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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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Chapter 6: Findings

Although the focus in this research has been on the adult Māori learners and their learning, it has been important to examine the factors and dynamics that surround these learners. Fenwick & Tennant (2004, p. 55) maintain that learning does not occur in a vacuum, but rather:

"[T]he context of a person's life – with its unique cultural, political, physical and social dynamics – influences what learning experiences are encountered and how they are engaged".

This research on adult Māori learners has confirmed what some other researchers have discovered. Effective teachers are passionate about their work, are approachable, are positive, patient and caring, and both challenge and support their learners (Carpenter et al., 2002; Martin et al., 2004).

Effective teachers create a culturally responsive context for their learners through building strong, caring relationships with their students in a whānau atmosphere, basing their teaching on prior learning and contexts relevant for the students, developing social interdependency amongst their learners, ensuring there is opportunity for one-to-one, paired and small group learning (Bishop & Glynn, 1999; Bishop et al., 2001; Hawk et al., 2002; Hohepa et al., 1996; Macfarlane, 2004). Adult Māori learners' voices demonstrate that their Māori tutors in this research are effective teachers.

Additionally, the Māori tutors reinforce and strengthen their Māori learners' identities through ensuring that Māori tikanga and values, like whakapapa, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kotahitanga, pervade the teaching and learning environment. Māori tutors ensure their Māori learners are able to learn and study in a Māori-centred environment.

While this study may confirm what some other researchers have suggested or implied, there is a point of difference. There is a paucity of research that gathers the voices of Māori adult learners, Māori tutors in foundation programmes, and providers of these programmes. Māori researchers have examined traditional contexts (Hemara, 2000), Kohanga Reo as a context for learning (for example, Hohepa et al., 1996; Kai'i, 1990), Kura Kaupapa Māori (Bishop et al., 2001; Mead, 1996; Smith,2003), Māori at secondary level (Macfarlane,2004), Māori tertiary learners at degree level (Martin et al., 2004); and non-Māori researchers have written about Māori learners in mainstream school (for example, Hawk et al., 2002; Carpenter et al., 2002), and there has been extensive research on foundation learners and tutors in non-Māori settings (Benseman et al., 2005b).

Māori voices speak strongly in this research about their experiences as adult learners, as tutors and as providers. What are some trends that come from their reflections? The interviews of the Māori learners, their tutors and providers in this study suggest the following.

6.1 The learners

  • Adult Māori learners are strongly likely to be successful learners in foundation programmes because their classes are small, and their tutors are passionate about their teaching and care strongly about those they teach.
  • It is imperative that learning contexts are holistic, that is for success in academic skills, the social, spiritual and cultural welfare of the student must also be taken into consideration.
  • Foundation programmes assist Māori learners to gain self-confidence.
  • Growth in the concept of self-identity is enhanced through tutors creating opportunities for Māori learners to know and articulate their whakapapa links.
  • Māori adult learners speak highly and positively of their tutors.
  • There are many cultural, social, and economic factors in Māori learners' contexts that need to be addressed before successful academic outcomes are evident, including a strengthened understanding of who one is and where one comes from.
  • Many adult Māori learners need to build their self-efficacy and self-esteem in order to be successful learners at tertiary level.
  • There are marked contrasts between the learning contexts of secondary schools and foundation programmes for Māori learners.
  • The context of foundation programmes and the pedagogical strategies of the tutors appear to be effective in assisting adult Māori learners to strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills.
  • There is a range of reasons why students enrol in foundation programmes and there is a range of levels to meet these needs.
  • A whānau atmosphere appears to be an effective learning environment for adult Māori learners.
  • Building strong relationships, connectedness or whanaungatanga through out the structure and contexts for adult Māori learners is imperative.
  • Teaching literacy and numeracy skills at a foundation level is most effective in contexts that are relevant to the learners.
  • The learning contexts of foundation courses are in strong contrast to Māori adult learners' experiences at secondary schools, as the following table suggests.
Table 2: Comparison between learners' experiences of foundation programmes and secondary schooling
Foundation programmesSecondary schooling
Holistic learning: whole person; in and out of schoolCompartmentalised
Informal contextsFormal contexts
Related to learner needsCurriculum driven
Situated/specific/contextualisedGeneralised skills
Relationships importantLimited time for relationships
ConnectednessIsolated and disconnected
Whānau-based, collaborative, interdependentIndividualistic and independent
Cultural identity affirmedCultural identity usually not deemed important
Small and intimateLarge and public
Fun, activeBoring, passive
Ownership (own class, own space)Shared classrooms, non-ownership
Goals set by studentGoals set by school

6.2 The tutors

  • Tutors are dedicated, passionate, care for their students and put in long hours for the academic, social, spiritual and cultural welfare of Māori learners.
  • Tutors build strong positive relationships with their Māori learners in foundation programmes.
  • Tutors focus their teaching in contexts that are relevant for their learners' needs and interests.
  • The tutors teach their students with an eye to the future – preparing them either for the employment market or for higher education.
  • Tutors are currently engaged in professional development that is beneficial both for their own teaching and for the learning of their students.
  • Pastoral care of their students is time consuming.
  • Tutors need to be able to articulate why they are teaching the way they are. Further, they could benefit from having an understanding about cognitive constructivism, social constructivism, and Māori learning theories.
  • Tutors play an important role in adult Māori learners' learning. In the words of MP Tariana Turia:"Once ignited, the light of learning can never be extinguished."(Turia, 2006, p. 6)
  • Tutors teach people more so than curriculum.

The following table summarises some of the differences the adult Māori learners perceived between their tutors in their foundation programme and their teachers from secondary schools. However, the final point was added by the researchers, who noticed that the tutors' training tended to focus on teaching strategies and content (what and how to teach literacy and numeracy), whereas secondary teachers seem to learn about their content/discipline first and then devote some time to learning how to teach.

Table 3: Comparison between learners' experiences of foundation tutors and secondary teachers
Foundation tutorsSecondary teachers
Caring and supportiveUncaring and detached
Teach the personTeach curriculum
Made connections (to learner's experiences)Subject-focused
PatientImpatient, busy
Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face)Disconnected
Strong relationshipsLimited personal contact
Caring extends beyond classroomLimited to school context
Training: about teaching strategies and content-linkedTraining: content specific and maybe pedagogy second

6.3 The programme

  • Level 1-3 foundation programmes appear to be better suited to smaller, more intimate learning environments.
  • There is a range of levels for foundation programmes that suit different needs of adult learners.
  • Some foundation programmes staircase into higher-level foundation programmes while others staircase learners into degree programmes or employment.

6.4 The providers

  • There are some differences between traditional providers and PTE/iwi providers – particularly as to purpose, class sizes and the qualifications and experience of the tutors.
  • Tutors seem to be more valued by PTE/iwi providers than the traditional providers. There appears to be a hierarchical system of tutors among traditional providers. Those tutors who gain higher qualifications tend to teach the degree courses; degrees are not seen to be necessary for teaching in a foundation studies programme.
  • Small-town providers may be preparing their students to leave the small-town environment (that is, many of the students who now have strengthened skills may need to leave their town to gain lucrative employment or enter higher education).
Table 4: Comparison between traditional and non-traditional providers
Traditional providers
(e.g. universities, polytechnics)
Non-traditional providers
(e.g. PTEs, iwi-based, wānanga)
Large, unfriendlySmaller, intimate
Academic, qualification focusStudent needs focused
CEO/Dean detachedCEO involved, known
Staff professional development – academic or qualification focusStaff professional development – learner needs-focused