Young MPs call for culturally inclusive education

Laura Williams

From The House in Wellington

July 28, 2019

New Zealand’s youth MPs challenged the Government to lift the success of students by making a more culturally inclusive education system.

The challenge was laid down at Youth Parliament 2019 Select Committee hearings.

Educators need to regain the trust of non-European families who feel failed by the education system and fear their children will suffer the same experience says a Report from a Youth Select Committee.

As part of Youth Parliament 2019  Youth MPs were assigned to one of ten Youth Select Committees which imitate Parliament’s Select Committees.

The 12 Youth MPs on the Education and Workforce Select Committee of Youth Parliament discussed how New Zealand could adjust its methods of teaching to better support students of all ethnicities and invited members of the public to submit to it in person.

Using Diverse Groups

One of those submitters was the Principal of Queen Margaret College, Jayne Ann Young, who told the Committee that schools should be better utilising their ethnically diverse groups of students to acquire new and more advanced ways of teaching.

Young also said that the current education system does not suit children of all ethnicities as it was originally set up for Europeans during colonization.

As one youth MP pointed out, this focus on European styles of learning has left some children, such as those from Maori and Pasifika families, feeling excluded from our education system. The Youth Education and Workforce Select Committee Report recommended that the Government “make it compulsory for places of learning to develop and implement a diversity and inclusion strategy to ensure that all learners and their whanau feel safe, included, valued, and a sense of belonging.”

Collective Responsibility

The Report said the New Zealand education system is inherently individualistic with one submitter mentioning  that it values individual achievement and focuses on personal accountability.

The Committee’s Report said that many non-European families value collective responsibility.

“Many school-age students live in households where the time they spend is not theirs to determine, as family commitments and decisions take precedence” making it difficult for these students to manage homework.

The Report recommended that teachers adapt curriculums for individuals based on their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and the family values these backgrounds foster.

But there are further challenges to overcome like regaining the trust of parents whose cultures were not accepted at school and who fear the same experience for their children.

To start rebuilding that relationship the Committee recommends schools make “efforts to communicate in languages that are spoken at home.”

Focus on Language

It said this focus on language will also make students feel more accommodated for and give them a greater sense of belonging. Students should also be encouraged to share and continue to use their native language.

The Committee also focused on the need to foster a better appreciation for te reo Maori and empower teachers to use more Maori words in their everyday teaching.

However, they recognised that similar encouragement is needed for migrant students to embrace their language and cultural heritage.

“The third generation of migrants tend to lose their language, which can have negative impacts on their education and wellbeing,” the Report said..

The Committee has stressed the government’s responsibility to provide teachers with the necessary training to support the ethnically diverse student base throughout New Zealand schools.

Their specific recommendations on how the government could support teachers included the introduction of student surveys, a focus on ensuring teachers correctly pronounced students’ names, support for students learning the English language and getting to know students as the individuals they are.

The Youth Select Committees were invited to Report back to their parallel Select Committees.

Laura Williams was a member of the Youth Press Gallery which took the role of independent media reporting on Youth MPs and Youth Parliament 2019. This article was commissioned specially for the House and reproduced under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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Photo Caption:

Members of the Youth Parliament 2019 Education and Workforce Select Committee hear submissions on improving education methods to better support students of all ethnicities. (Photo by Neil Mackenzie)

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