A Foundation For The Future?
it is encouraging to know that there is now a greater recognition of the many problems involved in the education of the Maori people. For the majority of New Zealanders, this recognition is formulated in terms of the Maori Education Foundation.
A Moral Obligation
The strong have a moral obligation to help those who are weaker; and so, if the members of a dominant group have discovered shortcomings in the ways in which they are influencing the members of a minority group, or if they see ways in which they could help to overcome weaknesses in the position of such a minority—then the members of that dominant group have a moral obligation to try to help, sincerely and to the limits of their resources.
Because of this, the Foundation must be viewed as an absolute necessity. It recognises the urgent need to improve the Maori's lot, representing as it does the desire of the majority to do something concrete to assist a minority who are, in many ways, unfortunate; and at the same time it is a movement which, if it is reasonably successful, should vastly improve relations in this bi-racial society.
Essential to Discriminate
It seems ludicrous that critics should refer to this movement as an expression of inverted discrimination. To arrive at the crux of the whole problem it is absolutely essential that one must discriminate between Maori students and Pakeha students. It is this very fault, this decades-old failure to discriminate between Maori and Pakeha needs, particularly in the field of education—this lack of sympathy and ignorance of their very real problems, which has partly led to the stagnation of the Maori race, not only academically, but also economically, socially and culturally. And this situation has improved only insignificantly in the last few decades.
It is discouraging to read the statistics which show a comparatively mediocre level of achievement in most fields by the Maori race. Far too few of us are seeking the education which we should be seeking. In spite of the fact that the actual number of Maoris attending post-primary schools has increased fourfold since 1948, proportionately speaking the number is still much too small; and in one recent year (1960), six times as many Maori children as Pakeha children did not complete their primary education. The largest proportion of Maori students leave at the end of form four, whereas the largest proportion of Pakehas leave at the end of form five. Only about 6 per cent of Maoris left with school certificate or higher in 1961, compared with about 32 per cent of non-Maoris. Proportionately speaking, almost six times as many Pakehas as Maoris are seeking education above a form five level.
Two Possible Reasons
There are two possible reasons for these figures: either Maoris are being indirectly denied education, or else they do not appreciate its value. Probably, both these reasons apply to some extent.
There are many problems which make it difficult for us to reach an adequate level of education, and which help to justify the existence of the Foundation. The European has had centuries of experience in which to evolve principles of living appropriate to modern civilisation. We have not had such long experience, and we cannot therefore help ourselves to the same extent.
Cannot Change Suddenly
It is not to be expected that we should suddenly emerge from our traditional society and adopt all the characteristics of a civilized race. Our traditional ways of life permitted us an effective existence, and it is only natural that any transitional stage would be very gradual, and even subject to opposition from ubiquitous ‘reactionaries’. Consequently we have been, and to a certain extent still are, slow to appreciate the necessity of adapting ourselves. As well as this, the Maori people lack administrative experience, finance, and the experience
of acting as a resolute body when this is called for; all these things prohibit a campaign of mass self-improvement. The Foundation, through its very structure, will admirably make up for these deficiences.
Apathy of Some Maori Parents
One of the biggest problems facing the Foundation is the apathy of Maori parents. Most of them do not realize the intrinsic value of education, but are generally content to coast along from day to day, barely sparing a thought for those worries and anxieties which seem to plague most Europeans. Many have had little schooling themselves, and thus they can see little point in education. (The writer Dr Ausubel in his book ‘Maori Youth’ suggests that this attitude is comparable with European thinking of about two generations ago.) Many of those who have had some education, or who do spare a thought for its positive values, conceive of education as abstract, far off, almost magical, and attainable only by a few. The task of educating parents is a difficult but an essential one. It is especially important where the present generation of parents is concerned, for the parents of the future will, we trust, have benefited from the wider educational possibilities which are now open to them.
Less Capable of Helping
Most parents are less capable of helping their children with educational and vocational guidance than are their Pakeha counterparts. Many possess little knowledge of the vast range of careers available to their children, and many have only romantic notions of careers for their children, ideas such as ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer’, not fully realising how much is demanded of one for professions such as these. The Foundation is very conscious of this lack of knowledge and is doing much to spread information on the subject; for example, it has recently distributed a useful pamphlet which summarizes the most important facts and gives sources of further information.
Maori parents are more inclined to adopt a passive, disinterested, ‘laissez faire’ attitude towards their children. Parents and children have not much mutual confidence in their ability to discuss and solve problems together. Children are generally left to their own resources where their personal problems or their future is concerned: Maori parents do much less than Pakehas to help their children along more secure paths, and they are not as influential as they could be in persuading tempted youngsters not to enter ‘big-money’ occupations.
Many parents are reluctant to send their children on to higher education because of the costs involved; very often they do not realise that there are grants readily available, or how to apply for them. (In my own youth I received no benefit from scholarships because of parental ignorance.) The Foundation will prove its value if it can use its influence to persuade even a few parents to keep intending schoolleavers at school for a longer time.
Another formidable obstacle is the fact that Maoris are comparatively retarded in their education. The report of the Commission on Education shows that on the average, our children are six to nine months behind Pakehas in their academic attainment; one realises the seriousness of this when one observes that the Maori youngster seldom catches up with his Pakeha schoolmates, so that few of them actually reach the final goals which they should reach.
Importance of Stimulating Literature
Basically, there are two reasons for this retardation. To some extent it is due to Maori parents' starting their children's school careers later than do Pakehas. The other reason, a far more important one, is that Maori homes seldom contain much which is intellectually stimulating. In particular, most families possess little suitable literature through which the Maori child can broaden his general education to the extent that Pakeha children do. The Foundation, in co-operation with library services, is taking positive steps to assist in reaching more Maori homes with more and better literature.
As a consequence of our inadequate education, the percentage of Maoris who are engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled work is far too large, and the percentage engaged in professional or ‘white-collar’ work is very much too small. This position is tending to create a degrading and unjust stereotype of Maoris in the eyes of many Pakehas.
Impossible to Accept This Position
Our people should not, and cannot, be permitted to accept this level of mediocrity and dormancy; it would be intolerable for us to become little more than the ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ in our country. Also, if things continue at their present rate there will be a surplus of unskilled workers, leading to more unemployment among them; this is especially evident when one considers that higher qualifications are increasingly being
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demanded for jobs. Furthermore it is bad economics to allow a large section of the population not to be developed to the utmost of its capacity. The Foundation aims at helping to reverse this trend.
One reason why Maoris are not confident enough to educate themselves to the level of Pakehas is that very often they have a poor command of the English language. This handicaps them throughout school, especially in secondary school, and the Foundation's attempt to encourage parents to have more English literature available for their children is essential if this weakness is to be overcome.
Previous Bursaries Not Adequate
Bursaries have been too small in the past and too unevenly distributed, coming mainly from Trust Boards. There is little co-operation between tribes in the matter of education, with the result that the less prosperous tribes offer insignificant amounts while wealthier tribes can afford fatter bursaries for their descendants. The Foundation will give solidarity to the erratic bursary system, will help any Maori regardless of his tribe, and will help him in a more substantial way than could individual tribes. More co-operation will be created, for more tribes will be co-operatively working towards a common goal, that of elevating our race.
Younger Children Are Best Hope
The Foundation's purpose is to give financial assistance, where necessary, to any Maori who would benefit by the furtherance of his or her education; this means helping the pre-school child, those at school, and those at present attending university. The present generation of primary and secondary school Maoris, as well as Maori university students, will be less prone to ‘indoctrination’ with the Foundation's ideals than the generation now beginning their pre-school years. The former generally have their parents' attitudes and habits too firmly embedbed in their minds; and the ultimate product is more often than not, an ‘off-the-assembly-line’ Maori—generous, easy-going, friendly, but in the eyes of a progressive society, a ‘no-gooder’. The Utopian presumption is that this here-to-fore-mentioned generation will be the last to be influenced by this ‘traditional’ school of thought. If there are some Maoris who do reveal ability and determination, then the Foundation should give them financial support, but it would be wrong to spend an excessive amount on them. Speaking from experience, I have seen several of my own friends waste Government money by falling by the wayside.
Basically, the remedy lies with pre-school children, who can be influenced and moulded more easily, ultimately to their own and their future children's benefit. If these children are not given adequate access to education in their earliest years, if the Foundation does not effectively remove obstacles in the Maori child's transition from home life to normal school life, then the cause of the Foundation is lost, and the Maori people will continue to ‘enjoy’ their present status of ‘second rung’. Whatever the outcome, we cannot say that the Pakeha has not shown his willingness to help us. We have been given the incentive, and now we must strive to better ourselves.
A spirit of humanity and urgency was needed to help the Maori race. The Foundation admirably represents that spirit.
Mr Gartner, who belongs to Ngati Tuwharetoa, spent his childhood near Ohakune. He attended Auckland University and worked for three years in the State Advances Department, then entered Wellington Teachers' College. He is at present teaching at Haumoana, Hastings.