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No. 63 (June 1968)
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Aborigines and Maoris

The argument that you can't compare Maoris and Aborigines, or the education programmes for them, because Maoris are, after all, smarter, more sophisticated and more educable will not hold water.

The inherent potential of the races to achieve education is equal. To judge this potential on shades or pigmentation and to attribute social values and consequences — like promiscuity, inability to handle liquor, uneducability — on physical differences is racism.

Maori education schemes are very much more successful than Aboriginal programmes. In a 1965 Maori population of 197,628, 54,521 children were in primary, 12,672 in secondary and over 50 in university institutions. In a 1966 Aboriginal population of (at least) 130,000 the figures were 19,306, 2,596 and 6 respectively.

In turn, the Maori situation is well below that of the Pakehas (whites). Last year the drop-out rate of Maori school-leavers was still very high: 85 per cent of them left without a school certificate (our leaving) and only 24 per cent who sat for the certificate obtained it.

The ‘drop-out’ reasons are similar for Maoris and Aborigines: differences in cultural environment between home and school; lack of an educated parental model to follow; language difficulties; awareness of school as an alien, white institution; and, importantly, poverty.

Nevertheless, the Maori system has some first-rate achievements, and it is worth looking at the reasons for them. An obvious feature is that Maori children are staying longer at school than ever before—and certainly much longer than Aboriginal children. In 1965 there were 3,380 Maoris, or 26.6 per cent of the secondary enrolment in Forms V and VI. Of the 2,596 Aboriginal secondary pupils in 1966, we have a form analysis for Victoria and N.S.W. only: of a total secondary enrolment of 1.262, only 27, or 2.14 per cent. were in the two top forms.

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The main reason for Maori achievement is that their education is seen as a total process: from infant schooling through to adult education. In Australia we have sunk all our eggs into the primary basket and avoided, or evaded, the education of the whole community. Assimilation, or equality is for the under 30s only, runs one popular claim.

The N.Z. play centre movement is a magnificent concept and one which works in practice. Its essence is that the play centres (pre-school centres) are operated entirely by the mothers. The pre-school officer of the Maori Education Foundation assists Maori communities to become aware of their value, then to set up and run such centres themselves.

As many mothers as possible are trained (one mother in six, of those involved in play centres, by 1967). Three certificates are involved: one at the end of six months (attainable on a verbal basis), one at the end of a year and the third at the end of two years. There are training manuals of an easily understandable kind for mother-supervisors. Of the 423 play centres now operating, 228 have a part or full Maori roll.

Maori communities have thus come alive and have turned their attention to other community needs—supervised homework classes, adult education, arts and crafts—using simple buildings and equipment made or adapted by themselves. These combined activities as an extension of play centres are called family education centres.

The aims of play centres are being achieved: stimulating parents to take more active interest in their children's education and the running of their communities, and increasing their children's social experience and knowledge of English—to equip them better for formal education. In contrast, we have about 2,164 Aboriginal children attending pre-school centres in Australia, that is, standard middle-class European-value-oriented centres. Balwyn kindergartens don't transplant on the edge of the Simpson desert nor do they bring with them any real parental involvement.

The play centres, family education centres, and Maori schools, or schools with large Maori numbers, have recognised, or tried to recognise, one important value: group identification or group solidarity. That Maori children feel more secure in a Maori community environment, and where Maori is often (but not often enough) taught as a school subject, is accepted. There are no over—or undertones of segregation, and few cries of apartheid. The users of that wretched slogan ‘assimilation’ for ever see any notion of ‘separate’ as Pretoria-model discrimination.

This is very much the case in Australia—to the point where some administrations won't keep separate statistics for Aborigines—thereby preventing the pinpointing of a particular problem. This is not done for sound educational reasons, but for sociopolitical ones. We maintain, unquestioningly, an education system in which one child in four attends a ‘separate’ school, separate for social, economic and religious reasons. Why scream at Maori or Aboriginal exercises in group identity?

Linked with this group approach is the Maori Affairs Department's philosophy on post-school training. Their aim is to spread Maoris through all occupational strata and thus prevent an unskilled Maori proletariat. In 1961 the census showed 90 per cent of Maoris in labouring, working, unskilled and semi-skilled occupations, as opposed to 69.7 per cent of the Pakehas; the figures were 10 per cent and 30.3 per cent for administrative, executive, professional and technical occupations.

To achieve a better or an equal spread, the department provides incentive trade training courses in plumbing, carpentry, electrical wiring, panel-beating, motor mechanics, painting and plastering. By last year 829 boys had been taken in, of whom 557 had completed training and been placed with employers. To date, there are 1,072 registered Maori apprentices.

The main features of this programme are: the selection of trainees is based on a first-class vocational guidance system; the special ‘pre-training’ — varying from 6 months to two years, the only part for which the department is responsible, is provided for Maoris only; the lads do practical work in teams, based on compatibility; the training includes additional courses in English, maths and ‘urban adjustment’; the pre-training is done by qualified staff of

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technical colleges; pre-training counts as part of the normal apprenticeship; the drop-out rate is lower than the N.Z. average and employers prefer Maori apprentices because they've plunged into the trade from the start—and don't ‘boil the billy’ for the first year or so. There are more applicants than training places available.

Above all, the training is real, providing a real carpenter's wage for a carpenter's skill. In Australia we often delude ourselves and the Aborigines with our training schemes.

In the Northern Territory, for example, we persist in the ‘training’ of Aborigines, with Grade III or IV education, as ‘bakers’, ‘butchers’, ‘carpenters’, etc., for periods of three weeks to six months. On completion, the trainee cannot get a job in the general community or, if he does get one, he is soon dismissed for lack of professional competence. When a ‘trained’ Aborigine ‘proves’ unequal to the job, the stereotype of his uneducability, inferiority and stupidity is reinforced.

The Maori schemes require a minimum of three years' secondary schooling. Despite low higher-form numbers, there are still enough Aborigines with three years' secondary to warrant a genuine trade-training scheme—if only to demonstrate, as in the Maori case, that there is something worthwhile to do after school.

As Leonard Radic pointed out in his recent ‘Age’ series, Aborigines have an horizon of unskilled labouring and seasonal fruit-picking in southern Australia, and semi-skilled or skilled pastoral work in northern Australia, but skill as yet unrewarded.

Finally, Maori education has the undoubted benefit of a national education foundation. The M.E.F. provides grants for primary, secondary, vocational and university students (in 1966, 1,125 grants to the value of $138,064); it subsidises new play centres and fosters their development; it acts as adviser and co-ordinator to other departments; it provides university liaison officers to assist Maori students, and it undertakes vital research into the problems of Maori pupils.

At an Aboriginal education seminar last year, we were told by a senior Aboriginal administration officer that the first Aboriginal matriculant in the Northern Territory could not be expected before 1975. Given that the Commonwealth started formal education for Aborigines in 1950 — and the missions many years before then — we are left with two possible speculations: either Aborigines are biologically unique and stereotype prejudices are indeed scientific facts — or the Aboriginal education machine needs a major overhaul and some new parts.

Mr W. C. Wentworth, Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, is favouring the latter at present, judging from his appeal last week for a self-help and community development approach — an approach which has provided an educational and economic return for both Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand.