March 6, 2018

Celebrating diversity in our schools

Amber and several of her classmates are the first school students to take part in #myidentity, a new social media campaign that aims to encourage inclusivity and racial harmony.

Other schools are planning to participate in the project which launched on March 1, says its founder Mai Chen.

#myidentity asks all New Zealanders to share their stories about their unique identities – be it a race or ethnic origin, gender, religion, sexuality, an ability or disability – in a short video.

“We all have multiple identities and identity is a choice,” says Chen.

More than 40 prominent Kiwis, including comedian Ete Eteuati of the Laughing Samoans, MPs Carmel Sepuloni, James Shaw and Julie Anne Genter and psychiatrist Hinemoa Elder, are among those who have already contributed.

Chen, a lawyer specialising in Public and Employment Law who is also the chair of the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business, says it was important to involve secondary students in the next phase of the campaign because it is “actually about them”.

“The face of New Zealand is only going to continue to change so the ability to grow cultural capability is going to be so much more important for their generation than ours.

“I want them also to know that they can have multiple identities – if you’re Tongan-Samoan-Chinese that’s good, it’s not bad. Diversity is about difference.”

“Everyone has a gender, an ethnicity, an ability or disability, a sexuality, a religion.  We all have a lot of different affiliations. The burning platform here is simply that New Zealand is becoming much more diverse than it was.”

The 2013 Census found there were more than 210 ethnicities in the country, and 25 per cent of the population was not born here. The 2018 Census is likely to find that has increased further, says Chen.

“There’s an increase in the rate of inter-marriage, and also an increase in mixed-race babies being born. So education is absolutely at the coalface of New Zealand’s increasing super-diversity.”

anurewa High School (MHS) is New Zealand’s largest multicultural school with more than 2,000 students representing 50 nationalities.

Leanne Gibson, who is executive director of the school’s Business Academy, says a key focus of MHS’s charter is to foster strong identities among students.

If they are “strong in who they are and where they come from”, she says, “they can develop a better sense of where they are going”.

The #myidentity campaign “fitted perfectly” with these aims, she says.

Other initiatives include a whanau system, an international week and performing at Polyfest.

“I think there’s 10 different groups practicing at the moment, involving so many different ethnicities… identity is really celebrated, it is number one at the school.”

Year 12 student Matthew Lay, a New Zealand-born Cambodian, says taking part in #myidentity helped him learn more about himself and also engage with his classmates’ backgrounds.

“A little bit of each other makes a really big part of you… in South Auckland, Manurewa, we are so diverse, we come from different backgrounds, various knowledge [and] we share it all together.

“Now I’m ingrained with so much knowledge about life: Samoan, Pasifika, and also other Asian ethnicities, just seeing similarities, so I now feel that I’ve become one within the school.”

At Avondale College, Maori and Pasifika students make up nearly 40 percent of the school’s role of 2,850.

Students come from more than 30 ethnicities, and they embrace each other’s differences, says principal Brent Lewis. “It’s a tapestry. Every student is in a cultural minority, for a start.”

Inclusiveness and diversity are important values, he says, but not an end in themselves.

Avondale College has adopted a strategic approach to promoting success for Maori and Pasifika students, resulting in impressive achievement rates.

In 2017 Maori students at Avondale College not only surpassed all Maori students nationwide in their NCEA Level 1,2,3 and UE pass rates, but all New Zealand students (see graph).

During the last five years Avondale students have come first in the World Cambridge International Exams while 12 have claimed top-10 placings, including three podium finishes, at the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships.

Meanwhile the west Auckland school regularly has the highest number of entrants in Polyfest.

The performers support each other at the festival, and there is also a cross over within the groups, says Lewis. “The Tongan groups have Samoan and Maori kids in it and so on. Culture is an enabler and it is inclusive.”

“We don’t want siloed stuff. There is a big thing of celebrate and be proud of your culture, but that doesn’t mean you become arrogant and disrespect others. There’s a bigger school ethos about warmth and respect for one another.”

By Education Review – March 6, 2018