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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


Few Maori offenders have been educated beyond Form IV, and in all conferences education was seen as the solution to problems of health, child-rearing, employment and crime. Maori elders have long seen education as the hope for their people; Trust Boards and incorporations provide grants and scholarships to pupils and students of their tribe; the Ngata and Ngarimu post-graduate scholarships are more generous than any other in New Zealand. Yet the paradox is that there are far too few Maoris in the upper forms at secondary schools and at university, and in contrast with the keenness with which Maoris 120 years ago learned to read and write, there is a depressed class of parents ignorant and apathetic to, or incapable of advising on, the future vocations of their children.

It is necessary to look at the schools Maoris attend. There are 155 Maori primary schools in rural areas, and 10 Maori District High Schools. The Maori primary schools are administered by the Education Department and have often been served by teachers not only aware of the special needs of their pupils, but dedicated to their work and likely to stay longer in the one place; nearly half of them now are Maoris. Parents look on the school as theirs, talk to the teacher about their children, and turn up with batches of scones when the inspector visits. Most Maoris who are in the professions were educated at these schools. At secondary level there are eleven church boarding-schools with a mainly Maori roll, which inculcate a pride of race, and half of the Maori graduates at Auckland University in the past four years have been to these schools.

But they cater for only a minority of the Maori school population: two-thirds of the primary pupils are in Board schools, and four-fifths of the secondary pupils are in public secondary schools. A great many Maori children at these schools, feeling that their teachers take no special interest in them, become apathetic and find themselves pushed into the lower streams. They are usually about a year behind pakeha pupils in attainment, and the gap widens. Pupils coming from Maori primary schools to public secondary schools are discouraged by the impersonal page 115 atmosphere, and some do not recover from the change. Many of their teachers look on them as dumb and their parents, shy of a pakeha institution, take little interest in the school. Measures taken to deal with the problem are inadequate. The Post Primary Teachers' Association has set up a committee on Maori education. In 1955 an advisory committee was set up to advise the Education Department. An officer of the Department has access to all primary schools where there are Maori pupils. The measures have not met the problem: the provision of that warm personal interest to which Maori children respond and without which they are lost. It has been noticed that the pupils become keener when they have a Maori teacher. Various suggestions have been made at conferences: that at Board schools with a high Maori roll, there should be a sympathetic teacher with special responsibility for them; that Education Boards should have advisers on Maori education; that Maori parents should participate in Parent-Teacher Associations; that there should be more Maori vocational guidance officers. As a result of the Marton conference, a voluntary group at Whanganui set itself up to advise Maori pupils on education and careers; another at Palmerston North; and the Whakatane group which prepared a paper on education for the Whakarewarewa conference has formed itself into a permanent Maori advancement group.

A Maori pupil suffers from a number of disabilities which have a cumulative and long-term effect. He may have to travel an hour and a half each way to school. He is not encouraged to be inside the house except to do chores which he may resent and which cut into the time he needs for homework. He cannot do homework in an ill-lit home where the only place is the kitchen table, perhaps already occupied by adult elbows and cards and flagons; where the tradition is that children should not distract adults from their occupations. He cannot discuss his homework with his parents, whose conversation is in any case limited to people and local preoccupations; there are no books in the house, and there is no tradition of reading to children at bed-time. Economic pressures may force him to be absent from school: perhaps Dad is away shearing, Mum is ill and he has to look after the younger ones; he may have accompanied Dad on his shearing trip; he may have had little sleep after a late adult function in the house or on the marae. The cost of his staying on at school is a real problem for his parents. He is greatly attached for emotional security to his age-group, and when they leave school, he leaves with them. There is money to be earned and he wants to be independent. He does not find it easy to defer immediate satisfactions for the sake of a distant goal: he has not been trained in the pakeha habits of foresight, thrift, patience. At Kaitaia it was said that some parents fear education as something that will take their children away from them.

Since they can only be removed by attention to health and housing and by education of the parents, these disabilities are not likely to disappear for some time. One delegate at Tauranga-Taupo said that Maori children page 116 will not perform as well as pakeha children till a generation of parents has had secondary education. Frequently it was said at conferences that parents must accept more responsibility, make more sacrifices, plan their lives around their children's vocational needs. A useful practice at Reporoa could be widely imitated: school certificate pupils use the local school for evening study.

Even at university level, in spite of the effect of boarding-schools, these disabilities have their effect. Most of the Maori students I have known are practical rather than imaginative; concentrate on passing rather than involve themselves in their subject of study. A good many of them fail because they are subject to more temptations: they have more friends than pakeha students and consequently there are more parties and outings. The Maori student has not the individualist incentives of the pakeha: according to Ausubel and the Ritchies he has a deep-seated fear of distinguishing himself for fear of attracting criticism, but I cannot say that I have noticed this; though it is true that he is afraid to ask questions in tutorials for fear of making a fool of himself. He is likely to say—and genuinely mean—that his aim is to help his people, then dismayed at his failure to apply himself, to retire from the effort. The 'Rakau' researchers would attribute his performance, among other things, to a deficiency in the use of imagination and fantasy;13 Ausubel to an inability to handle abstract concepts. He may be right; all I would say is that in his first year a Maori is likely to feel his English vocabulary inadequate, and to be imprecise and unsure in his use of abstract concepts in English. Yet quite a few have managed to graduate; and, as far as I can see, the difference between those that have and those that haven't—apart from intelligence— is simply that the graduates have worked steadily, usually encouraged by their wives or friends or interested lecturers.

Most Maoris who have School Certificate go in for teaching. Those who enrol at university go mainly for arts courses; there are fewer in science and medicine; a few in fine arts, and only an occasional engineer, commerce student, lawyer or architect.

There has been pressure for the transference of Maori primary schools to Board control, a transference that the parents do not desire. James Ritchie has given an account of how, through disrespect for Maori methods of arriving a communal decisions (by which silence means dissent and a question is fully talked out till unanimity is reached), through restrictive chairmanship, through confusion and misunderstanding, a parents' meeting at Murupara apparently assented to a decision they actually disagreed with. Since then the Department has agreed in principle to the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Maori Education that, while it recognizes that eventually the distinction between Maori and Board schools will disappear, no school should be transferred without the free consent of the parents. Nevertheless the Education Department shows signs of impatience to hurry the process. Pukekohe is a case in point. page 117 Ten years ago a separate Maori school was established there as a result of pressure from parents and teachers who complained of the dirty habits of the children of Maoris working in the market gardens; they had already imposed segregation of toilets and shelter-sheds. The Maori parents deeply resented the Department's action, since they were not consulted; but since the school has been established, they have wholeheartedly and unanimously accepted it as a school where their children have self-respect. Department policy now is to integrate the three local schools, but the Maori parents are opposed and even financed the school bus when for a time the Department discontinued it, and will resent the transference if it is imposed in defiance of their wishes. They fear that their children will not get a fair deal at the Board schools.

It is often said that integrated schools are nurseries of good race relations, but it would seem to depend on the proportions, on the race relations outside the school, and probably other factors. It was said at Rotorua that relations between Maori and pakeha pupils are good where Maoris are in a majority of about 60%; they are probably good where pakehas are in a clear majority with only a few Maoris. Where there is a Maori minority of about 25%, it was said, relations are poor. It looks as if pakeha children resent an unassimilable minority. But all this must depend on the state of race relations in the district: in a church boarding-school the pakeha minority is popular with the Maoris; in Pukekohe there would be friction, whatever the proportions.

Advisory committees like the ones in Whanganui, Palmerston and Whakatane could identify bright pupils and encourage their parents to send them to boarding-school if they can afford it. The most spectacular outcome of the Hunn Report was the setting up of the Maori Educational Foundation with the aim of providing secondary scholarships and trade training for gifted pupils. Since the scholarships come only from interest on investment, the immediate prospects are limited, but they will grow. The board of trustees is weighted on the side of the Government, and there is some caution on the part of Trust Boards and incorporations about doing what Mr Hunn has urged, channelling all their educational grants into the Foundation: it is a question of control of their own money and a natural preference that it should be used for members of their own tribe. It is not possible to predict how the current drive for donations will proceed. All success to it, but it is being run like a grand charity, and I suspect there is a certain sales resistance (from pakehas) on the ground that the public is being asked to subsidise an undertaking that is usually considered entirely a Government responsibility.

Besides this Government action, there are from Maoris themselves signs of hope: at conferences a concern over absenteeism, proposals for starting supervised play-centres on the maraes for pre-school children, and this statement from the Tauranga discussion group: Tn spite of all the difficulties we see in the way, in spite of all calls for assistance which we page 118 have made in this evaluation, we admit that, in the final analysis, in all efforts made on our behalf to help us cope with economic circumstances, the primary and fundamental effort must come from ourselves.'

13 Ernest Beaglehole and James Ritchie, 'The Rakau Maori Studies', Journal of the Polynesian Society, June 1958, p. 137.