Te Pūnaha Matatini provided much of the impetus for Nebula Data, an innovative new data visualisation company set up by physicists with the help of the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Nebula Data, which aims to transform how we understand the media landscape, was co-founded by University of Auckland physics student Georgia Nixon, and Shaun Hendy, professor of physics and director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, in partnership with physics students Toby Bi and Nickolas Morton.
Origins traced to Te Pūnaha Matatini research project
“The idea for Nebula grew out of a Te Pūnaha Matatini research project for the BioHeritage National Science Challenge,” said Georgia.
“They were interested in analysing the concept of “predator free” in New Zealand and wanted to devise a new method to explore the nature of this conversation in the media.
“For this project, we did a large-scale search of organisations and people who were influencing the “predator free” media landscape and built a network to reflect those who were central, those who were peripheral and how this was changing.
“After the success of this project, we were approached by a number of other organisations looking for a similar analysis.”
Team benefits from university’s entrepreneurship programme
Being involved in the University of Auckland Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Velocity programme in 2018 gave the team the practical business skills they needed to turn their idea into a viable venture. It provided opportunities for mentorship and introductions for support from other organisations such as ATEED and the Icehouse.
“Velocity really sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and helped me imagine what our venture could look like,” Georgia said.
“I think that often scientists aren’t in academia because they are avoiding the commercial world, but because academia offers them the freedom to research what they love. Also, a scientists’ career pathway in academia has been largely determined by the number of publications they’re able to produce.
“Commercialisation has, therefore not been given equal spotlight. Recently, there has been an encouraging rise in getting scientists to not only come up with the research ideas but to also guide it through to an end product.
“It’s great to be part of this process and see your work contributing to a bigger solution by having a positive application. Rather than treating the science as independent to commercialisation, entrepreneurship combines the two and we have been fortunate to find that middle ground with Nebula.”
Several successful projects now completed
Since being involved in the Velocity programme, the team have completed seven major projects spanning a number of industries but all rooted in network visualisations of data, natural language processing text analysis or surveys.
Types of question they have answered include:
- How has the discussion around global warming changed in New Zealand over time?
- What biases in language are used in the media when discussing nutrition vs. agriculture?
- Who the main influencers are in New Zealand’s political media landscape.
Why are Nebula data visualisations useful?
Nebula’s analytical techniques have a huge number of potential applications, in particular deciphering the impact of specific actions such as product market launches in the private sector and new policy initiatives in the public sector.
The type of analysis in critically important for any organisation interested in ways to profile issues and influence behaviours. Their compelling value proposition includes being able to translate complex data sets into visuals that can be more readily understood by decision-makers in organisations.
Interest in Nebula’s data visualisation outputs has increased rapidly since they started. The team has grown to four, but they all continue to wear multiple hats. Georgia is currently pursuing a PhD in Physics at the University of Cambridge, Toby is currently at the University of Auckland as a postgraduate researcher in Physics, and Nickolas is working as a data scientist at Arkturus Business Research.
Nebula’s future plans
In the next year, Nebula plans to expand operations.
“We are starting to pick up clients that give us reoccurring work which gives us more consistency,” says Georgia. “We’re in no rush though; we would like to keep growing at a sustainable level and enjoy the journey”.
Dr Jeanette McLeod and Dr Phil Wilson (pictured), Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators and the co-founders of Maths Craft New Zealand, have been awarded the 2019 New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) Cranwell Medal for Science Communication.
Jeanette and Phil, mathematicians from the University of Canterbury, have been on a mission to rid New Zealanders of their maths phobia since launching Maths Craft NZ, a non-profit initiative, in 2016. Maths Craft aims to celebrate the links between mathematics and craft, showing people of all ages how fun, creative and beautiful maths can be, and to demonstrate what it means to think like a mathematician.
As Director and Deputy Director of Maths Craft, Jeanette and Phil have brought maths to the masses. More than 11,000 people from a diverse variety of backgrounds have now attended the regular free Maths Craft festivals and workshops, making it the largest maths outreach programme in New Zealand.
— Jeanette McLeod (@GraphyJ) October 11, 2019
“With maths often seen as boring or scary, Jeanette and Phil have introduced thousands to a colourful alternative reality – of patterns, grand ideas and art, said Murray Cox, incoming co-director at Te Pūnaha Matatini. “Telling the real story of maths in new and exciting ways that are characteristically their own, Jeanette and Phil have a special ability to engage everyone – from toddlers to teenagers to tīpuna. The award of the Cranwell Medal recognises their unique contribution to New Zealand’s public science scene.”
Priscilla (Cilla) Wehi, incoming co-director at Te Pūnaha Matatini, agreed. “Jeanette and Phil are two extremely talented mathematicians and ingenious communicators who have inspired many people around New Zealand, including me, to learn more about maths,” said Cilla. “I’m thrilled to see their wonderful work recognised with this award.”
Jeanette and Phil have written dozens of freely-available instructional handouts to be distributed at Maths Craft events. Furthermore, they have trained and mentored many volunteers and team members, trained teachers, given public talks, and collaborated with other researchers to determine the efficacy of their approach.
Te Pūnaha Matatini has been a proud supporter of Maths Craft since its inception.
Most high achieving female students studying physics at university choose to discontinue physics as a core subject, not because they aren’t good at physics, but because they pursue further study in the life sciences.
This is one of the key findings of a paper published in PLoS One co-authored by Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers Steven Turnbull, Dr Dion O’Neale and Dr Kirsten Locke, and colleague Dr Frédérique Vanholsbeeck, all from the University of Auckland.
“We found that the majority of high achieving female physics students were actually studying physics for life sciences, which is needed for medicine and bioscience, and not actually for core physics,” says lead author Steven Turnbull, Te Pūnaha Matatini PhD student in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.
“More importantly, of those students who do pursue further study in physics, we see higher attrition rates for female students after controlling for achievement level, with the exception of higher achievers.”
“The implications of this are potentially career-limiting for women,” says Dr Kirsten Locke, Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.
“Higher achieving women are tending to opt for physics engagement strongly associated with specific career pathways, in ways that differ from their male counterparts”.
Sociological methods uncover reasons behind gender difference
It is well known that female students are under-represented in university physics. However, the reasons for this are not so well understood.
“Importantly, our findings debunk any kind of idea that there’s a lack of high achieving female physics students out there. It’s not that they aren’t doing well in physics or aren’t interested in physics, because they are,” says Dr Dion O’Neale, Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator in the University of Auckland’s Department of Physics.
One of the unique aspects of this study was the combination of sociological methods (Pierre Bourdieu theory) and quantitative network analysis to understand the contexts in which students were making enrolment decisions.
Out now! @turdbull & I asked the ghost of Pierre Bourdieu why there are so few women in physics & where they go when they leave. Then we wrote about it with @FredVanH & Kirsten Locke. Read it here: https://t.co/p5VPNkHO0v
— Dion O’Neale (@droneale) September 13, 2019
“Using these tools to frame the results gives one the chance to come up with hypotheses [explanations] as to why things are a particular way or mechanisms for taking the next step,” says O’Neale. “[From a scientist’s perspective], you’ve got something that you can start to test, as opposed to just saying yeah sure there aren’t many women in physics.”
In terms of their data set, the researchers analysed administrative data from 8,905 students enrolled in University of Auckland undergraduate physics courses from 2009 to 2014.
Implications for New Zealand’s education system
Turnbull says the study’s findings have implications for the New Zealand education system, particularly with respect to the way in which physics is presented to students at school.
“We would suggest that work to address gender disparities in physics also needs to be conducted before university level, even as far down as when students start forming their academic identity around 10 or 11 years old. Most importantly, we need to shift attitudes, both inside physics and in society as a whole, so that all students feel like physics is a field where they belong and can contribute.”
The Head of Physics at the University of Auckland, Prof Richard Easther, said he was excited that his Department had hosted this work.
Easther said it had an immediate impact locally as, “It helps us to make evidence-based changes to our own practice, and the ways we present our subject to students.”
Of note, the Physics Department at the University of Auckland was recently recognised by the Astronomical Society of Australia with a Silver Pleiades accreditation for its progress toward building a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers Alex James (pictured) and Michael Plank co-authored a recently published paper revealing the extent to which women are under-represented in the science field.
The data is in and the science gender gap is real, according to Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers Associate Professor Alex James and Professor Michael Plank, and Masters Student Rose Chisnell – all from the University of Canterbury.
Published in Royal Society Open Science, their research paper entitled ‘Gender and societies: a grassroots approach to women in science,’ analysed decades of research from 28 societies from four countries and spanning five scientific disciplines.
Under-representation increases with rising status within the hierarchy
Alex James, lead author, said: “We show that as the status of a role increases so does the under-representation of women, even when you take into account the number of women who are eligible. We also show how some common practices in award selection committees will be furthering the problem and give some simple recommendations that can increase diversity.”
Funded by Te Pūnaha Matatini, this is the first study to examine the issue of sexism at the grassroots level, across such a wide breadth of science disciplines and countries.
“Our results show that the gender gap widens as you move up the academic hierarchy. Women are as likely as men to receive low status awards, but less likely to receive more prestigious awards,” said Michael Plank.
“The practice of award-winners being decided by previous recipients can help perpetuate gender bias. We conclude that, when the stakes are low, efforts to tackle gender bias have been partly successful, but when the stakes are higher, the old boys’ club still dominates.”
The research has received significant coverage online, on social media and in the New Zealand Herald.
“When the stakes are low, efforts to tackle gender bias have been partly successful, but when the stakes are higher, the old boys’ club still dominates.” https://t.co/7bW6h2VUKA
— Jamie Morton (@Jamienzherald) September 8, 2019
Key findings from the paper
- The number of women receiving prestigious awards in many scientific disciplines is disproportionately low relative to the number of senior women in the relevant field.
- Women are underrepresented in leadership roles in scientific societies relative to the number of senior women in the relevant field.
- As the status of the award increases, so does the underrepresentation of women.
- Societies can improve the diversity of their award winners by improving diversity of selection panels, taking steps to avoid nomination bias, and increasing transparency of processes.
Te Pūnaha Matatini promotes diversity and equity in science
Te Pūnaha Matatini has taken a national leadership role in promoting diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in science and academia.
Our Code of Conduct, Sponsorship Policy, and Equity, Diversity, Access, and Inclusion Policy and Guidelines have been shared widely and adapted for use by a number of national and international research organisations and professional bodies, including the Royal Society Te Apārangi.
New research led by Te Pūnaha Matatini Associate Investigator Dr Tara McAllister (shown above fronting for the media) indicates our universities are not meeting their own diversity and equity values.
Published in the MAI Journal , the two studies have revealed that there has been very little improvement in Māori and Pasifika representation in academic workforces in our eight universities (Auckland, AUT, Waikato, Massey, Victoria, Canterbury, Lincoln and Otago), at senior levels in particular, from 2012 to 2017.
Why isn’t my Professor Māori?
Lead author of the first paper, ‘Why isn’t my Professor Māori?’ Dr Tara McAllister (Te Aitanga ā Māhaki, Ngāti Porou) says the institutions tend to portray themselves as supportive of and adherent to diversity and equity, as well as valuing te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“Universities always have these blanket statements that they value the Treaty, but I don’t think they’re sure what that looks like,” says Tara. “A good start is having more Māori and Pasifika academics employed.”
“As you move up the academic levels of seniority, the under-representation of Māori gets worse and worse. I think that’s really disappointing given the outward promotion of diversity by each of these institutions.”
According to the study’s findings, there was no significant change in the overall percentage of Māori employed in New Zealand’s eight universities between 2012 and 2017.
Furthermore, by 2017, only 3.4% of university staff at Professorial or Dean level were Māori – a major under-representation.
Tara’s co-authors included Associate Professor Joanna Kidman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa) at the School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington, Dr. O. Rowley (Ngāi Tahu) from the College of Public Health Medicine and Veterinary Science, James Cook University, Australia, and Dr. Reremoana Theodore (Ngāpuhi, Te Arawa), Co-Director of the National Centre for Lifecourse Research at the University of Otago.
MĀORI ACADEMICS ARE SEVERELY UNDER-REPRESENTED IN NZ UNIS.
We make up only ~5% of the total % of academics at NZ’s unis incl. @otago @AucklandUni @LincolnUniNZ @MasseyUni @AUTuni @UCNZ @waikato @VicUniWgtn https://t.co/gNZlpzosRG (1/10). pic.twitter.com/ePby4JaLSV
— Dr Tara McAllister (@taramcallister4) August 27, 2019
Why isn’t my Professor Pasifika?
Lead author of the accompanying study, ‘Why isn’t my Professor Pasifika?’ Dr. Sereana Naepi from Thompson Rivers University, says her paper shows that representation of Pasifika academic staff within New Zealand universities is even worse than for Māori.
According to the study, numbers of Pasifika academics at New Zealand universities remained stagnant from 2012 to 2017, with five or less at senior level staff (Professors or Deans) at the beginning and end of the period assessed.
Current New Zealand university policies on diversity and equity could be understood as little more than “window-dressing”, but we are not unique in that sense, says Sereana.
“New Zealand aligns with international universities and their structural exclusion of diverse bodies and ideas. Although universities have made significant headway in increasing Māori and Pasifika students they now need to invest the same effort into recruiting, retaining and promoting Māori and Pasifika academics.”
“It is important to have Māori and Pasifika leadership not only in Māori and Pasifika roles but throughout the university as our diverse viewpoints can provide creative solutions that are perhaps outside of the norm for universities.”
Regular academic recruiting across a range of disciplines is key
The researchers suggest there are some promising initiatives being implemented. In particular, early career academic programmes that regularly recruit emerging Māori and Pasifika academics across a range of disciplines.
“An institution-wide approach like this can have significant impacts on these numbers, and cohort hiring for Indigenous and diverse academics is one way of providing ongoing support and mentoring to ensure that Māori and Pasifika rise to leadership positions quicker,” says Sereana.
Julie Mugford (pictured), a PhD student at the University of Canterbury and Chair of Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau, is researching and developing statistical tools to improve the accuracy of classification-based crowdsourcing, aka citizen science.
Citizen science is the involvement of volunteers in helping scientists collect and analyse information, and Julie’s research aims to measure the accuracy of users and to develop efficient ways to improve the overall accuracy of such data.
Typically, classification-based citizen science projects ask multiple participants to identify each object and consensus methods are used to decide the classification of the object. Commonly, simple consensus methods – for example, majority vote – are used. However, majority vote weights the contributions from each participant equally but the participants may vary in accuracy with which they can label objects.
“Our approach is to use Bayesian statistics to estimate users’ accuracies at identifying objects and include these accuracies in the classification process,” explained Julie.
“Although this approach complicates the classification process compared to a simple majority vote rule, it improves the accuracy of the classification decisions and provides more robust measures of classification certainty.”
How Kiwis are helping to answer important scientific questions
Citizen scientists can encompass a wide range of members within our society – from school children to trained scientists – who participate in a variety of research projects. These projects are often set up and managed by professional scientists, and specifically designed to give volunteers a role. For example, sharing and classifying bird and other observations of nature, classifying land types in satellite images of Earth, or classifying galaxies.
The popularity of citizen science projects has risen enormously in the last two decades, providing researchers with access to data from a large range of locations at unprecedented frequencies with minimal costs. This has become increasingly important as costly expert resources struggle to match the effort required to answer scientific questions. However, there is ongoing debate on the usefulness and accuracy of citizen science data as it may be prone to greater variability due to differences in volunteer’s skills.
“Motivated by the vision of Biosecurity New Zealand to have a biosecurity team of 4.7 million [New Zealand’s resident population], we have initially focused on improving the accuracy of classification-based citizen science projects that could be used as a tool to monitor invasive pests in New Zealand,” said Julie.
Biosecurity New Zealand, a part of the Ministry for Primary Industries, has set out a vision for 2025, and one of its five strategic directions aims is to make all New Zealanders aware of the importance of biosecurity and to get them involved in pest and disease management. It hopes to encourage a collective effort across the country – in which ‘every New Zealander becomes a biosecurity risk manager and every business manages their own biosecurity risk’.
Public health researcher Dr Anna Matheson (pictured above), Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator and senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, specialises in applying complexity theory to aid our understanding of actions that reduce health inequalities, research that has been recognised globally.
Anna is particularly interested in the use of novel approaches to social intervention that take account of social complexity, and has been involved in numerous research projects related to the social determinants of health, barriers to and through health systems, and approaches to reducing health inequalities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Playing a key role in community health research
Anna’s current work includes co-leading the evaluation of Healthy Families NZ, which is funded by the Ministry of Health, and as a co-investigator on two community action research projects funded by the Health Research Council.
“Together with a colleague, we designed and are carrying out an evaluation, grounded in complexity theory, of a multi-community intervention to prevent chronic diseases – Healthy Families NZ,” said Anna.
“The approach we have taken is sensitive to context, and accounts for multi-level actions and perspectives which has been shown to be a big challenge in large-scale public health evaluations. Complexity theory has helped me to theorise and articulate the way that health inequalities arise in relation to excluded communities such as Māori and Pasifika.”
“Complexity theory has helped me to theorise and articulate the way that health inequalities arise in relation to excluded communities such as Māori and Pasifika.”
When brought together with the evidence, the theory shows that causes of health inequalities are systemic. These systemic causes compound in individuals and communities. For example, Māori and Pacific people experience multiple barriers to, and through, the health system, as well as being impacted by multiple levels of discrimination and other determinants of health such as income, education and housing.
“I have used this understanding of the social processes leading to health inequalities to inform the ideas in articles I have written about what this means for how to intervene to reduce health inequalities,” said Anna.
Importance of international health research connections
Connections abroad are incredibly important, said Anna, with international conferences and meetings being great opportunities to share her research findings and contribute to knowledge globally. Of note, she was recently invited to be a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS), a prestigious non-profit organisation set-up 70 years ago to promote peace and the exchange of ideas across people and nations.
Fascinating op-ed by @DrAMatheson on the Salzburg Global Seminar! “Particularly heartening for me was hearing all the passionate discussions that normalised talk of complex systems & the need for systems change in relation to health and equity.” Read here: https://t.co/3A0L2DatQJ
— Te Pūnaha Matatini (@PunahaMatatini) January 22, 2018
Following her attendance at a SGS session on ‘Building Healthier Communities: The Role of Hospitals’, Anna led the writing of an article for the BMJ, one of the world’s leading medical journals, with co-authors from Australia, Pakistan and Rwanda.
“It has been valuable to see how people in different countries are thinking about complexity and health, as well as the innovative approaches being taken to improve complex health outcomes, and the enormous challenges that some countries face,” said Anna.
“It has been valuable to see how people in different countries are thinking about complexity and health, as well as the innovative approaches being taken to improve complex health outcomes, and the enormous challenges that some countries face.”
“These international connections have also provided me with a very positive perspective on my own work. The relationship with SGS is on-going, and they have an interest in the career development of those they invite to attend. I have also provided suggestions of others working in innovative community action areas within New Zealand to attend SGS sessions.”
Te Pūnaha Matatini incoming co-directors Priscilla (Cilla) Wehi, conservation biologist with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and Murray Cox, Professor of Computational Biology at Massey University, have collaborated on an analysis of Māori ancestral sayings (whakataukī), and their recognition of extinctions and their impact.
Cilla and Murray co-authored a paper published in the journal Human Ecology, reporting the linguistic analysis of indigenous Māori whakataukī that focus on fauna and environment, particularly with regard to extinctions of important food sources such as Moa. The findings provide evidence that such extinctions were important as they influenced both ecological and social thought in Māori society. The authors also suggest that oral traditions could have played a similar role in other early societies living through major faunal extinction events.
Examples of whakataukī referring to Moa extinction:
Kua ngaro i te ngaro o te moa
Lost as the moa was lost
Huna i te huna a te moa
Hidden as the moa hid
Ka ngaro ā-moa te iwi nei
The people will disappear like the moa
“Oral tradition, such as these whakataukī passed down by Māori, provide our only real glimpses into the ecological relationships and concerns of early settler populations, and provide early human context to an otherwise relatively dry scientific record of extinction events,” the researchers wrote.
“The whakataukī emphasise that indigenous peoples are not simply passive actors against an environmental backdrop but rather interact with the environment in myriad ways that affect not only the species assemblages present but also the development of cultural values, ideas, and practices.”
Cilla and Murray’s work was picked up by The Conversation in an article entitled ‘Dead as a moa: oral traditions show that early Māori recognised extinction’, and in interviews on Radio NZ, Radio Waatea and TVNZ’s Te Karere.
Te Pūnaha Matatini was able to offer New Zealand university students paid 10-week internship positions over the 2018-19 summer, which involved working on projects with various partner organisations.
Out of a total of 160 undergrad and postgrad students from across the country who applied for the programme, 29 were successful and placed at 11 partner organisations – including government ministries, iwi organisations and private companies.
Although the students had a wide range of backgrounds, they all had one thing in common – a passion to change the world through data and its applications and contexts.
“This programme provides students with invaluable data analytics experience and new perspectives while working for organisations in a real-world setting,” said Dr Alex James, Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Deputy Director of Industry and Stakeholder Engagement.
“Through its student internship programme, Te Pūnaha Matatini is able to engage with partners to complete small-scale projects with defined outcomes, develop relationship networks, and introduce talented students to potential employers.”
“This programme provides students with invaluable data analytics experience and new perspectives while working for organisations in a real-world setting.”
Now in its fourth year of operation, the 2018-19 programme featured an excellent variety of projects, and the overall feedback from both students and industry stakeholders was very positive.
Streamlining the process of social network analysis at AgResearch
University of Canterbury Masters of Applied Data Science student Romalee Amolic (pictured above) spent the summer in Hamilton working with scientists at AgResearch, helping develop a tool to streamline survey data for social network analysis.
In addition to providing a much-needed tool for AgResearch, Romalee is now working out how to commercialise her software so more people can take advantage of it.
“From our perspective, we got exactly what we’d hoped for, which was a new viewpoint and different expertise from what we may have normally recruited,” said Helen Percy of AgResearch, Romalee’s supervisor.
Vision Mātauranga in partnership with Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei
Brianne Halbert (left) and Megan Leijh (right), who are both at the University of Auckland, worked together on a project that is part of an ongoing research partnership between Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and Te Pūnaha Matatini.
Led by their supervisor Kate Hannah, Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Deputy Director, Equity and Diversity, and Dion O’Neale, a Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigator, the ‘He waka eke noa’ project combines qualitative and quantitative methodologies to work with iwi and hapū data, centralising Māori data sovereignty.
An important goal of our internship programme is to have students with complementary skill sets working together. That was certainly the case for Bri and Megan. Bri is undertaking a double major in Computer and Data Science, while Megan is completing a conjoint Law (Hons) and Arts degree in political philosophy, law and politics.
“While these disciplines may appear vastly different, we were able to find a lot of overlap and even harmony in our exploration of inclusive education for Māori,” wrote Bri and Megan in a subsequent co-authored blog.
“From the outset, a major goal was to utilise our respective disciplines for research while keeping the essence of te Ao Māori alive throughout. Thus, we incorporated kupu o te wiki, watched Te Kaea and participated in a lot of korero”.
Working with Te Hiku Media to improve access to Te Reo Māori
Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics at the University of Canterbury, Cherie Vasta (pictured above), worked with both Te Hiku Media and Dragonfly Data Science on a project to aid in the development of a Māori voice assistant.
The tool is designed to make Te Reo Māori more accessible and fun in the digital age At the completion of Cherie’s internship, the project was documented and all the code uploaded online to allow other developers at Te Hiku Media to progress it further and demonstrate the abilities of the Rāpere box.
“I got a great feeling of accomplishment from my work,” said Cherie. “I’m grateful to Te Pūnaha Matatini for connecting me with Te Hiku Media and providing me with the opportunity to have this internship.”
Further details about individual projects
Following the completion of their placements, several interns were invited to blog about their experiences on the Te Pūnaha Matatini website.
Improving education for all is as uncontentious as political clauses get here in Aotearoa, championing this issue is on the front burner of nearly every government body, institution, and organisation across the country. Compare this to the endless debate, controversy, resistance, and even hostility which meets attempts to address protocol and resolve for our Māori students.
He waka eke noa and ‘Auckland 2050’
This year’s research project at Te Pūnaha Matatini, ‘He waka eke noa’, is part of an ongoing research partnership with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei that aims to highlight some features of our education system in Aotearoa—chiefly those affecting Māori—as part of Auckland Council’s greater 30-year vision, ‘Auckland 2050’.
He waka eke noa follows in the wake of last year’s research, ‘Analysis of Well-Being’, which endeavoured to interpret open responses of 684 registered hapū members, taken from surveys encompassing various forms of codified knowledge and kōrero in the hopes of directing the development of a hapū well-being framework. Well-being was measured with regards to life satisfaction, education, housing, proficiency and abilities in te reo and, more generally, te Ao Māori. Last year’s well-being research proposal was awarded Marsden funding through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, which invests in ‘the development of skilled people and organisations undertaking, research that supports the themes and outcomes of our Vision Mātauranga policy.’
A major component of our research cannot be revealed here for privacy reasons, but for the purpose of sharing some of the motivations and ways we engaged with our research, we can look at the educational climate of Aotearoa as a whole, indigenous ways of knowing, and the shared stake we have as a community to improve mainstream education for our Māori students.
Using data collected by the Ministry of Education, we constructed the below graphs to show 2017 post-secondary completions by subject. We found that Māori students were either largely underrepresented or overrepresented across major subjects. Further, we saw more spread in subjects taken amongst other ethnicities while Māori students predominantly stayed in familiar domains—especially at earlier levels of study.
However, there seems to be more spread in subjects once Māori students reach a Bachelors level. This may suggest continuation in studies can affect the way in which Māori students engage with subjects- branching out into different fields after acquiring confidence in mainstream education institutions.
Research in keeping with te Ao Māori perspectives
Owing to our shared identities of being both Māori Pākehā, as well as students- we attribute a lot of strength throughout this project in our ability to appreciate the unique issues and challenges faced by students with shared membership. We also acknowledge the capabilities for dynamism and resilience. From the outset, a major goal was to utilise our respective disciplines for research while keeping the essence of te Ao Māori perspectives alive throughout. Our team engaged in quantitative analysis as well as discourse analysis pulling from a multitude of various texts that laminated on indigenous taxonomy and concepts surrounding Mātauranga Māori.
Mātauranga Māori embodies a complex network of codified systems of knowledge transfer and storage to which universal constructs are framed in both past and present, existing and non-existing. Cognisance and assessment of information and protocol envelops moteatea (chants, poems), whaikorero (oratory, speechmaking), maramataka (calendar), waiata (songs), pepeha (quotations), whakataukī/whakatauki (proverbs), whakapapa (genealogies) and pūrākau (stories)—each with its own categories, style, complex patterns and characteristics’ (Lee J, 2008).
This culturally-embedded system founded on kanohi kitea (face-to-face) interactions between individuals, whānau, hapū, and iwi is an all-encompassing body of knowledge based on evidence, culture, values and worldview. Despite being a rich form of gathering and sharing information, these traditional ways of knowing have often been considered incompatible with local pools of thought and sanctioned as illegitimate in the wider scientific and academic communities.
In rumination of Aotearoa’s current educational climate, it’s hard to imagine that the above mentioned would not play a significant role in how Māori students interact with mainstream constructs of knowledge as well as the capacities of education providers, peers, and the public to appropriately assess and acknowledge learning systems so undivulged in the domains to which they usually operate. We might also consider how the role of whānau can be affected in the enormous task of accessing and providing tools relevant to outside industries of learning and their abilities to advocate on behalf of their tamariki far from the sources of support provided within their everyday communities. As Māori student education figures indicate improvements in academic participation, the alarmingly high SSEE rates (stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions)— at nearly all levels of study— only corroborates the narrative that the current education system is failing. The system in place is robbing its students of having an equal chance to prosper in falling short of its most essential obligations– to encourage and inspire student potential. The damages placed on already strained communities to which these students are part of seems to fuel a never-ending cycle that sets up generation after generation with even less opportunities to thrive.
Unfortunately, the displacement of Māori is not consigned to the past. Historical attempts to keep te Ao Māori outside of the local mainstream includes legislation such as the Tohunga Suppression Act, the Education Ordinance Act and the Native Schools Act, and a nationwide ban on te Reo Māori, including ‘A wide range of punishments used against children who speak te Reo at school (including corporal punishment)’.
Amid cultural asphyxiation, Māori risk losing their voice, abilities to navigate on their own terms, and essentially – their mana. Even in moments of advocacy we are limited in our capacities. We look at issues surrounding Māori and the needs for address but from a Māori standpoint, there is a need for redress. An overwhelming loss of trust in the mainstream educational institutions prevails when we miss these opportunities of knowing.
In conclusion, institutions cannot remain mutually exclusive in inclusive learning environments. There is a demand for institutes for Māori and Pākehā across Aotearoa, to foster a respectful, understanding and empathetic community. Culture is a learned system. Access to Māori systems of support in schools will elevate New Zealand children’s comprehension of how culture, language, and heritage empower their own identities. The immersion of these two systems of education will lead to a broader sentiment of cultural heritage will encourage New Zealand’s future communities to practise more tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity.
He waka eke noa in a literal sense translates to the ‘canoe which we are all in without exception’. For the purposes of this project, we might attribute this whakataukī to a collective consciousness and gentle reminder that, when we are in a waka, there is unity in a shared purpose. Here, we look to education.
Brianne (Bri) Halbert and Megan Liejh are students at the University of Auckland. Bri is pursuing a double major in Computer and Data Science, and Megan is completing a conjoint Law (Hons) and Arts Degree in Political Philosophy Law and Politics. While these disciplines may appear vastly different, they were able to find a lot of overlap and even harmony in their exploration of inclusive education for Māori.
Lee J. 2008, Ako: Pūrākau of Māori teachers’ work in secondary schools. [Unpublished PhD thesis]. Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland.