Māori tamariki say their culture and spirituality need to be better acknowledged in school for them to flourish, according to a report by Unicef.

In a nationwide survey and at hui, rangatahi reported Māori values and practices were crucial to their wellbeing and success at school, but felt these were not being adequately acknowledged.

Unicef New Zealand has incorporated the feedback into a newly-launched wellbeing model Te Hiringa Tamariki, based on those interactions with 500 Māori rangatahi (youth).

Tuimaleali'ifano (Malea), 18, said she found the concept of whanaungatanga, or creating connections and building communities, was vital to her wellbeing.

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"For a lot of young Māori feeling connected is important. The thought of knowing you belong to and are loved by a community."

However, the generic nature of the school system meant values like that were not always acknowledged for Māori youth, she said.

Going through the mainstream Wellington school system as half-Māori and half-Samoan, Malea said even things like having her name pronounced correctly was a challenge.

"Often they would just say my last name, but some would not even attempt it. I learned to know when my name was coming up and would just call out.

"I used to be offended, but I got used to it. Although it did affect the way I felt about my culture."

Malea attended kohanga reo and spoke te reo Māori from an early age.

Having that sense of cultural identity from an early age really helped her through school, she said.

"I think it was very important to have that grounding."

She now studied te reo Māori, sociology and cultural anthropology at Victoria University.

Unicef New Zealand director of child rights Andre Whittaker said key findings in their report were that culture, including te reo and kapa haka, along with the concepts of whanaungatanga and spirituality, were listed by rangatahi as important for their wellbeing.

The survey found 90 per cent of tamariki wanted to learn more about their ancestors, and 82 per cent said visiting their marae was important.

"What concerns us though is rangatahi feel their Māori culture is not acknowledged adequately by teachers and as a consequence, they struggle to be successful in school," Whittaker said.

This included reports, like Malea, of names being mispronounced, and feelings that teachers had lower expectations for them.

"It might seem like a small thing, but the name can mean a lot and represent their ancestors, and by getting it wrong consistently can start to make them feel out of place.

"Caring for New Zealand children must start with tamariki Māori, as they are currently falling behind their non-Māori peers in health, education and other areas."

The model Te Hiringa Tamariki articulated what tamariki Māori were capable of, rather than focusing on problems with Māori youth, Whittaker said.

"We will use this model and data to support young Māori to flourish."

They would be working with teachers to change some of the patterns revealed by the survey, including promoting better communication.

The survey found 34 per cent of tamariki did not feel they had someone they could talk to.

"Learning how to talk to one another, as whānau, is critical," Whittaker said.

"A significant portion of Māori still feel isolated, and say they have no-one to talk to."

Interventions resulting from the research include a pilot programme at Te Papapa School in Onehunga, Auckland; more hui in Christchurch, Wellington, Hastings and Auckland with Māori stakeholders to review the research findings; and a survey co-designed with young Māori to explore diversity, racism and bias.