By Dr Hana O’Regan, Tumu Whakarae CORE Education
I was raised in a family that was consumed with the issue of justice and equity. We had incredible opportunities to discuss these kaupapa when other New Zealanders, and those from overseas, came to our home. When I was about nine years old a West Papuan man visited my father. It was a meeting that would leave a deep impression on me. He was living in exile from his country and had committed his life to raising awareness about the genocide his people were suffering.
The man took some time to tell me about his fight for justice, and about petitioning our Government, and the Australian Government, for help and recognition. I remember getting really upset by his stories, and demanded that my dad do something about it! Surely if the Prime Minister knew, he would do something to help? I couldn’t reconcile that people might know about such cruelty and injustice, and not do anything about it! I still find this hard to reconcile.
As I grew up, the dining room table discussions of my youth were often focused on the kaupapa of injustice – from my own Ngāi Tahu tribal Treaty claims and grievances, the histories surrounding the Highland Clearances and grievances of my Irish and Scottish tīpuna, to stories of the Welsh Coal Miners on the West Coast, their welfare and employment rights. There were also family stories of the roles people played in the riots around the Springbok tour / No Māori-No Tour campaign, the waterfront strikes, and protests around continued land alienation policies through the Public Works Act or other such mechanisms of the State.
My personal equity journey, especially in terms of my Māori heritage and identity, underpins the passion that I bring into this debate. My first-hand experiences of inequity – directed at me, at those around me, and what I have seen – have profoundly impacted the way that I have viewed myself, and others, in terms of access, opportunity, and potential within education and wider society. While my reaction to those experiences has been tempered by time, they have ignited a fire in me that seems to grow with time.
Raising the equity flag
I’ve been challenging my understanding of equity issues, and where possible, the understanding of others, for decades now. My own understanding has grown considerably. I have learned about the history of inequity in our country and its origins, and about how specific parts of that historic narrative have impacted where we are now as a nation.
I have found myself vigorously wanting to raise the equity flag across the motu, and to help construct a new narrative in those spaces where I can see the existing narrative perpetuates negative outcomes for certain groups in our society.
I’m also doing a lot of thinking about the issue of equity and education and what that means within the context of Māori learner engagement and achievement.
I am excited by the current levels of discussion and, for the first time in my life, I am starting to see the equity kaupapa actively addressed across many spheres. It is true, we have a considerable journey to travel, but how exciting to know that the journey is now on our immediate horizons.
But I am also anxious about how well prepared we are as a country to move ahead on the journey. So far, we have not told ‘our story’ as a nation well. This means we don’t have a clear view of what the issues are or how they have come to be.
As a nation we have become very accustomed to putting out defensive or deflecting responses. We have also become very good at justifying inequities or ignoring them. I understand that discussing the issue of equity and being open to identifying inequities can be hard to do and uncomfortable for many reasons. It takes a strong level of commitment and resilience to push ourselves, let alone whole communities, into uncomfortable spaces. Despite this, there have been times in our collective history where we have been able to do just that on a number of issues, so my anxiety is tempered with a certain level of optimism, that this is something we can do and should do together as a nation.
This will be in part addressed by the introduction of Aotearoa New Zealand histories into the national curriculum in 2022. It means more people will have access to a wider and more informed narrative.
A number of other waves of thinking and information on the tides of our national consciousness are continuing to gain momentum, like the Unteach Racism campaign being led out by the Teachers Council and the Human Rights Commission’s work on tackling racism in Aotearoa. The combination of these efforts will serve to help develop a movement of change that I know will help us shift the equity dial in a positive direction for future generations. We just need to prepare and be brave enough to withstand the challenging currents swirling around us that may try and pull us in another direction, or stop us from moving forward.
I want to further explore my understanding equity and its nemesis – inequity – and I will be sharing some further thoughts on the topics of inequity by design and the Aotearoa experience, the kaupapa of streaming in education, and the steps and leadership required to achieve more equitable outcomes. But in this first blog I wanted to locate myself in the equity story – and to reflect on a few of the factors that have motivated me and brought me to this point, working here at CORE Education, and our vision of equity in learning for all New Zealanders for a thriving Aotearoa. It’s an acknowledgement that to do so is challenging, it can be heartbreaking and uncomfortable, but it’s also a story of change and transformation, liberation and hope.
I hope you will join us in the journey ahead.