“We are kanohi ki te kanohi people”: keeping Māori students connected during Covid-19

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 7 May 2020
Reference #: 1HA7Kr

Education Gazette talks to people from kura all over Aotearoa about how educators are working together to keep Māori students and their whānau connected during Covid-19.

At Te Kura Māori o Porirua, tamariki meet online daily for karakia at 9.30am. It’s part of how the kura has adapted its routine since lockdown began.

Tumuaki Sophie Tukukino says after a few initial teething issues, everyone is gaining confidence with online learning. Students already had devices before the country went into lockdown.

“We’ve had whānau that have gone out of their way to learn quickly. They’ve been nervous, but because of their commitment to their tamariki, they’ve worked it out.”

Sophie says the innovation and support from kaiako all over Aotearoa has been amazing.

“Our kaiako Māori, they are really generous right across the motu. It’s been really heart-warming.”

Sophie says for kura tuatahi tamariki, kaiako are mainly using Seesaw, and for kura tuarua, Google dashboard. She says everyone is using Zoom, and kaiako refer whānau to Te Kauwhata Reo for learning ideas, as well as using it themselves for a teaching resource kete.

She says when learning hard packs arrived, for many tamariki, it felt like Christmas.

“The thought that’s gone into those packs – I think the Ministry has tried really hard.”

But the big issue that’s worrying her is the anxiety rangatahi are feeling about falling behind academically.

“The anxiety levels of our teenagers, of our wharekura students, we’re all [kaiako Māori] going to have to work hard so their academic pathways aren’t restricted.

“The equity issue for me is the biggie, Māori tamariki are the ones most at risk [of not] entering university. A lot of their engagement relies on body language, they rely on kanohi ki te kanohi. You can’t check what that looks like – if they’re at home, in a bedroom, trying to work things out on their own, it just adds to their anxiety.”

Sophie says she would like to see the Ministry relook at the timetabling of the school year and also talk with universities regarding entrance requirements.

Learning success comes down to whanaungatanga

Meanwhile at Te Kura Reo Rua o Waikirikiri at Tūranga Nui ā Kiwa Gisborne, ensuring their students have access to internet and devices has been more challenging.

Teaching duo Anne and Wayne Abraham say money is tight in their school community, with job cuts in the nearby forestry industry putting extra financial pressure on many whānau.

“For a lot of our parents, buying food and essentials is the limit of their income, they don’t have the finances to support wi-fi or a device that’s capable of doing anything more than a text.”

Anne says to help ease the burden of lockdown, kaiako gave away all the school’s kai.

“All the food we had, the KidsCan stuff, we distributed to our whānau and just emptied out everything.”

She says teachers also rang parents to collect children’s learning packs, because classes were emptying fast. Anne says some whānau were heading “back up the coast” to their papakāinga, so grandparents and extended whānau could offer a bigger bubble of tautoko for tamariki, especially if parents were essential workers.

Wayne, who is also the deputy principal, says his first thought when lockdown was announced was, how are we going to manage online learning?

He was relieved to have the holidays brought forward as it gave them time to find out which families had internet and devices.

“It was such a huge task; it was so difficult just getting hold of people, documenting who had what. It took a whole week.”

The principal bought 40 devices with a community grant, leaving a shortfall of just 80.

Anne’s number of online students jumped from two to 15. She created a classroom site, sourcing activities off the internet.

But she says you can’t beat learning kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), for tamariki Māori. Especially for children who need school, to escape out of the house, particularly where there’s “layers of social and economic complexity”.

She says it’s also important to remember Covid-19 has its own tikanga.

“Our tamariki are at home, we are going into their space, and don’t want to put more pressure on them.”

Wayne says he thinks online learning only works well if there’s accountability.

“In class, there’s set routines, everyone’s being held accountable, everyone’s got to play the game.”

He says at their school, he believes learning success comes down to whanaungatanga.

“Our relationships with whānau, tamariki and staff here are strong, we all work well together, especially staff, even after hours if we need to. We couldn’t have gotten on with [the fight against Covid] otherwise.”

Concerns about students’ wellbeing

Relationships are fundamental at Christchurch Boys’ High School as well.

Daniel Hāpuku, the school’s Kaiārahi Mātauranga Māori says at Christchurch Boys, he believes Māori learners have excellent support, especially from senior management and the headmaster.

“Te reo Māori and tikanga are intertwined in every setting; when students and whānau see that they follow.

“Māori parents are making huge sacrifices to get their kids to our school. We have cases where they’re working two or three jobs, travelling long distances.”

Daniel says devices and connectivity haven’t been a big problem so far, but across town in his old neighbourhood, Christchurch East, he’s heard of families with five or more tamariki sharing one device, and others limited to studying off their cellphones.

But Daniel says his main concern for Māori students during lockdown in Ōtautahi, is their stress levels.

“Some of our boys have three to four generations of cultural disconnect from their Māori identity, school is one of the few places they can actually be Māori, feeding that [identity]. But I’ve noticed lockdown’s taking a toll, some boys are looking quite down; we’re lucky we’ve got good counselling here.” 

He says since the earthquakes, students have normalised stress. For example, many students consider it normal to be scared around tall buildings. Factoring in the floods, fires, mosque tragedy, and now Covid, it scares him to think about what their tamariki are going through. But he says students from Ōtautahi are incredibly resilient.

Managing anxiety

Further down the country in Murihiku Southland, stress and anxiety is also affecting whānau, says Carmen Stockdale, kaiako at Little Ones Early Learning Centre in Edendale.

Carmen says for parents to see teachers wipe, wash and sterilise everything all the time, and even the way they walk onto the premises, is bound to trigger anxiety.

“Teachers have their anxiety, parents have anxiety, and tamariki have theirs. I had to reflect, as a Māori kaiako, how am I going to handle that when I feel all of that coming on?”

Māori centre manager and owner Nardine Frost says in Southland, the regional isolation and impact of Covid-19 has helped boost stress levels through the roof.

She says for her personally, as a sole parent raising two sons with additional learning needs who are doing NCEA, with her closest whānau member 20 minutes’ drive away, it’s been tough.

“We are kanohi ki te kanohi people”

At Mātāuri Bay in Te Tai Tokerau, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Whangaroa, internet connectivity and access to devices has been an issue for some whānau. 

Tumuaki Papa Hēmi Wi Epiha gives an example. “One whānau has three levels of students, they are welcome to jump in with whichever teacher is online, at whatever level, in any of their brothers’ and sisters’ classes.

“But many whānau have no connectivity, and these are the ones we feel for,” he says.

Papa Hēmi says for whānau further north without devices, they use their phone data until it runs out. After that, or if there’s no reception, there’s no way of touching base with that whānau. He says reception in Northland is terrible; sometimes it can even be affected by the rain.

“I’ve had to say to parents, ‘Don’t fret, if you have no connectivity turn the TV on [to the Māori language learning channels] and connect with that’.”

Papa Hēmi says for those whānau who can be reached by phone, he’s found a system to connect face to face with students.

“I’ll ring their parents and find out what time they’re going into town to do their shopping and arrange to meet them at Countdown or New World. The best place to engage with students who have no connectivity is at the supermarket. But if they don’t make it in, that’s another day that goes by with no contact.”

“Other pockets of whānau are way, way up north but we’ve been finding ways to communicate with them and digging deep.

“I had one whānau I couldn’t get a learning package to. One of my kaiako, her husband is an essential worker who drives past, so he dropped it off.”

“We are kanohi ki te kanohi people, we are embedded learners, and up north here, especially up north, we must go to the whānau. Communication is top of the list.”

Whānau learns together

Mikaera Cooper and her whānau moved into her parents’ home in Taemaro Bay, Hihi, in the Far North, just before lockdown.

She says schooling has been a challenge, but Covid-19 has given them time together and she’s loving it.

“We can keep it up for a while; I don’t mind it at all, I’m really enjoying having [the tamariki] around. It’s great that life has slowed down, we can enjoy each other before we get stuck back in the grind.”

Mikaera, who is a kōhanga reo teacher, says she designed her own learning programme for her nine-year-old twin daughters using whatever resources they had.

“I get them to write about the day, some pāngarau, reading, spelling and artwork; I try not to overload them.” 

She says the only thing is there’s not enough internet capacity to fully support online learning. 

“We can read texts, but can’t play videos, watch social media or go on Zoom.”

She says while the girls might miss out on some learning compared to other students, she is already getting awhi from Papa Hēmi, even though they aren’t fully enrolled yet.  

“Once the learning pack gets here it’ll be awesome; the girls check the letterbox every couple of days.” 

Nine-year-old Charmay loves being taught at home by her mum.

“It’s really fun cos we do it in half an hour and then we get to play with our baby; we also get to go on the TV. I like Mauri Reo, Mauri Ora – we watch it every morning.

For Charmay, living with Nana and Papa is special.

“With my Papa, I can go fishing, and we can go to the garden with my Nana, and to the beach.”

Charmay’s grandad Matua Brendan Freeland says supporting the learning of his mokopuna is “awesome”.

“We’ve been fishing off the beach, learning to tie knots and put their bait on; I’ve even had them in the garden, under protest admittedly!”

Brendan says the chance to connect with his mokopuna is an experience he recommends to all grandparents, and not just during Covid-19 either. 

“It’s not easy, but if you get the opportunity jump in and do it, and when the kids get a bit ngenge, that’s ok, the main thing is they’re on the whenua, and hopefully they’ll be here for the next generation.”

And although there’s no remote learning via wi-fi, there’s an abundance of deep learning available for Charmay and her sisters, connecting into their reo Māori, their whenua and their moana, through her parents and grandparents.

“My dream was for one of my kids to return and build here on the land, and that’s happened. But now it’s actually gone beyond my dreams, because I’ve got my mokos – they’re here on the land with me too.”

Resources to support Māori learners

Kia Manawaroa(external link) brings together information from the Ministry of Education and other agencies, to support iwi and Māori audiences to increase their knowledge and therefore be given the opportunity to be more actively involved in supporting their children’s learning. 

Mauri Reo, Mauri Ora(external link) is the new educational programming on Māori Television. This partnership with Māori Television is part of the Ministry’s ongoing commitment to support learning from home for whānau, tamariki, rangatahi and ākonga reo Māori who may not have ready access to the internet or learning devices.

Ki te Ao Mārama(external link) supports and celebrates learning by providing practical ideas, resources and guidelines to use at home.

Learning from Home(external link) helpline staff can support early learning services, schools and kura, and their parents and whānau with online learning delivery for children and young people as they continue their learning at home. 

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

Posted: 8:37 am, 7 May 2020

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