STEM a high priority for ākonga Māori in Ōtaki

Issue: Volume 100, Number 16

Posted: 8 December 2021
Reference #: 1HARts

Ōtaki College has a strong commitment to encouraging its students – 55 percent of whom are Māori – into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

Anything is possible for Pounamu, Kaea and Tikardan as wahine Māori with STEM futures.

Anything is possible for Pounamu, Kaea and Tikardan as wahine Māori with STEM futures.

Pounamu (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu) and Tikardan (Ngāti Raukawa, Muaupoko, Ngāi Tahu) are two of Ōtaki College’s senior students who are being mentored by the Pūhoro STEMM Academy. They are confident they will have many opportunities as wāhine Māori in the STEM sector.

A Year 7-13 secondary school an hour north of Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Ōtaki College has been involved with Pūhoro since 2018. Every Monday kaihautū/mentors visit the school from their Palmerston North base and support a cohort of ākonga Māori who are studying STEM subjects with tutoring, extension work, or resources.

Dawn Hirschberg, HOD Science, says this year they added another M to STEM for mātauranga Māori.

“There was an idea that Māori thought these subjects weren’t for them, which is why the mātauranga part is so important. The programme caters for an incredibly wide spectrum of students, it offers them opportunities to find out what options are available,” she explains.

Each year, Pūhoro take a group of Year 13 students overseas.

“Prior to Covid, there was a trip to NASA and that was extraordinary because one of the people working at NASA at the time was a Māori graduate. They organise scholarships with a lot of iwi, which takes the financial burden off families,” says Dawn.

Mentors inspire dreams

Pounamu has been at Ōtaki College since Year 7. Now in Year 12, she is doing NCEA Level 2 physics and Level 3 calculus as she works towards her dream of becoming a pilot.

“My favourite subject in maths is algebra. What Pūhoro has done has helped me get along when it’s been difficult. Because it came naturally to me as a child, I didn’t really worry about having to put in hard work. But as I got older, it obviously became harder and that’s where Pūhoro helped me a bit.

“They set up tutoring, so all I had to do was ask my kaihautū/leader for a tutor and they would get one for me. They have one for each year level and all you have to ask them is ‘what do I have to do to be better at this?’ and they’ll just set up everything for you,” explains Pounamu.

Tikardan, Year 13, plans to study environmental planning at Massey University next year and wants to use her knowledge to help her iwi and hapū.

“I don’t think I would have felt so confident without this [Pūhoro] support because I just transitioned to this school last year and I came from a kura kaupapa, so it was kind of hard for me to come into this environment because I wasn’t that great at speaking English, but heaps of people have helped me, including my whānau.

“I want to study environmental planning because I have always been involved with the Māori kaupapa about the whenua that needs repairing. In my old kura, there was a river polluted with cow waste, and we started cleaning that up and I enjoyed it heaps. I enjoyed planning how we were going to clean it out and what kinds of plants to use and what other resources we were putting in there,” says Tikardan.

Pounama, Tikardan and Dawn all agree that it’s important to see more young Māori in STEM roles.

“I think it’s just someone that you know you can relate to, that you can look up to. I think it’s one of those things that you see a role model that is Māori, and many other people will aspire to be like them,” says Tikardan.

STEM and mātauranga Māori champions: Megan Nelson-Latu, Andy Fraser and Dawn Hirschberg.

STEM and mātauranga Māori champions: Megan Nelson-Latu, Andy Fraser and Dawn Hirschberg.

Increased confidence

Dawn says one of the biggest changes she sees with ākonga involved in Pūhoro is an increased confidence and belief that they can succeed in science. She further explains that some students feel more comfortable with internal assessment, but, “the externals take you further up the NCEA levels and are the ones that effect you going into tertiary”.

The programme helps students to change their thinking and have more confidence when it comes to external assessment.

To further encourage engagement and build confidence, the NCEA science programme at Ōtaki College has been rearranged so ākonga can freely move between internal and external standards.

“I have a senior science class where students get to pick what they do. Students come into that for all sorts of reasons, but a lot of them are in there because they just want to do a little bit of physics, a little bit of chemistry,” says Dawn.

“I find that for some students in that class, even if they don’t get a lot of credits, they have an opportunity to have all sorts of scientific discussions. My biggest aim with that class is just to keep that interest going in science and keep them questioning and reading about it.”

Hapū and iwi aspirations

Ōtaki is one of four designated bilingual towns in Aotearoa and with 41 percent of the population being Māori (2018 Census) there’s a strong drive to promote te reo Māori and tikanga. Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa are the three main iwi on the Kāpiti Coast. Ōtaki is home to several kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori and mainstream schools with total immersion and bilingual strands, as well as Te Wānanga o Raukawa.

“Within Ōtaki there are five hapū that make up Nga Hapū o Ōtaki – they are part of Ngāti Raukawa and they have significant influence on what happens in this area,” explains principal Andy Fraser.

“The development of Te Wānanga o Raukawa was driven by a need to have a place where mātauranga Māori was accepted and developed. When the hapū realised the language was dying, they established an initiative to revitalise the reo and knowledge of tikanga,” he says.

The town’s three marae are vibrant places and families are well connected to them.

“Most of my 55 percent of Māori students whakapapa back to the three iwi. Nga Hapū o Ōtaki has a strong vision of where are we going to take our young people so they can take the hapū and iwi forward.”

Wonder Project

Māori role models like civil engineer Lincoln Timoteo are important for students like Giorgio and Eddy, both Year 8.

Māori role models like civil engineer Lincoln Timoteo are important for students like Giorgio and Eddy, both Year 8.

Lincoln Timoteo (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toarangitira, Te Āti Awa, Tokelau) attended school in Ōtaki for several years. The young civil engineer is living back in his hometown, working for Fletcher Construction on the Ōtaki-Pekapeka bypass and mentoring Year 7 and 8 students at his old school. Lincoln is an ambassador for Engineering New Zealand’s Wonder Project and has been involved in the Rocket Challenge and the Plant Challenge at the school.

A father to children aged six, four, and three months, Lincoln wants to ensure there are more Māori role models in the STEM sector when his tamariki join the workforce.

“I didn’t have any role models when it came to engineering and STEM-related subjects, although my teachers were quite helpful to me pursuing a STEM-related career. I did have an interest in mathematics and then physics, which are core subjects for engineering. A lot of my family members did push me to work hard and strive for excellence in education. They believed in me and that helped me a lot.

“Even just knowing that there are Māori or Pacific people like them in the engineering and STEM sectors allows tamariki and rangatahi to believe that they are capable. If I can do it, they can do it too. You meet people who wanted to do something like this, but they had doubts. If they had the early encouragement in being able to see role models, they could have done it as well,” he says.

Megan Nelson-Latu, curriculum leader of Year 7 and 8, says the Wonder Project kits, resources and teaching notes are good for someone like herself, who isn’t a science specialist, and having the support of someone like Lincoln is also very helpful for encouraging an interest in STEM subjects.

“He’s young and a male, which helps – especially with some of my boys,” she laughs.

“He comes straight from work in his work gear and his employer supports him to do this. He was talking to the kids last week about his role there, how he became an engineer, what inspired him; also the fact that there’s a shortage of engineers, especially Māori and Pacific.” 

Engineering New Zealand’s Wonder Project offers teachers like Megan Nelson-Latu, pictured with Kaziah and Campbell (both Year 8), support and resources to inspire engagement in science.

Engineering New Zealand’s Wonder Project offers teachers like Megan Nelson-Latu, pictured with Kaziah and Campbell (both Year 8), support and resources to inspire engagement in science.

Tamariki kōrero

Education Gazette asked some Year 7 and 8 ākonga about how the Wonder Project challenges have inspired their interest in STEM subjects.

Giorgio: I like the Rocket Challenge – we designed rockets using soda bottles and we had to add fins for the stability. The extra challenge was to make a parachute that works that was in the bottlenose of the rocket. It really made me think about what jobs I could do with my maths, because I’m really into maths, and engineering is pretty fun and I want to find a job that mixes those two.

 Year 8 ākonga Te Ria works on designing a miniature grow house with optimal growing conditions for the Plant Challenge.

Year 8 ākonga Te Ria works on designing a miniature grow house with optimal growing conditions for the Plant Challenge.

Charlie: It’s incredible to see the plants growing in the Plant Challenge. Every day we look at them they’re different. It’s really funny to learn about where people are growing plants. Like yesterday we learnt that in Singapore they are growing tons and tons of food on top of buildings. It’s pretty inspiring. I would love to do something like helping with the plants later on in life if climate change is a big problem.

 Libby: We learnt how rockets fly and how gravity works so we could make them fly. I really liked building and designing the rockets because I got to come up with designs and see if they worked or failed. Mine flew. I want to do science when I’m older because you do lots of experiments and it’s cool and you see the results.

Zach: With the Rocket Challenge, the best thing was being able to design your own rocket and do drawings and stuff, but it was quite interesting how much air pressure and how much water you put in it affected the flight of it.

Sammy: In the Rocket Challenge I enjoyed building it and ‘editing’ it so it works better. I like watching the plants grow every day.


STEMM Academy transformational

Leland Ruwhiu

Leland Ruwhiu

The Pūhoro STEMM Academy was based at Massey University in Palmerston North until July this year when the Ministry of Education granted $2.97 million in funding to be rolled out over three years so that thousands of rangatahi can access the programme.

The academy, now run by a trust, celebrates mātauranga Māori as a rich Māori knowledge ecosystem underpinned by kaupapa and tikanga Māori. It is becoming a transformational pathway for Māori secondary students towards tertiary study and potential careers in science and engineering.

“As a trust, we re-evaluated our direction and, at that time, a letter from some Auckland University academics was published in The New Zealand Listener saying that mātauranga Māori should not be accepted as an equivalent to science.

“We didn’t agree with that – we took the view that actually science is within mātauranga Māori and we decided to embed that in our ethos – hence the additional ‘M’ added to Pūhoro STEMM Academy,” explains Leland Ruwhiu (Ngai Tū te Aru, Te Whānau ā Hunaara, Ngāti Pāhauwera, Ngāti Mairehau).

Iwi and identity

Since it started in 2016, the academy has grown to mentor 1,000 students across five areas (Kāpiti, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatū, South Auckland and Christchurch) and has been building partnerships with iwi in those areas.

Leland looks after the academy’s outreach to secondary schools and says about 66 percent of ākonga who have been through Pūhoro go onto tertiary education of some kind, whether it’s university, polytechnics, Defence Force, or trades.

“Normally when we start working with students, they are either well-versed in their Māori identity and maybe not so much in the STEM sector, or maybe the other way around – they’re really smart, but they’re not well connected to their iwi and identity. For us, it’s about bringing those two into alignment.”

Where possible, Pūhoro’s kaihautū/mentors stay with the same students from Year 11-13, with a strong focus on building relationships.

“Our aim is to be in their corner; for students to know that there is a consistent pou/stake in the ground of support for that student.”

Shaping the landscape

The Pūhoro programme has three phases. Phase one is the Year 11-13 programme and phase two is ongoing support through tertiary education, which includes ākonga being encouraged to give back as mentors in the secondary school programme.

With the first cohort of students, who began as Year 11 ākonga in 2016, about to graduate from tertiary study, the academy is gearing up to phase three, which will see graduates supported by a network of industry, sector and iwi partnerships.

“We’re quite protective of our students and we’re trying to help shape the landscape for when these students arrive in jobs, so it’s not just, ‘we’ve got a Māori student who can do a karakia’.

“There’s a lot of interest out there in the STEM sector of how they can be prepared for this wave of Māori students coming through with the technical skills and education behind them,” explains Leland.

Diversity in STEM

Prior to Covid, through a range of scholarships and funding, Pūhoro took students overseas to see what opportunities are possible with STEM qualifications. In 2019, a group of 15 senior ākonga visited the head of Microsoft in Australasia and the Pacific on a trip to Singapore and Taiwan.

Reflecting on the trip and meeting, Leland says, “[The head] said to our students, that for their company to remain relevant, they’ve got to have diverse thought in their business. He makes sure there are representations of all avenues of life in their business model.”

Leland says that speaks to the notion that Māori have a diverse range of thinking, even amongst themselves.

“It is unique to New Zealand and it would certainly transform some of the thinking processes and delivery models of the STEM sector for all New Zealanders. It is changing – there are lots of challenges, but we think it’s an important aspect if we’re putting the technical skills and qualifications behind these minds and voices.

“We get to see schools working hard and a lot of people in the waka paddling – industry, tertiary education providers, community – it’s a privilege to be part of that journey.”

Find out more information about the Pūhoro STEMM Academy(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:40 pm, 8 December 2021

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