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Supporting kura kaupapa Māori students into university life

30 June 2021

Lilly Eckhold is breaking through barriers as a student from a kura kaupapa Māori background and the first of her whānau to go to university.


Kiliona Tamati-Tupa'i (left) and Lilly Eckhold are studying at the University of Canterbury after graduating from kura kaupapa Māori immersion schools last year.

She is one of six students from a Māori immersion school background enrolled for their first year at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury this year.

Lilly (Ngāi Tahu, Waikato) says it’s a big adjustment coming to a large institution from a kura kaupapa in Tāmaki-makau-rau Auckland. “Having to wrap my head around mainstream education and the language has been a bit of a bumpy road,” she admits. “I’m enjoying it, but it’s challenging.

“This is what us kura kids have to open up to when we join mainstream education. There is a culture change there, but I’ve been sticking close to my mates and getting support from UC staff.”

The 18-year-old is motivated by her family and being the first to enrol at university. “If I was to let myself down, I’d also be letting my family down too so that’s giving me the urge to push forward. I wouldn’t want them to be disappointed with me.”

She chose to come to Ōtautahi Christchurch to be closer to extended family here, while also living away from home. She is studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce and wants to work in multicultural events management when she graduates.

UC has made a commitment to supporting kura kaupapa students, like Lilly, and aims to partner with the two local kura kaupapa Māori as a first step. Staff have been supporting students with understanding the university system, showing them how to apply for scholarships, and helping them navigate enrolment in tertiary study.

UC Amokapua Pākākano | Assistant Vice-Chancellor Māori, Pacific and Equity Dr Darryn Russell says it’s important for the university to recognise first language and native reo speakers and to accept they often face additional hurdles when coming to university.

 “Many Māori students have not yet established an intergenerational legacy within their whānau of going to university.  So, it’s important that we challenge our own institutional culture and tailor programmes that engage with kura kaupapa in ways that best support their students to learn about the options that are open to them.

“Traditionally this group of students have not been well-supported in their transition to university and the tertiary sector has not actively engaged with kura kaupapa. But we must make, and have started making, a commitment to local kura, and to others around the motu, to work with them to help their students.”

The two local kura kaupapa in Ōtautahi are Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Kura Whakapūmau i te Reo Tūturu ki Waitaha and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi. Year 12 students from both of these kura will be among the 150 Māori taiohi (students) attending Aukaha Tau 12  - an event that provides an introduction to university life - at UC’s Ilam campus next Tuesday.

Earlier this year UC launched a new pilot programme to support Māori and Pacific students with transition into university and navigating their first year at UC. Takere began with a four-week live-in scholarship programme for 37 students and have had continued mentoring and support throughout the year.

Five of the six kura kaupapa Māori students who started at UC this year are taking part in this programme.  

Students at UC have the option of submitting assignments in te reo Māori and their work is marked by someone proficient in the language who is not known to the student. Dr Russell says just as other students have strengths and confidence in the English language, kura kaupapa students have competency and strengths in te reo Māori. 

“They are confident, bicultural students and we need to change and adapt in order for them to succeed as Māori, rather than expecting them to leave part of themselves at the door when they come to our institution. It’s about working differently so we can help break through those barriers.”

Kiliona Tamati-Tupa'i (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Te Ātiawa, Samoa) is in his first year at UC, studying towards a Bachelor of Science, after graduation from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi last year. He says regular workshops held at the kura by UC staff in the last few terms of school smoothed the transition to university.

“Having people come and talk to us about courses really helped. They gave us some insight into the University as a whole.

“There were a lot of us who weren’t even thinking about going to university but now the majority of my class from last year are studying at a tertiary institution – with four of us here at UC.”

Kiliona, who received the 2020 Top Subject Scholarship Award for Te Reo Rangatira from NZQA, says there are advantages in being from a kura kaupapa background. “There’s the cultural perspective that we bring, and that’s something I think has been a real advantage for me, and of course, the fact that we’re bilingual.

“I’m studying Environmental Sciences and even though I’ve grown up in cities there are a lot of things I can relate to because of my connections to my marae and my papakāika [ancestral home].”

Kura kaupapa Māori are Māori-language immersion schools that are committed to revitalising Māori language and the philosophy, practices and values of Māori culture. In July last year there were more than 22,000 students enrolled in Māori-medium education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This year, new enrolments of Māori students at UC were up 30 per cent on last year’s tally, with 483 equivalent full-time students compared to 373 last year.

  • Aukaha Tau 12 will be held at UC's Ilam campus next Tuesday, 6 July. About 150 Māori students currently in Year 12 at Christchurch high schools - includingt students from both local kura kaupapa - are registered to attend. With interactive sessions and keynote speakers, Aukaha Tau 12 is a chance for taiohi to explore what’s on offer and get information about courses and degrees taught at UC. 

Media contact
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  • Phone: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168
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