Sunday, 18 October 2015

Task Nine: Bicultural Literacy

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With your basket and my basket the people will live
I arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand in January 2009 with a vague understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, a smattering of poorly-pronounced te reo Maori and a job offer at a school in Manurewa. I made a lot of mistakes, had to unlearn a lot and I am forever grateful for the incredibly patient people who taught me the difference between the multicultural environment I had come from and the bicultural/multicultural environment I had entered. In the first few years, I struggled with questions like:

  • Why is te reo Maori given precedence when the majority of our students are Samoan? 
  • Why are Indian Fijian students excluded from certain opportunities and offers open to Maori and other Pasifika students?
  • How does biculturalism relate to multiculturalism?
Keen to unpack my own prejudices and learn more about Maori education, I joined the school's Kahui Kaiako Maori (KKM) group, working towards improving Maori education within the school. I helped create resources for fellow immigrant teachers grappling with teaching in a Maori context, presented at meetings with overseas teachers and officials, and began a process of decolonising my pedagogy to be more responsive to the needs of my learners. I started to understand the importance of indigenous rights, something that I had not had to consider in the UK, and that the kaupapa of Maori education could be applied for the benefit of all my students in a way the principles of colonial education did not. 
Looking out over Manukau Harbour

I began to critique the language and cultural norms I used in class, and adopt ones that were more inclusive. I asked students to share their cultures and languages within the class, and made a point of standing aside and giving the platform to non-white voices where possible. I discussed the concept of white privilege with older students, which led to some fascinating conversations and ideas from learners about how they viewed their place in the world. 

Once, after such a conversation, my Y10 class were completing a careers survey. A couple of students called me over and pointed out that all the photos on the site had white people doing the jobs, with a few exceptions of Maori carrying out traditional crafts. The class discussed how to approach this, and with help from their English teacher, wrote to Careers NZ. They responded very positively and a representative came to the school to discuss their concerns and they took some photos of our very diverse students to add to their photo bank for future use. Giving them the vocabulary and confidence to challenge what they saw as an a lack of representation was very powerful, and gave them agency to make positive change.
Year 8 at Ihumatao

Currently, my Year 8 have just finished looking at materials science, within the context of buildings and the local construction of the new Ormiston Town Centre. Seeing an opportunity to develop this, we investigated the Special Housing Area proposal for Ihumatao, and the group of local rangatahi who oppose the build. The students learned about the confiscation of the land in the 19th Century, the importance of the site as a waahi tapu, and the arguments for and against new housing. This led to the students learning relevant words in te reo and some understanding about Maori culture that they had not come across before. This mahi culminated in both classes visiting the Otuataua stonefields and being given a tour by park rangers. It made their work in class much more relevant and real, and they came away with greater understanding of the Maori's struggles to have their claims and rights recognised than if it had been taught out of this context.

I've come a long way since my arrival, and I still have a long way to go, but it's been an incredibly rewarding journey. 

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