Pūhoro founder Naomi Manu at her home in Palmerston North. Image / Mark Mitchell
The View from My Window: Pūhoro school founder Naomi Manu (Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungunu) on adding an extra “m” to STEMM.
The word I would use to describe my grandmother Selina is “awhi”, to beg. Warm and
safe. That’s what he was to me growing up. That’s what he lives for me now. And that is reflected in the way I did Pūhoro, like a steady hand of manaaki throughout it. For some of our students we may be the only people who tell them how amazing they are, how amazing their abilities are and that we believe in their dreams.
I was the first person on both sides of my family to go to university. At school, I really liked art. I didn’t see science or math in my future. But by 2030, most jobs will require some level of STEM skills. Less than two per cent of the current workforce identify as Māori, and we know that our young people tend to move into careers that follow their parents or their parents’ networks, so there is plenty of work to do. which should be done.
Recent research has shown the damaging effect of streaming in schools. And students from maths and science are disproportionately different from Māori and Pacific, than from other population groups. In Year 11, when we start working with our rangitahi, many already have deep feelings of not being good enough.
They drop science and math when it’s no longer mandatory, or they’re no longer qualified to continue because they’re in low-level programs and don’t have the right standards of achievement. Then if they decide they want to go into something like engineering or medicine, they have to do a foundation-level course and end up paying an extra annual fee.
We destroy that. It is a requirement of our partnership agreement for students to participate in the Year 12 and 13 science and maths programmes. If the schools are not ready to do that, we don’t work with them. At the end of 2022 our first group of engineering students completed their honors year.
Pūhoro STEMM Academy stands for pūtaina (science), pūkaha (technology), pūkaha (engineering), pāngarau (maths) and mātauranga Māori — that’s an extra “M”. Times are set on the schedule. It’s not homework or an after-school club; it is part of the school curriculum, so the system takes responsibility for its mistakes. STEM equity success should not be the responsibility of Māori students to do on their own time.
The first step is to deal with feelings and beliefs. There is a lot of literature that supports that if you focus on cultural relationships and identity, there is a relationship with academic performance. The second part is providing hands-on opportunities, and the third part is exposure, so they develop a way to see potential jobs. At one of our workshops in Auckland, an orthopedic surgeon showed students how to do a hip replacement.
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Once the students are at a higher level, we hire them as part-time tutors back at their old schools, so the younger ones see their tuākana that a few years ago was sitting where they are sitting now. They begin to feel proud of the fact that science is in their DNA. They are descended from the ancestors responsible for what is arguably the most complex human migration, and they did not do so by accident. It was the complexity of their ability to understand the world around them.
In mātauranga Māori, one of the differences is the symbiotic relationship we have with land and water, like the descendants of Papatūānuku and Tangaroa. So we talk about water quality and how river pollution causes harm to the environment. It’s a different relationship than what environmental science and climate change can tell you.
In this country, we have the luxury of enjoying two advanced knowledge systems, and they need not compete. They are just different. If we unravel or better understand Rongoā Māori practices of health and well-being, that different lens can help us address issues where we have yet to find answers.
As mentioned by Joanna Wane
- Naomi Manu is manahautū (principal) and founder of Pūhoro, a charity set up in partnership with Massey University to engage Māori students in STEM-related pathways (puhoro.org.nz). In 2022, Pūhoro was the top winner at the 2022 NZ Diversity Awards and won the international innovation award for Most Forward-Thinking Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Program in Engineering and Tech — a category won by NASA last year.