Mel’s vision for Maori success

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By David Hill

A North Canterbury educator says there needs to be a rethink around how to encourage Maori educational achievement.

Maori are the youngest and fastest-growing demographic. Population projections suggest more than one million New Zealanders will identify as Maori by 2038, and will represent more than a fifth of the working-age population, Tuahiwi School principal Mel Taite-Pitama says.

In contrast, New Zealand’s pakeha population is ageing and will represent the highest proportion of over-65s.

Mel has been invited to address the uLearn Conference in Hamilton in October and has been published in New Zealand and international educational magazines on the subject of Maori educational achievement.

“In Maori culture we have a proverb, sweetness’, but I think Maori need to celebrate our achievements and North Canterbury needs to celebrate what we have here.”

Last week, in her role as Ara Institute of Canterbury deputy chairwoman, Mel spoke to 900 academic staff at the launch of Ara’s new framework for Maori achievement.

“It’s a lot of pressure to do something like that because you’ve got to get it right. If we don’t we will have a serious problem in this country,” she says.

“Maori have traditionally filled blue-collar jobs, but with our rapidly changing technology and automation, those jobs won’t exist in the future, so we have got to get young Maori aiming for higher-paid jobs.

“What we need to understand is that the growth in the workforce is going to be predominantly young Maori, particularly in regions like North Canterbury.”

A high achiever herself, Mel is happy to been seen as a role model for young Maori women.

Last year she won the Maori or Pasifika governance leader award at the New Zealand Women in Governance Awards.

She also has her own business, Tuahiwi Education Ltd, and is studying for a masters degree in Maori and indigenous leadership.

“I can’t go to the supermarket without someone recognising me, but if I’m that Maori woman that people can relate to, I can live with that.

“I have a very supportive whanau and I don’t have young children any more, but I do work long hours.”