2009

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Executive Summary

The purpose of this research project, Te pakeke hei ākonga: Māori adult learners, has been to capture the perspectives of learners, tutors and providers as to how language, literacy and numeracy in foundation learning programmes can best be optimised for adult Māori learners.

There is a paucity of research that gathers the voices of Māori adult learners and Māori tutors in foundation programmes, and providers of foundation programmes. This research report attempts to fill that gap.

There is a range of providers of foundation programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand, from the more traditional providers of tertiary education like the universities and polytechnics through to private training establishments (PTEs), iwi providers and whare wānanga. Groups and individuals from these providers, including students, tutors and chief executive officers (CEOs), were interviewed for this research. All those interviewed were Māori.

Foundation courses from levels 1 to 5. The younger Māori learners, around 20 years old or younger, who leave school with no qualifications and limited skills tend to go into the early level courses. By contrast, the more mature students and those who leave school with some National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) credits are more likely to go into level 3 or 4/5, to strengthen their academic skills or to give them confidence before moving to a degree programme.

The classes in foundation programmes are generally small and intimate, enabling one-to-one or personalised teaching of the students. The adult Māori learners enrol for a range of reasons: they were sent by Work and Income, they need to prepare for a specific job or further training, they want to be a role model for others, or they want to support their own children's learning.

All the programmes teach numeracy and literacy, either as the main focus or in relation to a pre-qualification like motor trades, teaching or nursing. A few courses focus on te reo Māori, and also include numeracy and literacy.

PTEs and iwi providers expect to deliver more than literacy and numeracy skills; they aim to celebrate the Māori identity of their learners and usually teach Māori tikanga and sometimes Māori language as well. Staff are often whānau; that is, they are usually closely related or members an extended family. This reinforces the whānau atmosphere in the classroom. Staff in traditional providers are less likely to be related, although they do foster a whānau atmosphere.

Māori tutors reinforce and strengthen their Māori learners' identities through ensuring that Māori tikanga and values like whakapapa, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and kotahitanga pervade the teaching and learning environment. Māori tutors ensure their Māori learners are able to learn and study in a Māori-centred environment. Apart from some tutors in the traditional providers, all tutors are supported by their provider in professional development for literacy and numeracy. Most are undertaking national certificate training.

In teaching their foundation course students, the tutors use 'real-life contexts' that connect to the Māori learners' lives, needs and interests. They encourage collaborative work, empower the learners to make choices, and encourage the learners to set their own goals, thus giving them a sense of personal responsibility.

Without exception, the tutors devote many hours to their work, which includes being available and supporting students outside designated class hours. They build strong, positive relationships with their students.

All Māori learners interviewed talked about the comfortable whānau environment created by their tutors, who were seen to be passionate, caring and patient. Learners commented on the different environment and atmosphere that they experienced in their secondary schooling years.

In the adult programmes the classes were small, the students were treated with respect, they felt very comfortable, the environment was success-oriented, and was permissive (they could smoke in the intervals, they were not 'bawled out' for coming in late), the students were valued, and the whānau atmosphere created an interdependence among the students. Māori values were strongly evident in the day-to-day life of the classroom and tuakana/teina ways of working were encouraged. Their Māoriness was valued.

The Māori learners felt their tutors were teaching them and their needs rather than a set curriculum. This was in contrast to their school days. They acknowledged that they were learning more than numeracy and literacy. They were learning social skills (how to get along with other people), survival skills, how to study more effectively, cultural skills and knowledge (Māori tikanga, whakapapa), work employment skills, self-confidence, te reo Māori (in some instances), self-respect and respect for others. Their learning was more interactive, it related to everyday life, and in maths it was more hands-on. Their tutors explained and clarified things and made learning fun.

Barriers to learning included costs (e.g. fees) and travel to their course, although providers in smaller towns often provided transport. A large number had no support outside the course. And many found that a completed foundation studies course did not necessarily guarantee entry into a diploma or degree, particularly at another institution.

While providers were grateful for Tertiary Education Commission funding, they all stated there was not enough money to fully support students and staff (particularly for professional development release). Iwi providers need opportunities to provide programmes that develop capacity and leadership amongst their people.

There are many positive things happening in foundation/bridging programmes for adult Māori learners. The positives need to continue, but there are areas that need further consideration so that Māori learners can successfully move on to further tertiary education with confidence.