George Tongariro (Ngāti Raukawa ki ti Tonga), TEU Vice President Industrial and Professional Committee and tutor in the Whitireia School of Information Technology discusses the importance the new Strategy must place on fostering genuine and constructive relationships between institutions, learners, whānau and iwi.

By positioning learners with their whānau at the centre of education, the Tertiary Education Strategy aims to ensure wellbeing is fundamentally entwined with learning. This objective is commendable in principle, but more must be done at the level of the institution to ensure a genuine and enduring commitment to making learners, their whānau, communities and iwi central partners in their education.

When local institutions and the community work together in meaningful ways, and when there is a genuine commitment to building positive relationships with iwi and local communities, there are positive experiences and outcomes for learners and their whanau.

Several years ago, the Whitireia School of Information Technology invited school children from mana whenua Ngāti Toa to take part in a ‘Tutu day’. School children and prospective students of all ages took part in two days of exploring IT, beginning with learning the parts and putting a PC together on the first day, to basic programming on the second.

The young people got to engage with a relatively new, and non-traditional field, one that is increasingly important in the modern world. Four years later, some of those young people, people from the local iwi, became students in IT at Whitireia, owing to the positive experience we at Whitireia were able to create for them. A couple have now graduated with degrees in IT. We now also have students from Ngāti Toa who have become tutors within the School of IT.

And it is not just children and young people who have benefited from this positive, genuine and proactive relationship with iwi and communities. Four of our tutors in the School of IT came to Whitireia as older tauira Māori, as people who knew the value of gaining a tertiary qualification, and who had the courage and ambition to take on the challenge later in life.

These kinds of positive outcomes are not always immediate, they take time. Young people who took part in the tutu day were of all ages, but it provided even those in the early stages of primary school an avenue and a means of enaging with IT, and of thinking about the possibilities of future work and learning. It also provided the young people in attendance, and their carers to engage with iwi members and mā te wā as role models within the School of IT – a discipline where Māori are still under represented in society, but increasingly represented at Whitireia.

To ensure we continue to see these positive outcomes, not just at Whitireia and in IT, but across the tertairy education sector, the Tertiary Education Strategy must make a meaningful and genuine commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and to strengthening relationships with iwi and communities. Concrete plans for how this can be achieved at the level of the institution and community will ensure the objective of placing learners and their whānau central to their education is more than merely aspirational, but a reality.