Māori participation and performance in education: A summary by Anne Else

Publication Details

This is a summary by Anne Else of a report prepared for the Ministry of Education in May 1997 entitled Māori Participation & Performance in Education: A Literature Review and Research Programme. The original report was authored by Simon Chapple, Richard Jefferies, and Rita Walker.

Author(s): Anne Else, Report for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: May 1997


The education gap between Māori and non-Māori

It is well known that Māori students as a group spend less time in the education system, and do less well in it, than non-Māori students as a group. It is important to remember that many more non-Māori students than Māori students do badly in education. A growing number of Māori students do very well indeed. But looking at the two groups overall, Māori do worse than non-Māori. In this report, these differences between Māori and non-Māori students are called "the education gap". This education gap shows up on many different measures - for example, years at secondary school and exam passes.

The reason for the report

We were asked to look at the education gap between Māori and non-Māori with only one aim: to help find ways to close the gap in "labour market performance" between Māori and non-Māori. Overall, Māori are more likely to be unemployed than non-Māori, and earn less than non-Māori. Finding out why there is an education gap, and how to close it, could help to close the employment and earnings gap. There are other important reasons for doing something about the education gap. For example, there is the need to support Te Reo Māori through Treaty obligations. Meeting these other needs may or may not help Māori in the labour market. But we were not asked to look at the education gap in terms of these needs.

Writing the report

We were asked to write a report to show:

  • What research has to say about the education gap
  • What we still do not know about the education gap
  • What research needs to be done to fill the gaps in what we know, whether this research can be done, and how much it would cost
  • What kinds of education lead to better results for Māori.

First, we worked with an advisory group from the Ministry of Education, Te Puni Kokiri and the Treasury to collect as much New Zealand information and research as we could. We also collected information and research from overseas.

The most helpful overseas research was about groups of people who are like Māori, because they:

  • are the indigenous people of their country
  • are a minority group
  • look different from the majority group in some ways, and have a different culture
  • have a Polynesian culture which is like Māori culture in some ways
  • live in a country which was colonised in the nineteenth century, mainly by people from Britain
  • have lost many of their traditional rights to land and food from the sea
  • have often inter-married with the majority group
  • live in a modern economy and in a fairly wealthy country
  • mostly live in cities and towns and often have working class jobs
  • often speak English as their first language today.

The group which fits this list best is the native Hawaiian people.

Secondly, we went through all this information and research to see what it could tell us about the education gap between Māori and non-Māori, and the reasons for it. It seems likely that the two gaps between Māori and non-Māori - in labour market performance and in education performance - feed back into each other. So we also looked at information and research on Māori labour market performance.

We asked five basic questions about the research we looked at:

  1. There are many different ideas explaining education performance. How did the researchers decide which ones were worth studying?
  2. Do the ideas explaining education performance in the research match the information available?
  3. Do the ideas about education performance in the research predict what will happen in the future, in a way that can be tested?
  4. What information would show us that we should rule out some of the research ideas explaining education performance?
  5. How much information is there to back up the ideas in the research about education performance? How much information is there against these ideas?

What is happening to the education gap?

Is the education gap getting wider, or is it getting narrower? It depends how you measure the gap, and which measure you look at. The evidence in this report shows that the gap is getting narrower over time. But this is happening slowly and unevenly. It is not certain that the gap will continue to narrow.

Why is there a gap?

We looked at a number of possible reasons for the education gap. Some of these reasons were about Māori and their situation - the "demand" for education. Some were about the education system - the "supply" of education. There is no one reason for the education gap. This is not surprising, given the many different factors involved. The reasons are also likely to change for Māori students as they move through the education system. But the research shows that the gap in family resources between Māori and non-Māori is a very important reason. We believe it is the key reason. On average, Māori parents have lower incomes than non-Māori parents. They are much more likely to be unemployed or to be outside the labour market. They are less likely to own their own homes. The education gap was much bigger in the past than it is now. So Māori parents are likely to have less education than non-Māori parents.

Research from overseas backs up the finding that family resources are very important. For example, native Hawaiian students from higher income families tend to do very well at school. Native Hawaiian students from lower income families do not do well. To put it bluntly, the research shows that Māori students do worse at school than non-Māori students mainly because Māori parents have less money and less education than non-Māori parents. So the gap begins at birth.

We think that about two-thirds of the education gap is because so many Māori families have fewer resources. What about the other third? Māori children tend to go to schools which have many children from families with fewer resources. There is evidence that children do less well at these schools.

The research suggests that the other main reason for the education gap, apart from family resources, may be a combination of:

  • barriers at school
  • the negative way in which older Māori students, especially boys, react to school. This is partly because of their past experiences of not doing well in the education system.

The research done so far shows that Māori students probably do face some barriers at school. For example:

  • some students make racist comments
  • some non-Māori teachers may have difficulty understanding Māori children
  • there are only a small number of Māori teachers.

But the research does not show exactly what these school barriers are, how they work to disadvantage Māori students, or what to do about them. If Māori children do not do as well as Pakeha children at preschool and primary school, this is much more likely to be because of what has happened in the children's lives outside school, such as their family income. The longer children are in the school system, the more they are affected by how well or how badly they did in the past. So the effects of not doing well at school in the early years grow over time.

What would help to close the gap?

We believe that some of the main problems are outside the education system. But this does not mean that solutions cannot be found within the education system. It is possible that problems caused outside the school can be dealt with inside the school. But we could not find enough clear research to show what is working well now, or what would work best in the future. More research is needed.

Where to find out more

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