By Chanel Phillips, Otago University
This year the Hui Fono was held from February 13-15 at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke, Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington).

The theme was Islands in the S.T.R.E.A.M – Science, Technology, Relationships, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. These days mainstream educators are stressing the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For Māori and Pasifika, Arts and Relationships are also vital parts of an effective education too.

The keynote speakers and workshops were focused on locating each of the subject areas in a cultural context, providing an experience of one of these subjects in action, and encouraging ideas for improved teaching and learning practice.

Keynote speakers

Dr Palatasa Havea

What a privilege it was having Dr Havea come and speak with us. He shared his incredible story of education and the endless setbacks he faced throughout his journey, through no fault of his own. The education system was relentless, trying at every corner to get him to quit. But it was his self-belief and thinking of his family back in Tonga that made him rise above those who doubted him and beat an education system designed to work against him. He shared six key messages with us:

  1. Be inspired to do more. There is always work to do for our people, never become complacent.
  2. Compare yourself with the right yardstick.
  3. Focus on our vision – not the problem.
  4. There is power in being different – see what everyone else sees but think what no one else thinks.
  5. Your untold wealth starts from what you have already got. Our culture is entrenched in science, in STEM.
  6. Think about the non-negotiables in your mind and in your hearts. This is what will ground you and push you forward when things get rough.

The final message he shared with us was to never be afraid of failure. For to F.A.I.L only represents the ‘First. Attempt. In. Learning’.

Nikora Ngaporo

Nikora was the first speaker of the panel session who spoke to the ‘technology’ aspect of STREAM, based on his understanding of digital literacy which he has gained through his extensive experience working for WETA. His passion for growing digital literacy in young people is inspiring and he encourages everyone to think about the role of technology and the digital world for future career paths which can take you all over the world. Māori and Pasifika are natural innovators and creative thinkers, characteristics that make us perfect for this digital and technological space. His take-home message was that we need to show kids that this is a possible (and awesome) career pathway that can take them all over the world.

Dr Jodie Hunter & Dr Bobbie Hunter

The next speakers for our morning panel were mother and daughter duo Dr Bobbie and Dr Jodie Hunter. These amazing wāhine showed us that mathematics, a subject that many Māori and Pasifika don’t like to engage with, is embedded in our culture and language; we just have to teach maths according to our cultural norms and contexts. They explained that Māori and Pasifika disengagement is because teachers fail to use problem-solving examples that reflect the lives of the students. They discussed their philosophy of maths education – one that reflects the lives, contexts and cultures of our Māori and Pasifika learners. Using the geometric pattern of the tīvaevae for example, Jodie and Bobbie had the audience solve algebraic formulas, highlighting that math can be fun, engaging and easy when the context makes sense to the learners. Their take-home message was that we must redefine mathematics as a cultural being.

Other speakers

Paora Ammunson

Deputy Chief Executive at Tertiary Education Commission Paora Ammunson gave an opening address about some of the work his team at TEC has been doing in and around Māori and Pasifika education. One of the key issues he raised involved data analysis and data knowledge; what data is being captured and how important is that data for understanding Māori and Pasifika student success. He noted that a lot of the data collected is concerned with the broader context, when in reality, the things that become important for Māori and Pasifika are nuanced, are smaller, things like being first in the family for example. Paora also spoke about the importance of reaching our tamariki when they are in Year 10. This is the time when our students are choosing to not take science and maths, which has a huge impact on where that learner can go in the future. His address resonated well with keynote speakers Dr Bobbie Hunter and Dr Jodie Hunter who stressed the significance of making maths relevant to Māori and Pasifika cultural contexts so they continue to study maths into their senior year.

Jessie Robieson

Hīnātore Learning Lab is a revitalised learning facility at Te Papa Museum that is engaging, conducive to learning, fun and modern. Jessie spoke with us about their new upgraded learning lab and how they changed the traditional learning classroom into a new, modern and fun space for kids to learn. This space is full of taonga that the kids can engage with and learn about, it is designed for others to look in and see what fun learning is going on, and it is resourced with a number of new technologies and tools for learning. Kids are able to learn about virtual reality, augmented reality and other cool tools that are accessible to everyone. What was once a stiff and underwhelming classroom has now transformed into a fun, bright and exciting place of learning. Jessie’s take home message was to make learning fun, engaging and enlighten that spark within all of us. This is the meaning of their name ‘Hīnātore’ – the glimmer, illuminance, fluorescence.