Sharples kicks off maori achievement debate

by Jake Quinn

Maori educational achievement is a topic worthy of debate and Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples was clever to raise it this week.

With the Richard Worth saga, the boring budget, the super saving cuts and the Mt Albert by-election shifting off the political agenda, we are left only to discuss the smacking referendum.

Fortunately the Maori Party co-leader saved us from such trivia by suggesting, amongst other things, that Maori students should have open access to universities without needing university entrance (UE) qualifications.

The suggestion has been shouted down by many in Parliament and with good reason.

How would the 7th form Indian, Pakeha or Samoan kid sitting next to the Maori kid in their final exams feel as his neighbour leaned over and said “good luck pal, because you’ll need it. But I wont – I get in no matter what”.

Barriers to attending university in New Zealand are not actually high. Hell getting into and completing a university degree seems to get easier and easier every year. In my parent’s generation five percent of people went to uni, now it’s nearer fifty percent.

This is for the most part a great thing. Student allowances and – more importantly – universal access to student loans have meant financial barriers to attendance have been eroded.

Furthermore, in New Zealand once you’re 20 you don’t actually need UE to go to Uni. If your under 20 and without UE, you can enrol in a Certificate of University Preparation – a one semester course the ensures you’re capable of handling the demands of a first year course.

So ‘getting in’ isn’t actually the problem and I suspect Dr Sharples knows it. He has raised it though to get people talking which, hopefully, kicks off the wider (and much more important) debate about the education achievement of Maori and how it can be improved.

If Maori are not doing as well at school or uni as their European and Asian peers it’s got a lot more to do with the method of delivery than anything else – so that is what we should be debating.

Finally, it is worth nothing that the Maori Party voted for the Budget. The same budget that made significant cuts to education across the board. Less money to universities, scrapped funding for night classes and the disabled, and got rid of a stack of targeted programmes (some directly targeted at Maori students).

All while it significantly increased government funding for private schools.

[Update: and today, predictably, Sharples pulls back]

he had not meant to imply that all Maori should be allowed into university regardless of their academic prowess.
Instead, they should be provided with sufficient support by universities to get up to the required standarhe had not meant to imply that all Maori should be allowed into university regardless of their academic prowes