Teachers against karakia

By Lynley Bilby

Union asked to step in over daily classroom prayers at intermediate school

Gabriel and Tiare, 10, pray on Friday. Photo / Doug Sherring
Gabriel and Tiare, 10, pray on Friday. Photo / Doug Sherring

Teachers at a state school have called in the union to protest about being asked to lead pupils in daily karakia.

The NZEI union has been asked to address concerns held by some staff at Auckland's Kelston Intermediate School over reciting a Maori prayer before lessons start each day.

The school recites a karakia at the start of its weekly assembly and in classrooms before lessons begin.

Staff deliver the prayer, which asks for the day to be blessed, help with work and to have a good week.

An NZEI spokeswoman confirmed the union was intervening at the school.

"NZEI is helping facilitate further discussion at the school on the issue and the school is welcoming of this." Kelston Intermediate principal Phil Gordon said he had no idea some staff were unhappy with karakia in the classroom until contacted by the union representative.

A Ministry of Education official said state primary schools were required to be secular - but this didn't preclude teaching about religion.

A 2009 document produced by the Human Rights Commission advised teachers and principals to avoid leading pupils in prayer, the official added.

Gordon said he reassured the union representative the karakia was a cultural component of school life and an expression of beliefs that reflected the Kelston community.

"I guess what they might have been inquiring about is the presence of karakia, etc, within school so we talked about what we're doing is not a religious thing but a cultural thing."

Staff and pupils were free to abstain, he insisted. "I think perhaps there has been a mismatch in understanding."


Blessed tolerance

At the start of each school day the sound of a young voice reciting a Maori prayer, or karakia, rings out in every classroom at West Auckland's Rosebank School.

Children from the Avondale primary school's Maori bilingual unit lead pupils and staff in daily prayer, a tradition stretching back two decades in a school that is a melting pot of race and creed.

Principal Heather Bell says beginning the day this way brings a sense of grounding to the school and creates a sense of belonging.

Translated, the brief Maori prayer penned by the school's kaiarahi reo or Maori language assistant, says: "Lord look after us, guide us with your work today, in your holy name."

Bell says there has always been great community support for karakia in school, which also includes a lunchtime blessing for food and a prayer for safekeeping at the end of the day.

And if any child felt uncomfortable they were free not to join in reciting the lines.

As a principal with pupils from 31 nations the inclusion of karakia served to create a community where cultural diversity was celebrated, Bell said: "It's a great place to learn tolerance."

- Herald on Sunday

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