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Wananga still waiting

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
A rumour is circulating that Education Minister Trevor Mallard is about to announce the appointment of a commissioner to take control of Te Wananga o Aotearoa. What the Courier can confirm is that messages from the Ministry of Education appear to indicate that a different and vastly downsized role is seen for the Wananga. Meanwhile, Wananga students are making their feelings known.
‘DON’T use the Wananga as a political football’ is the theme of messages painted on rugby balls being sent to politicians by Wananga students, including, from left: Margy Aull, Hariata Loughlin, Betty Fletcher, Hemi Maniapoto, Josh Lambert and Raniera Moke. 235051AD

By Grant Johnston

Te Wananga o Aotearoa says it will resist strongly attempts to re-shape it into an organisation solely for Maori.

The Wananga has done everything in its power in recent months to comply with the Ministry of Education’s requirements - not that it believes it has not complied previously.

But the political ‘blow torch’ has been turned on the Wananga since Act MP Ken Shirley made allegations of nepotism and corruption against the organisation in the House earlier in the year.

The Wananga has been audited numerous times over the past couple of years - and is awaiting a report from the Office of the Auditor General, following another audit carried out after the allegations.

That report is about three months past its anticipated release. Cynics might surmise that the report delay is a case of ‘powder being kept dry’ by politicians entering an election campaign.

But the Audit Office enquiry and findings are independent - so what it does suggest is that corruption was not found, otherwise immediate action would have been taken.

Given the way events have unfolded this year, one could not blame the Wananga for being a bit nervous while it awaits news about where the Minister of Education sees its future.

The Wananga has been compiling a charter document and a detailed profile (outlining how the aims of the charter will be achieved). It has also radically changed its management structure, with a new chief operating officer role created and the 14-member council being replaced by six executive directors.

The Wananga says it seems the Ministry interprets the Education Act to show that Wananga programmes should be limited to traditional Maori interests - language, performing arts or crafts - and that the style of teaching should be Maori. The Wananga believes that this limited range of programmes and distinctive delivery method would preclude many of the non-Maori students who enrol in its wider range of programmes (non-Maori currently outnumber Maori students).

Many of these students are from the lower socio-economic group, including plenty of immigrants, and it is debatable without the Wananga whether they would access tertiary education at all. The exclusion of non-Maori students currently accessing education through the Wananga by a Maori quota being imposed would likely remove many of these students from tertiary education completely.

The Wananga is also adamant that contemporary education is essential to Maori development. Computer literacy and business acumen are seen as essential skills for Maori, as well as non-Maori, in the modern world.

The Wananga has a culture of inclusiveness - imbuing throughout its organisation the necessity of treating all students and staff the same, regardless of race.

It would be a tragedy to see Government imposing racially based limitations on such an organisation.

See Editorial page 6 of today's Courier.

Students aim to kick back

By Grant Johnston

Students at Te Wananga o Aotearoa are sick of the institution being treated as a political football. They have ‘kicked back’ by sending a unique message to politicians, painted on rugby balls.

Spokesperson Margy Aull says the ‘final straw’ was a campaign leaflet released by the National Party on the Labour Party’s ‘Taxathon’. The leaflet listed ‘The Prime Moneywaster’s’ pet charitable projects fundraised for, in which the Wananga appeared three times.

“The Wananga is not a charity, it is an extraordinary educational organisation which serves thousands of everyday New Zealanders ,” Miss Aull says.

She says the leaflet is grossly inaccurate in its description of Wananga ‘bail outs’ and the students have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The football messages are being sent to Steven Joyce, who authorised the leaflet, National leader Don Brash, education spokesman Bill English and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The students also have a message for Education Minister, Trevor Mallard.

“We will protest in our thousands if Mr Mallard forces a commissioner on the Wananga. We believe that course of action would be unacceptable.”

Wananga student Hemi Maniapoto says the attacks on the Wananga have affected the students deeply and the football messages were their way to react to that at a ‘grassroots’ level.