Special Education Practices: M?ori of New Zealand

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The first New Zealand Education Act was passed in 1877 and provided the basis for a free and universal education available for all children, covering 13 years of primary and secondary schooling. The educational system in New Zealand was essentially a central system. Funds are provided by the central government where teachers are trained in government colleges of education and the curriculum content and standards are determined nationally. The system was developed primarily on the basis of trends in other countries, particularly England.

By 1989, The Education Act (Section 8) legislated “equal rights to primary and secondary education, people who have special educational needs (whether because of disability or otherwise) have the same rights to enroll and receive education in state schools as people who do not.” (Ministry of Education, New Zealand)

As with general education, the development of special education in New Zealand has been influenced by ideas and practices imported from other countries, especially Britain and the United States. A reasonable range of special education provisions has evolved for students who have social, emotional or behavioral difficulties and speech, hearing, visual or physical disabilities. In the intervening years, New Zealand ’s belief in an egalitarian society has been combined with an increasing international awareness of human rights and disability issues. A significant outcome of such thinking has been the development and implementation of the Special Education 2000 policy.

The special education policy framework, Special Education 2000, was first announced in the 1996 Budget to enhance resourcing for children and young people with special education needs. According to the Ministry of Education of New Zealand, “there is a number of school settings available to students with special education needs: mainstream classrooms, special schools, special education classes within mainstream schools, to just name a few. Resources provided also include: specialist support, therapy, staffing, equipment and other materials, property modification and transport, as well as advice and specialist support.”

Special education services for learners from ethnically diverse groups are generally designed, delivered and evaluated by people from the majority culture and are usually based on a majority culture concept of special needs. If a learner’s background is not taken into account in the services provided, these services are likely to be less effective. In New Zealand, the Māori people are the indigenous people. A Māori is a person who identifies with or feels they belong to the Māori ethnic group. They are of Polynesian extraction and represent approximately 15% of New Zealand’s population. The Māori are a diverse group. “They differ in many areas including education level, lifestyle, beliefs, values, socio-ecomomic status, religious and tribal affiliations, geographic location, knowledge and practice of Māori culture and the degree of assimilation into the Pakeha (white New Zealander) society.” (Harrison, 2005) The education system has played a crucial role in acculturating Māori children and their families into accepting these ideals as being right and proper for them.

Māori education has been molded to fit a mainstream framework rather than a traditional Māori one. The Māori wanted to learn their own language, (te reo Māori ) traditions, their ancient history as well as their interpretations of colonial history. They wanted to maintain those aesthetics that derive from the Māori world that make them unique in the world. According to Glynn (2005), assimilation into the mainstream educational system created learning disabilities for Māori children.

The New Zealand education system has never legally defined categories of disability. The term learning disabilities was not accepted as an area of special education. But there has been a category called “educationally retarded.” Most...
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