4. How can TEOs do better for Māori learners?

4.1 Introduction

Before we started this review, the authors had anticipated that the barriers and enablers to Māori learner success in the literature could be reviewed on the basis of understanding factors that impact on outcomes, such as Māori learner retention, completion, and progression to higher levels of study.

However, the body of recent literature is not defined in this way. While a small component of the literature focuses specifically on learner retention, much of it instead explores, from the perspective of Māori learners, their overall experiences within the tertiary setting, and key institutional factors contributing to or inhibiting positive learning experiences and learner success.

What is ‘success’?

The literature largely leaves the meaning of Māori learner success and desired key short- and long-term tertiary education outcomes unexplored from a Māori perspective. This is a key gap in the research.

Tahau-Hodges (2010) outlines some examples of success indicators used by providers, including learners’ engagement with their own communities, that is, the extent to which students are able to “take their learning back into their own communities so that their people can benefit from the knowledge and skills they gain at the institution”.

Where this is discussed, it is primarily to identify that success is about more than just course and qualification completions. Rather, it encompasses learners’ progression within the institution, their personal development and growth, and their ability to enhance the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and their communities. As Phillips and Mitchell (2010) recount, following their engagement with 13 providers:

"Success was about young people participating in their services. Engaging alienated young people in learning was a significant outcome...Whānau participation and support was an indicator of success. Also the way communities participated in and supported the providers. Māori knowledge and practices formally recognised as valid components of the curriculum" (p.70-71).

Phillips and Mitchell also point out that the lived realities of the young people providers work with can make it difficult for those providers to meet high targets set by funders. This suggests that sole reliance on numerical targets, such as credit achievement or destination outcomes, can disguise the strength of other significant outcomes being achieved (for example, personal growth and development).

Tahau-Hodges (2010) outlines some examples of success indicators used by providers, including learners’ engagement with their own communities, that is, the extent to which students are able to “take their learning back into their own communities so that their people can benefit from the knowledge and skills they gain at the institution”. Other indicators include improved levels of student academic performance, for example, improved grade averages and the number of scholarships awarded to students in receipt of culturally specific academic support (p.20).

Airini et al. (2010) identify ‘success’ as including “moving towards achievement of pass grades or higher, a sense of accomplishment and fulfilling personally important goals” (p.74).

A focus on what TEOs can do to improve outcomes for Māori learnersTop

Ignoring problems as if they did not exist is not a sensible answer but balancing problem detection and problem solving with equal weighting on identifying promise and potential could create another level of engagement that leads to longer term positive outcomes. (Durie, 2006, p.16)

The focus of the current literature reviewed appears to have emerged from a now widely accepted position evident in recent New Zealand and international studies, that past understandings about learner retention in tertiary education have been problematic.

The older literature was grounded in deficit thinking and focused on student factors to explain student attrition and what the student needed to change to fit with the tertiary environment. Instead, the core focus in later literature is on what tertiary institutions should do to support students to successfully transition into new academic environments and to provide environments that fit to the student (Gorinski and Abernathy, 2007).

Van der Meer, Scott and Neha (2010) cite Sir Mason Durie in discussing the important balance needed between fully understanding barriers and issues and focusing on the institutional factors that the tertiary institute can influence (rather than perceived deficits within students):

Ignoring problems as if they did not exist is not a sensible answer but balancing problem detection and problem solving with equal weighting on identifying promise and potential could create another level of engagement that leads to longer term positive outcomes.” (Durie, 2006, p.16)

Indeed this is the approach seemingly followed across the recent literature. What has emerged is a body of literature which consistently identifies a number of common themes contributing to an understanding of Māori learners’ perceptions and experiences of the tertiary environment. These relate to institutional factors that impact on whether or not Māori learner potential is fostered in tertiary education environments.

While barriers are referred to (and there is an inherent and integrated understanding of what does not work for Māori underlying the common themes identified), the predominant focus of the literature is on what works for Māori learners and what institutions need to be doing to shape and ensure positive learning experiences for Māori.

Unsurprisingly, the themes identified in the small amount of literature specific to retention are also the key themes that traverse the studies which focus more widely on what works and does not work for Māori in tertiary education settings. Therefore, this section is structured according to the key themes that have emerged as key institutional elements and processes important to Māori learner success in tertiary education.

The following table summarises the key literature informing this section of the report.

Title

Data source

Airini et al. (2011) Teaching for student success: Promising practices in university teaching Multi-year study with Māori and Pacific students (26% Māori and 74% Pacific) involving 92 student interviews over three university faculties and one service centre and the collection of over 1900 stories about how teaching helped or hindered success at degree level. This was in the context of learning in smaller groups of less than 50 students/non-lecture settings
Curtis et al. (2012)
Tātou Tātou/Success For All: Improving Māori student success
In-depth engagement with 41 Māori learners to explore Māori learners experiences in health programmes at the University of Auckland
Greenwood and Te Aika (2008)
Hei Tauira: Teaching and Learning for Success for Māori in Tertiary Settings
Extensive in-depth engagement with over 100 participants representing four different programmes delivered in different institutions across New Zealand (two polytechnics, a university and a wānanga)
Hall (2011)
You model what you want to see from them
In-depth interviews with five non-Māori lecturers identified as delivering strong Māori content in their teaching to specifically understand their approaches
Kāhui Tautoko Consulting Ltd. (2012a)
Māori learners in workplace settings (Unpublished report completed for the Industry Training Federation of New Zealand)
Extensive engagement across three regions with stakeholders and teaching staff and with 34 Māori learners to understand Māori learners experiences in workplace settings/apprenticeships
McMurchy-Pilkington (2011
We are family: Māori success in foundation programmes
Extensive engagement with 100 learners across institutions to understand elements of the physical, emotional, and cultural learning environment important to learner success
Mullane (2010)
Tutors without borders: meeting the needs of Māori learners in mainstream tertiary organisations
Review of recent relevant literature (and two focus groups)
Phillips and Mitchell (2010)
It is all about feeling the aroha: Successful Māori and Pasifika Providers
In-depth research with 11 diverse Māori providers to understand what works for Māori learners
Tahau-Hodges (2010)
Kaiako Pono: Mentoring for Māori Learners in the Tertiary Sector
Onsite interviews with 21 tertiary education institutions; the majority of which were with Māori support staff, some management and some learners
White et al (2009)
Mā te hurhuru, ka rere te manu: How can language and literacy by optimised for Māori learner success?
Four focus groups constituted by tutors from PTEs, current Wintec students, current Wintec tutors and potential learners
Wisely (2009)
Factors affecting the retention of adult students within an indigenous tertiary education institution
Survey (95 Māori learner respondents) and one focus group with Māori and adult learners from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa focused on factors influencing retention

“First Nations leaders have pointed to the entrenched structures of the academy as significant barriers to inclusiveness. . . The phrase most often used to describe necessary change is ‘indigenising the academy’”. (King, 2011, p.1)