(Re)-Constructing Māori Children as Achieving Learners.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Since early European settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand Māori children have been constructed as deficient learners in the education system, and this construction continues to undermine their learning at school today (Butchers, 1930; Macfarlane, 2005; Ministry of Education, 1998, 2005). Educational assessment practices have largely contributed to this discourse, because they reflect western ideologies regarding the reasons for testing, who does the testing, what counts as important to test, how results are interpreted and so on (Bishop & Glynn, 1999). Further, the tests used have been developed with monolingual and monocultural European children. Reading acquisition and language development have been implicated as major learning deficits for Māori children (Crooks & Flockton, 2005; Ministry of Education, 2006; Wagemaker, 1992). And a body of research signals that the reading related language skills for phonological awareness and narrative ability are linked to reading acquisition for English (Adams, 1990; Botting, 2002; Rollins, McCabe & Bliss, 2000). My research is an enquiry into how Māori children respond to reading related language assessments for narratives and phonological awareness, taking into account their lived experiences and cultural practices. My aim is to create possibilities for alternative discourses to the deficit discourse. With support from a local Kaumātua and school whānau I worked as a participant-observer in two classrooms in two schools for one year, following 17 Māori children. Critical theory, socio cultural theory and Kaupapa Māori theory informed my position. The techniques I used to approach my research practice and analyse my data reflect the influence of these frames as I understand and interpret them. Throughout the year of field work, I undertook a range of activities, including conversations with parents, children and school personnel, observations of class 'lessons' and the teaching strategies used by the teacher, visits to the children's homes, collection of school records, and administration of assessments related to reading, narrative tasks, and phonological awareness according to a standardized English test, the Preschool and Primary Inventory of Phonological Awareness (PIPA) (Dodd, Crosbie, MacIntosh, Teitzel & Ozanne, 2000) and a specifically designed set of Māori language tasks. I used video and audio recording for some activities, and wrote my observation notes while observing or immediately following an event or session. My findings showed that the home and school contexts for the children were largely bicultural and bilingual. The children were living their lives in ways vastly different to monolingual and moncultural Pākehā (European) children. Those who had been at school for approximately five years were reading at or above their age, in line with traditional reading norms, despite showing relatively poor phonological awareness skills determined by the 'standard' test procedures. The 'standard' testing process for both phonological awareness and narrative ability presented most of the children as language deficient and in need of intervention, or at least in need of ongoing monitoring. However, my analyses driven from the theoretical frames mentioned above presented the children with language strengths and difference. These children were clearly able, achieving learners. My study highlighted the fact that the bilingual and bicultural knowledge and skills of Māori children are not valued in the predominantly monolingual and mono-cultural education system, and this has serious implications for their learning and for perpetuating the cycle of deficiency construction because the children are seen not to meet the requirements of the system and its assessment protocols. Further, regardless of phonological awareness and narrative 'ability', by the time Māori children have been at school for a period of time, approximately five years, they are able to read English and understand the written text. This finding questions the relevance of the salience generally attributed to phonological awareness as a crucial building block for bilingual children who are proficient in or exposed to a non-alphabetic language, such as te reo Māori. I argue that the assessments used in schools are inappropriate for bilingual and bicultural Māori children. When the children's language skills were analysed using alternative systems to the 'standard' methods prevalent in schools, they were able and achieving learners. They were not learners 'at-risk' but learners 'at-promise', to use Tabachnick and Bloch's terms (1995). This study provides empirical evidence that bilingual and bicultural Māori children's learning needs are not met by the current school system. Continued research in this area will strengthen the necessity for changes to be made in the education system, changes that are sensitive to, and value, linguistic and cultural difference in the classroom. In the areas of pre-service teacher and speech-language therapist education, and ongoing professional development for educationalists, linguistic and cultural differences need to be presented afresh. Educational assessment practices must change to recognise learning strengths of Māori children and to stop the perpetuation of deficiency constructions. Schools have to be willing to understand more fully the home contexts of their students and to engage in teaching practices that are cognizant of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Without such fundamental changes in our view of the cultural and linguistic strengths of Māori children, very little real change can occur despite lofty words and plethora of strategies and policies.