Sharples: Half of Maori Boys Not Gaining NCEA ‘Intolerable’

New Zealand Herald, June 18, 2009

Maori Affairs and Associate Education Minister Pita Sharples says he wants Maori to have free access to universities but only if they pass a course showing they have reached required standards.

In a speech yesterday Dr Sharples, who is Maori Party co-leader, said Maori should be able to go to university without any qualifications.

The idea is not government policy and met with mixed response and questions raised about how unqualified students would perform and whether it would be a disincentive for Maori school children to study.

This afternoon Dr Sharples clarified that he did not expect unqualified Maori to be immediately accepted into courses.

“It’s just providing entry for people to attend a student learning centre where they can reach the standard to do a degree.”

Universities run such courses and students learn skills such as essay writing.

Dr Sharples rejected that the idea was divisive.

“A lot of things can appear to be divisive until people see them in perspective and see them actually working.”

The situation now where half of Maori boys were not gaining NCEA qualifications was “stupid, ridiculous and it’s just intolerable”. Action was needed.

He disagreed easier access to tertiary study could be a disincentive.

“Maori can’t do any worse than the results are saying they do in schools. It’s sad we have to come to universities and put this proposal but something has to be done . . . Maybe this will make the schools look at what they were doing.”

In yesterday’s speech Dr Sharples said the dice were loaded against Maori. In 2007 only 63 per cent of young Maori men and 67 per cent of young Maori women left school with at least NCEA level one.

He said the rate for Pakeha was more than 20 percentage points higher–83 per cent of young men and 89 per cent of young women.

“Reserved places for Maori have proven the ability of Maori students to rise to the challenge if they are given the opportunity.”

This afternoon the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee issued a statement saying universities were already active running programmes to ensure increased Maori participation and achievement in university education.

“Above all universities must ensure that Maori students are properly prepared for university-level study,” committee chairman Professor Roger Field said.

“It is counterproductive in the extreme to set up any group in society to fail at the highest level of the education system.”

He said numbers had been improving but funding caps limited growth.

Labour’s Maori education spokesman, Kelvin Davis, said sending Maori students to university en masse would not fix the problem.

“Maori need solutions to a problem, not a problem disguised as a solution,” he said.

“The problem is that they don’t achieve at school. The solution is to fix schooling.”

Mr Davis said the May budget slashed $94.3 million from education over the next four years for tertiary literacy and numeracy programmes.

Nearly $70m of that was for adult and community education courses.

“These programmes–provided through polytechnics, university, wananga and the like–are exactly what is required to help more New Zealanders of all ethnicities go on to gain tertiary qualifications and better jobs.”

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