Young people share how an inclusive Aotearoa starts at school

Issue: Volume 103, Number 7

Posted: 6 June 2024
Reference #: 1HAgsp

In a new report, young people shared that their most common experiences of racism had happened at school, but it was education-focused solutions that would be instrumental in addressing the issue.

Auckland artist Sara Moana’s illustrations are throughout the report.

Auckland artist Sara Moana’s illustrations are throughout the report.

"The change needs to start in schools.”

This is one of the key messages from young people in a new report released by Mana Mokopuna – Children and Young People’s Commission.

“Without racism Aotearoa would be better”: Mokopuna share their experiences of racism and solutions to end it is a unique snapshot of children and young people’s voices gathered from across Aotearoa New Zealand over a two-year period, sharing both their deep lived experience of racism and their aspirations for a more inclusive future.

As all educators will know, racism is one of the big issues affecting the lives of young people, and one that they want to see positive action on. In this report, a vision for a more caring and fair future shines through, with a clear message: young people want to be part of this change, but we all need to take responsibility.

Elevating youth voice

To ensure a range of perspectives were heard, Mana Mokopuna talked to young people in various settings in the community including schools, at special events and in youth justice residences.

Some of these engagements were carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and the National Iwi Chairs Forum, as an integral step in the development of the National Action Plan Against Racism.

The voices in the report warranted their own publication, to showcase the honestly described experiences and vision they expressed. These voices are reported verbatim throughout the report and arranged into five broad themes:

  • we experience racism in lots of different ways
  • racism is everywhere
  • connection to my culture helps me feel that I belong
  • we have aspirations for an Aotearoa that is free from racism
  • we have lots of solutions to end racism, but action is essential.

Many of the young people shared that their most common experiences of racism had occurred in school and education settings. At the same time, they said it was education-focused solutions that would be instrumental in addressing racism.

Both Māori and non-Māori children said they believed the answers to a better society lie in te ao Māori.

Chief Children’s Commissioner Dr Claire Achmad is encouraging teachers and school leaders to read the report and have open conversations with ākonga about practical, actionable ideas to help end racism in schools.

“Our education spaces must be inclusive, celebrate difference and support all ākonga in their learning ... [Young people] are presenting practical solutions so their education spaces can be safe for learning, so they can thrive to their full potential.

“I’m encouraging every single educator in every school around the motu to jump onto our website and download this report and read it.”

Sharing the impact

Kingslea School principal Tina Lomax is responsible for a network of special composite schools, including those that serve youth justice and care and protection residences. Some of the voices in the report were those of Kingslea students, and she encourages teachers and principals across the motu to pay attention to what they have to say.

“As educators we often do things we think our students need and want, rather than what they really do. The perspectives shared in this report are quite enlightening.

“I think principals and their staff really need to unpack this report and see where they could do better in their schools. As school leaders, we’re in a very powerful position and you can’t deny these examples of what young people are telling us,” she says.

Tina says the solutions that young people offer in the report, especially those that are grounded in te ao Māori, resonate with her experience.

“It’s not rocket science. What works well for Māori, works for all our ākonga. If we want them to succeed at school, they have to feel they belong there.”

Lucy Bristow says her students at Selwyn College are deeply aware of and engaged in social justice. As an English teacher, she would introduce the report as a component of a wide selection of related literature, such as poetry and short stories. She would take care to create a safe space for class discussion as well as personal responses to the theme.

“Young people are very aware of issues and especially those that impact their generation. Racism is a heavy kaupapa but it is an issue they are thinking, talking and writing about.”

Lucy agrees with Tina that the report could be a valuable resource in an educator’s professional development kete.


Listening for change

A crucial part of the work Claire does is to talk with children and young people across Aotearoa, listen to them and share their perspectives and ideas for change. In the report’s foreword, she invites readers to listen to them and act too.

“Every day of childhood and youth is precious. Let’s listen carefully to the voices of the children and young people of Aotearoa New Zealand, for their childhoods are in progress today.

“Let’s listen to their experiences, their pain, their aspirations and to their powerful calls for change – one that is for all of us.”

Claire acknowledges that racism is a sensitive topic and it can be very difficult to think, talk or read about it, especially for those who have experienced it.

“But it’s also something that children and young people have told us they want to be visible and brought into the light.”

“Without racism Aotearoa would be better”: Mokopuna share their experiences of racism and solutions to end it is available in both full and ‘at a glance’ formats, and in both te reo Māori and English. Printed copies of the report in te reo Māori are available to kura and schools on request by emailing

Mana Mokopuna – Children and Young People’s Commission(external link) is an independent Crown entity established on 1 July 2023, to promote and protect the rights of children and young people in New Zealand. They advocate for policies and practices that ensure children and young people have a voice in decisions that affect them and that their rights are upheld.

The report

Creating a more inclusive environment

The report outlines ideas directly from children and young people on how kura and schools can be more inclusive.

  • “Make te reo Māori compulsory in schools, not just in Māori schools”.
  • “(Hold a) culture day in schools to showcase all diversity in the school”.
  • “Jump jam – bring back in te reo Māori”.
  • “Schools and teachers should act when there is racist bullying”.
  • “More Māori and Pacific parents needed on the school board”.
  • “Hire teachers from other cultures, religions and backgrounds”.
  • “Celebrate and integrate culture in all ways such as artwork through school, school architecture, speakers invited to school”.
  • “Workshops – run by young people for young people – (to) talk about different cultures, experiences in a new country and belonging”.
  • “Learn about Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.
  • “Not just Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, extend (it) beyond the week”.

Further reading and resources

Facilitating conversations about racism must be done with preparation and care to create a safe environment where ākonga feel comfortable to participate in the conversation and share their perspectives.

Useful resources include:

For more ideas and inspiration, read the Education Gazette series on inclusive education at link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:05 am, 6 June 2024

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts