They were the students that seemed destined to fail: Maori and attending a school in one of New Zealand’s poorest neighbourhoods.
But their NCEA results said otherwise.
Year 12 students at Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga, a kura kaupapa Maori in Huntly, had the country’s top NCEA Level 2 results for a decile one school. They all passed.
The results, however, were not surprising to Education Minister Hekia Parata, who said Maori students in a Maori-medium education, achieved better results than those in mainstream schools.
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And the school’s deputy principal, Rangimarie Mahuta, shares that sentiment.
She said her students’ achievements were on par with students who attend a decile 10 school.
“We became a wharekura because we weren’t happy with the mainstream system,” Mahuta said.
“It wasn’t catering for our kids and we developed that into a high school as well.
“That achievement, of top NCEA marks, was across a number of subjects – not just te reo rangatira – but English, maths, science, history, business studies.
“There’s a perception that wharekura kids have got it all in unit standards or it’s all in te reo Maori and all doing performing arts. Well, no actually, those results were achieved across a range of core curriculum subjects and external exams.”
Parata said the statistics tell the story of real kids and she was particularly proud of the gains achieved by Maori and Pasifika students.
“Maori-medium students have rates of NCEA Level 2 achievement on par with all students in the school population, but significantly higher – 15 to 20 per cent higher – than Maori students in English-medium.
“It is so important that iwi are equipped with the tools to support young Maori to stay for longer in high-quality kura, and to leave with good qualifications and a strong cultural capacity including te reo Māori. I would love to see iwi and whanau encouraging their kids to stay in Maori medium education throughout their learning pathway.”
In the weeks leading up to exams, Rakaumanga students, teachers and parents spent weekends at Waahi Pa Marae.
The students were used to kapa haka wananga (weekends spent practising kapa haka) so the teachers kept that same environment and exchanged the poi for a pen.
Mahuta said it takes a village to raise a child and her kura is a testament to that.
Last year, the kura had 18 year 13 students, 24 year 12 students and 36 year 11 students.
“I have huge criticisms about deciles, because as soon as they put a decile on you – it immediately gives the audience a perspective of what type of person you may be or what type of background you come from,” she said.
“But it shows, with our students, that that is not correct. Our students have the privilege of growing up with their nan and koro and extended family. They have awesome parents, and teachers that give up their own time to help our children achieve.”
Former Maori Party leader and principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau, Pem Bird, said if those same students were placed into mainstream education, they would not have done as well.
“It makes perfect sense to be schooled in who you are, this is where kura-a-iwi comes in because Maori are first and foremost, iwi people,” Bird said.
“If the educations system is relevant to who we are as Maori, it’s not a miracle that those schools will forge ahead.”