Encouraging young Māori into science

 

Nicole Spriggs (Ngāi Tahu ), from Lincoln High School,  getting close to an invertebrate in a UC lab.

Nicole Spriggs (Ngāi Tahu ), from Lincoln High School, getting close to an invertebrate in a UC lab.

A University  of Canterbury scheme aimed at encouraging Māori secondary school students into university science studies is already changing lives and encouraging rangatahi to consider new pathways for their future.

 

He Puna Pūtaiao is a partnership programme between the University of Canterbury College of Science and several  Canterbury secondary schools that began in 2013. Based on a scheme delivered by LENScience at the Liggins Institute in Auckland, He Puna Pūtaiao engages Year 10 Māori students in the culture of science by involving them in scientific research.

 

Using the context of the water quality in Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, the students are mentored in literature reviews and collecting and analyzing data in the field, before presenting their findings both in e-book format and a research poster displayed at a Pō Whakanui at the end of the programme.

 

The partnership schools – Cashmere High School, Burnside High, Linwood College and Lincoln High School – all select nine Year 10 Māori students to attend the intensive six-week programme during October and November, which includes weekly visits to the University of Canterbury and a field trip to Te Waihora.

 

John Pirker (Ngāi Tahu), Māori Advisor to the UC College of Science, says partnership schools and students’ whānau have been heavily involved in the planning and partnership since it began. A science teacher from each school attends the programme with the students, and post-graduate students and staff from University of Canterbury science departments volunteer their time to mentor students during each week of the programme.

 

Isaac Wilson (Cashmere High School) and Channelll Thoms (Ngāi Tahu) who was one of the postgraduate mentors, pictured at Te Waihora measuring water quality.

Isaac Wilson (Cashmere High School) and Channelll Thoms (Ngāi Tahu) who was one of the postgraduate mentors, pictured at Te Waihora measuring water quality.

“That’s been a pivotal role and one that’s had an enormous effect on the students,” says John Pirker.

“Being mentored by some of our post-graduate students has been very inspiring for the school students. They’ve been mixing with university students, visiting lecture theatres and learning that university isn’t a scary place.

“That, coupled with the research work they do around Te Waihora water quality, shows them that they can achieve in a university environment if they choose to.”

 

University of Canterbury Science Outreach Coordinator, Joan Gladwyn says He Puna Pūtaiao has had a very positive response from school staff and students alike.

“Many of the students who’ve done the programme talk about gaining confidence and an interest in science,” she says.

“As a result of the course, they can see that a career in science is an achievable goal for them. The programme is about exposing them to opportunities and it’s definitely working. Some of these students had never heard  Māori and science talked about together before.”

 

John Pirker says that Te Waihora was an obvious study choice, especially given that one of the schools (Lincoln) is within the Te Waihora catchment.

 

“We have the support of Te Taumutu Rūnanga, Environment Canterbury, the Department of Conservation and the Waihora Ellesmere Trust for the students to work around the lake, and with the number of co-management plans involved in Te Waihora restoration, it’s a perfect example of Mātauranga Māori and western science working together to remediate the lake,” he says.

 

From left Riana Prentice, Tangianau Thompson, Keziah Thompson, Storm Kiddie, Te Ao Marama Davis, Aroha Dixon Ngāi Tahu), Lucy Brown.

From left, Riana Prentice, Tangianau Thompson, Keziah Thompson, Storm Kiddie, Te Ao Marama Davis, Aroha Dixon (Ngāi Tahu), Lucy Brown.

In addition to testing Te Waihora water quality, the students also learn about the lake’s history and mahinga kai practices,  and they meet Taumutu kaumātua; their site visits have also included interactions with bird experts and practising scientists.

 

“I’m pleased to say the students can already see the need to drive these restoration projects forward for iwi Māori and the wider community. They can see the need for Māori to have a voice within science. We’re excited about that.

 

“If they go ahead with university science studies there are good job prospects and leadership roles there if they want them.”

 

Joan Gladwyn says it’s very rewarding to see He Puna Pūtaiao is already having such a positive effect on students.

“We know we’re making a difference and if the Auckland programme our scheme is based on is anything to go by, we’ll continue to see significantly more young Māori going into university science studies. That’s very satisfying because these young people are our future and they have a voice that needs to be heard.

 

“He Puna Pūtaiao is all about igniting fires, inspiring people and changing lives. We’ve had students tell us that the programme has opened their eyes to what they are actually capable of doing. That’s always rewarding.”