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The ‘‘Mirror on Society’’ policy has been responsible for an increase in Maori students able to...
The ‘‘Mirror on Society’’ policy has been responsible for an increase in Maori students able to train as medical doctors. PHOTO: ODT FILES
It is not unusual for some Pakeha to be frightened by Maori achievement, writes Anaru Eketone.

The proposal to cap Maori and Pacific students entering the University of Otago’s Medical School will not come as a surprise to those familiar with the history of Maori education in New Zealand. The "Mirror on Society" selection policy prioritises the admission of underrepresented groups into Medical School, and while Maori get most of the attention, other groups who benefit from this system include those from Pacific, rural and refugee backgrounds, as well as students from low decile schools.

The policy has been responsible for the increase of Maori students able to train as medical doctors and has become so successful that someone, somewhere decided that there are now too many Maori entering Otago Medical School.

Often the blame for poor educational outcomes has been laid at the feet of Maori because we have been seen as lacking ambition or the required work ethic to succeed. What has often happened and has often been more true, is that what has been missing is genuine opportunity. When Maori do get genuine opportunity and begin to take advantage of that opportunity, we very often find that the authorities responsible for supporting that success suddenly begin to backtrack. Maori are allowed to make progress, but not to the point where real change can take place, and never if it makes Pakeha nervous about maintaining their privilege and dominance.

Many people know that the first Maori to graduate as a medical doctor in New Zealand was Te Rangi Hiroa, also known as Sir Peter Buck. He was one of a group of Maori students who had done well at university after attending Te Aute College, a Maori boarding school. These included many famous Maori leaders such as Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Maui Pomare and Dr Edward Pohatu Ellison. What is not widely known is how Pakeha responded to Maori academic success.

Although no-one officially asked "why are these Maori competing with us economically and professionally?", questions were raised in Parliament as to what subjects were being taught at Te Aute. Within 18 months of Te Rangi Hiroa’s graduation, a commission was set up to investigate Te Aute College and its curriculum.

In those days there were certain subjects that you needed to pass in order to enter university, and Te Aute College had a deliberate policy of teaching subjects such as Latin, algebra and geometry that enabled Maori students to matriculate. Submissions to the commission included men such as George Hogben, the inspector-general of schools, who recommended the dropping of these academic subjects. Instead he advocated for Te Aute students to spend one third of the school week on agriculture and woodwork, as he wanted to help Maori realise "the dignity of manual labour". The inspector of Native Schools at the time argued that education was to prepare Maori for life in the Maori village and not to "compete with Europeans in trade and commerce".

The response of Maori parents was that they could teach their children to plough at home and what they wanted for their sons was an academic education so that they could "compete with English boys in the higher walks of life". However, Maori parents lost the battle and Te Aute was forced to drop the academic subjects that created a pathway to university for those Maori students.

This removing or decreasing of opportunity is not unusual. In the early 2000s Te Wananga o Aotearoa had a huge increase in the number of Maori enrolling in tertiary courses, so much so that The New Zealand Herald reported that "government funding spiralled from $3.9million in 1999 to a reported $239million in 2003-04".

The numbers were so large that it caused a bit of panic amongst the government. Their reply wasn’t to celebrate the large numbers of Maori being attracted to these courses; instead, it was to cap them (that word again), reducing numbers by almost a half. The accessibility led by Maori institutions such as Te Wananga o Aotearoa meant that in 2004 one-third of all Maori women over the age of 17 were enrolled at that time in tertiary education.

Yes you read that correctly, one-third of all Maori women were enrolled in tertiary education.

There were some problems with the delivery of some programmes because of the rapid growth in numbers, and there were also criticisms that many of the programmes Maori were enrolled in were lower-level ones.

However, these are often gateway qualifications into higher qualifications, targeting Maori who had missed out on advanced education.

Wananga courses, in particular, are often stepping-stone courses. In fact, the first tertiary study that I ever did was at a Wananga in 1993. Since 2004 the rates of Maori participation in tertiary education have not recovered, with rates almost 20% lower in 2018 than in 2004.

There are numerous other examples of opportunity denied or removed. In 1874 my great-great-grandfather was one of the first Maori boarders at Auckland Grammar School, funded mostly by a government scholarship. Within six months he won a school prize and a year later the senior prize for geometry. At one of his prizegivings the speaker had warned that "the boys of European descent must be careful or they would be outstripped by them [Maori] in the race for knowledge".

However, within 18 months it appears that the missionaries who controlled his scholarship had directed him to attend a church school, where the mornings were spent on academic work and afternoons on gardening and farming.

He appears to have left that school within six months to go work on a Waikato river boat.

When genuine opportunity arises Maori have shown that we do have the ambition and work ethic to take those opportunities. It is not making the gains that is the problem, it is holding them.

The scaling back of opportunity for Maori medical students is just one of a long line of initiatives that have been removed or scaled back when they have proved to be too successful.

It seems that Maori are not only permitted, but expected, to have lower standards of achievement.

We can be the poor struggling colonised people deserving of compassion and charity, but politicians ensure that their Pakeha constituents should never be obliged to see us as equals or, heaven forbid, to be outstripped by Maori in the race for knowledge.

■ Dr Anaru Eketone is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago’s social and community work programme.


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I think most people in new Zealand are focused more on putting food on their own table and paying for their own mortgage than they are about discriminating against other groups of people in the community. The standard for entry should be the same for everybody. Anybody who can meet the standard should be allowed to study, no quota. Lastly, stop playing the race card! Do you really want to push it to the point where society disintegrates like it has in the states? Most people are sick and tired of being lectured on race, it's becoming counterproductive. All white people aren't racists, all police are not evil and all lives matter equally. Lastly, saying all lives matter doesn't diminish what BLM is saying, I am a black person living in new Zealand...all lives are equal and are equally important.

Well said!

Dr Eketone; do you really think that somewhere in New Zealand there is a group of people asking: “"why are these Maori competing with us economically and professionally?" Where is your evidence? You repeatedly refer to funding and resource shortfalls as examples of “opportunity denied”. Again, I ask you where is your evidence? I guess any resource you want but the government can’t provide is “opportunity denied”? Forget the fact that New Zealand is a small island nation with limited resources, allocation based upon need is “opportunity denied” for the Maori. You state that: “Maori are not only permitted but expected, to have lower standards of achievement”. That may be your opinion but that is not the opinion of most Kiwi! I am really sorry that you have such low self-esteem that you view yourself and other Maori as: “poor struggling colonised people deserving of compassion and charity, but politicians ensure that their Pakeha constituents should never be obliged to see us as equals”. Again, that may be your opinion but that isn’t mine nor that of other “Pakeha”. For someone who is well educated, you sure seem to have a lot of bias and resentment. A very sad commentary.

Inequality is like a pendulum. The more you push it one-way the further it swings back the other.

"The proposal to cap Maori and Pacific students entering the University of Otago’s Medical School..."
The proposal to cap was only for the lowered entry criteria of the pathway program. There was never to be any cap on these groups entering the course - they would simply have to meet the academic requirements of general entry that the rest of the population has to meet.

Thank you for writing this. Our attitudes and reactions often have a social history and your description of what happened at Te Aute College is interesting and informative. People seem to be missing the point about this issue: its about enriching the health workforce with perspectives that mean it will be better suited to help everyone in Aoteoroa NZ.

This is typical of the racist nonsense that has led to the current situation. Maori students have been taken onto the med course for years with far lower entry requirements than other students. The result has been excellent students missing out due to their race. No doubt the all students meet the qualifying standards at the end of the course but anyone who has worked with professional courses knows that some will be far better than others. The jury is still out for the results of this tinkering and what future research quality will be.

Entry based on a standard criteria to university for all to apply for is the only way. Getting selected on race at any level is racism to the core. Articles like this only create division.One people one country.

I was shocked by the historical institutional racism revealed in Dr Eketone's article. But I am even more shocked by the racist comments people are prepared to make under a pseudonym. Perhaps when New Zealand history is finally taught in our schools as an academic subject the next generation will finally learn how Maori have been systematically stripped of their land, and how through Acts of parliament and the courts, Pakeha have ensured that at least the wealthiest can hold on to the land, the power and privilege.

I was always under the impression that universities today were among the MOST diverse and inclusive environments in the Western world, the very epicentre of neo liberal academic inclusivity. So, it was with considerable surprise, that from this hot bed of inclusivity and multiculturalism, a claim of racism would spring forth. I suspect this is not actually the apocalyptic disaster it has been turned into. I would hope the matter can be resolved without BLM inspired riots and bullying social media tantrums.

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