Boosting young Māori into career orbit

Issue: Volume 95, Number 4

Posted: 7 March 2016
Reference #: 1H9d0j

The Māori Science Academy/Pūhoro has enlisted the help of NASA’s Mana Vautier, who’s on track to becoming an astronaut, to help inspire a cohort of motivated students to decide the direction in which they want their lives to blast off.

The Māori Science Academy (MSA), a partnership initiative involving Massey University, six Manawatu schools, Murupara Area School and Te Puni Kōkiri, was opened on 30 January. Fifteen Year 11 students from each of these schools will be chosen for each intake.

Naomi Manu serves as associate director of Massey University’s MSA programme. She says that the need she hopes the MSA will address becomes obvious from a cursory look at national achievement numbers. The number of Māori school leavers obtaining NCEA Level 3 has been growing since 2009, and Naomi is keen to boost achievement levels specifically in STEM subjects.

“It’s all about providing additional support to Māori students in the secondary school space, so that they can achieve NCEA qualifications. In 2014, about 23 per cent of Māori and Pasifika 18-year-olds achieved one or more STEM subjects at NCEA Level 3. For the rest of the country, that achievement rate is about 47 per cent.”

Inspiration in Auckland

Naomi says that she knew right away where to go for advice and inspiration in setting up the Māori Science Academy.

“The concept of working more closely with secondary schools was really inspired by the terrific work that is being done by the Health Science academies operating out of South Auckland. The purpose behind those is to increase the number of Māori and Pasifika studying health sciences, and therefore address the future workforce health needs within their communities."

“I did a lot of research around how they were doing what they do and spoke to lots of staff and to the Counties-Manukau District Health Board, who were all extremely generous with information and really supportive of us looking to do something similar.”

The academy programme represents an entire pathway for Māori students, says Naomi. A cohort is selected from applicants in Year 11 – schools themselves are responsible for making these selections – and NCEA Level 1. The idea is to support the students to identify what parts of the NCEA standards they should zero in on, and those in which they may have 
weakness.

A line of sight to career fulfilment

“There are three different kinds of support that we provide,” says Naomi. “The first thing is that we provide additional assistance through tutorials. Schools continue to deliver the curriculum. We meet with the science teachers and they identify which particular achievement standards the students will pursue. Then we work with the students on a fortnightly basis with tutorials in what they have covered over that fortnight. There are also academic mentors who go into the school and support them."

“We also have an academy mentor. That person goes into the schools and meets with every academy student each fortnight on a one-on-one basis. The reason for that is that we want the students to develop relationships with academy personnel so that they can identify what things within the curriculum they might be struggling with. Then we can pass this onto tutors, who can tailor their tutorial content to suit. We’re trying to catch students early, if they’re starting to struggle with curriculum content. We need to build those relationships firstly though.”

Naomi says that another advantage to this system is that the academic mentor gets a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the entire cohort across six different schools. This enables the collection of information and feedback that can inform the high-level structure of the programme as it responds and evolves.

“We may find, for example, that across those schools, there may be a group of 15 students who are struggling with the same issues. We can then look to tailor tutorials, workshops or similar.”

Dreams in reality

The final crucial piece of the Māori Science Academy takes place once per term. The entire cohort meets at Massey University, where they’ll get stuck into laboratory work aligned to the achievement standards they’ve been working on. Then everyone takes a break from the classroom and heads for the scene of the real world for school leavers: the premises of some of New Zealand’s leading commercial enterprises that employ science-savvy graduates.

“We’ll go to the premises of, say, Fonterra,” Naomi explains, “and we’ll try to demonstrate how what they’ve learned in the classroom might look in a day-to-day employment scenario. Or we might work with a local iwi, with a project they’re involved with, to do with waterways for example, and we’ll try to demonstrate the applicability of what they’re learning in the classroom."

“One of the key outcomes of the MSA is that we want students to have a line of sight right through their education: through secondary, tertiary, and into employment. That’s why when we have these field trips once a term, we’re working with potential employers. The employers are ‘shadowing’ the cohort of students as they come through. It’s giving employers that same line of sight, on students who are coming up into the workforce.”

Naomi reports that the MSA programme has already formed a positive relationship with the associated schools.

“The schools have been brilliant actually, very supportive. We’ve been working very closely with the schools to identify those students who might want to get involved. What we’ve said to the schools is ‘don’t base your decision as to which students you recommend for the academy solely on academic performance to date. If they’re not yet engaging with science, it doesn’t mean that they never will.”

An example to look up to – way up

Mana Vautier has worked as an aerospace engineer at the iconic North American Space Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and whose dream of becoming the first person of Māori heritage in space is a very conceivable possibility. Naomi approached Mana to gauge his interest in helping out with the MSA launch: she says that she felt like asking Mana to make the trip all the way from Houston was already an outrageous imposition, but she was to be blown away by Mana’s enthusiasm for the project.

“Mana was a young Māori boy with a dream. He really didn’t have any idea how, but he just knew that he wanted to get into space one day. He put in all that effort, and he’s not quite there yet, but he’s really close. For us, his story is remarkable, and it’s not uncommon: there are many young Māori who are achieving their dreams. It’s important that other young Māori see that."

“The great thing too about Mana is that he’s got ‘wow factor’: not just as a result of the job he’s in, but in the way that he conducts himself, his commitment to te ao Māori and to his people, and his commitment to helping to inspire future generations. He’s video-conferenced with us time and time again from (NASA) – that’s a powerful message in itself. He cares about our students."

“When I first asked him whether he might be able to come and speak at our launch, he said, ‘that sounds great, I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. But I don’t just want to be the guy who comes over and launches it – I’m interested in these students and I’m interested in an ongoing relationship’. We really couldn’t have asked for more.”

With Mana’s mentorship and the guidance of Naomi and all the Māori Science Academy personnel, it seems that the education of this cohort of young Māori with big dreams will get all the boosting needed to blast their careers into orbit.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:24 PM, 7 March 2016

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