Sunday, 8 July 2012

Indigenous learners

image from author's own collection
Some key messages have been described in relation to how we can best support indigenous learners: knowing your learner, knowing the demands and knowing what to do (from Whakatipuranga Arapiki Ako Report,  2010) among them. Having reflected in activity four about issues of access and equity, these ideas go a step further, towards solution-seeking rather than identification of the issues. I have been aware of a tendency  to ‘homogenise’ Pacific ethnicity into one ‘category’, where in fact much diversity exists between various Pacific identities, and I am reminded that within the literature pertaining to Māori educational achievement a similar tendency is observable, despite the diversity of iwi across the country. The School of Midwifery has a number of strategies in place to keep tika/tikanga visible, but we are also cognisant that regional differences between Kai Tahu (in the South) and Ngati Toa/Te Atiawa (here in the North) mean we cannot apply one set of tika/tikanga practices across all our student body and activities.
Expanding the blended undergraduate midwifery programme to the lower North Island has seen an overall rise in the numbers of enrolled students identifying as Māori and Pacific. This is great for midwifery, as although all midwives should be culturally competent, it will be a great day when women of any ethnicity have an option to be cared for by a midwife of their own ethnicity. Currently, 5% of midwives with practicing certificates identify as Māori, 1.1% as Pacific and 3.2% as Asian, in a context where the ethnicity of birthing women comprise (respectively) 20.5%, 10.5% and 9.3% of the population (MCNZ Workforce Report, 2010). Incremental progress is being made in this area of midwifery education, with a satellite of the Auckland University of Technology offering local midwifery education in the Counties region of South Auckland to actively address this issue there. Midwifery does, admittedly, have a way to go.
Because a number of barriers exist institutions could be more proactive about giving indigenous learners access to the technology required to support blended learning, as the cost of computing equipment etc is significant. This was seen as a successful strategy in Clayton, Rata and Baral’s (2004) paper. Other aspects that appear to be fruitful relate to how we as educators approach and support education of indigenous learners by being mindful that education needs to be viewed as ‘collective good’, not a personal good (Greenwood & Te Aika, 2009). The five key elements identified in the Hei Tauira Report as being crucial to successfully supporting Maori learners are Toko ā-iwi, ā wānanga (institutional and iwi support), Tikanga (use of local values and protocols), Pukenga (use of ‘experts’ – or suitably qualified staff and leaders), Ako (reciprocal learning and teaching styles) and Huakina (removing the barriers to access, or ‘opening the doors’) (p. 2). The holistic nature of Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā model is as resonant for education as it is for health, acknowledging that the complex matrix of spiritual, family, physical and emotional congruence is what makes for the best outcomes.
In the school of midwifery we strive to incorporate tika/tikanga practices as much as possible. We use greetings in te reo and keep mindful of tapu and noa in respect to eating in our learning environments etc. We try to use imagery in our resources that is inclusive, (like the ‘learning story’ about the tui presented in the Whakatipuranga Arapiki Ako (2010) document) and our students all spend two days on a local marae in their first year where they participate in marae life, a Te Tiriti O Waitangi workshop and prepare their pepeha (mihimihi) for presentation to those present. Students may present their assignments in te reo if they prefer, although the process around this means that the assignment is translated by a Māori staff member outside the School and then marked in English by a lecturer. When we have a fluent speaker on the staff who is a midwife this will be a much more valuable process for the students, as prior knowledge about midwifery is an important aspect to understanding the kaupapa of the assignment.
Other challenges we face with our indigenous learners relate to balancing whānau responsibilities and study – respected student midwives are often called upon to attend tāngi, powhiri etc which can impact on their availability for study experiences, particularly on-call periods for births. A significant issue also is that because their numbers are quite small, whenever pronouncements are made about learning outcomes in relation to ethnicity, they can feel quite exposed because everyone knows who they are! When they are being successful this is great, but when unsuccessful it is clearly not. The pakeha students do not experience this same level of scrutiny as no-one knows who makes up the statistics, and so reporting outcomes by ethnicity (although undoubtedly useful if used to identify strategies to improve outcomes) can be detrimental in the short term to the students currently enrolled.
Assessment strategies such as exams, essays, video etc do not always suit some learners, but I do not perceive that this divide is along lines of ethnicity. As mentioned in a previous blog, one student has lamented that she is unable to create a song or weave a mat while describing her understanding of a particular area of subject matter. In the third year we do have one assessment where the student produces an artwork representing an aspect of their learning, and some amazing work is produced for this assessment. However, “jo public” expects a midwife to be a safe practitioner, and artworks do not reassure the public of clinical excellence, so as one strand in an assessment policy I’m glad this one exists, but it cannot conceivably be expanded to the whole programme!
image from author's own collection

I am busy searching the databases for some articles to add to my learning plan for antenatal screening, examining Maori and Pacific women’s ideas and experiences around screening – the Bioethics Council has done some work in this are so I will focus my search there for now…

Clayton, J., Rata-Skudder, N. & Baral, H. (2004). Pacifika communities online: and implications. Retrieved from
Greenwood, J. & Te Aika, L-H. (2009). Hei tauira: Summary document. Retreived from
Midwifery Council of New Zealand, (2010). The midwifery workforce report. Retrieved from


  1. Suzanne, this is a fantastic description of the excellent work being done in midwifery to support indigenous students and cultural diversity. I totally agree, the support of whanau and the community is really important, and as you say particularly essential when access to computing and Internet technology is compromised.

    I think that the opportunity to include some creative and student-focused assessment is wonderful, but as you say assessments also need to enable students to demonstrate competency in clinical practice and theory. Perhaps they could have more freedom in this area as well in terms of negotiating suitable assessments.

    I love this post so much that I would like to use it as a resource for future students - what do you say to my putting a link to this on the course wiki? I would also like to link to it from the Assessing and Evaluating course. Are you okay with this?

    Good luck with your searching.

  2. Hi Bronwyn. Thanks for your positive feedback about this post (and all the others!). I am happy for you to link to this blog in your other courses, but have also worked out that I have used an incorrect term (though often-used abbreviation)in the blog. Tika/tikanga should of course read tikaka/tikanga, 'tika' is a word that we hear as an abbreviation which is no doubt unwise... perhaps we could edit the blog to include the correct terminology?
    I will be in touch soon to plan my final contributions to the course. Cheers, Suzanne

  3. Great I look forward to hearing from you.