When you go to school, you don’t really think about the fact everyone comes from a different background, with a different set of experiences, and a different world view. You also don’t think about how the way in which the education system works favours some students, and disadvantages others. It’s simply not fair that every student is not given the same opportunity to reach their potential.

Many students have done PISA tests – it’s an organisation that measures educational achievement in many countries across the globe. From that data, we are able to see the performance gap between Māori students within New Zealand. The graph below gives you a little insight into the performance gap in science that has been about the same since 2006. What is most striking is that on average New Zealand does better than other developed countries, however Māori students on average are performing well below the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) average.

Why is this the case? And what can we do about it? There are a lot of studies being done that look at why Māori achievement is lower than the New Zealand average, and I’ll talk about two of the main failures of our education system right now: the failure to recognise the cultural and language needs of other students, and the expectations we as a society place on students of different backgrounds. Our current system is centred around an individual learning journey, whereby you the student learn for yourself and by yourself, and are then tested on your own knowledge. Community, reciprocity, and mutual understanding is not present in this conception of education, yet these three things are what the Ministry of Education have identified as being central to helping Māori students to achieve their potential.

If our educational authorities have identified a problem, why aren’t we seeing the gap decrease? Part of this is to do with expectations, and what educational specialists call the Pygmalion effect. Student performance is related to the expectations that we place on the student – and in New Zealand right now, do we place the same expectations on every student, or are we somewhat inherently biased? Do we, for example, expect Asian students to outperform other students? I think we do, and although we may not all overtly say these expectations out loud, they are present in our culture. What we as students see as our potential is influenced by what society sees our potential as being. Are we all on an equal playing field here then? I think not.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. The solution, while not easy, is about respecting the cultural and linguistic identity of Māori students, realising that we can learn a lot from each other, and expecting of every student nothing less than that they try to reach their potential. This doesn’t mean setting false limitations, and thinking “All I’m capable of is getting an Achieved,” because that’s what the people around me think I will get. It means each of us believing in ourselves and our peers, and, irrespective of our ethnicity, working together to achieve educational success, and equality.


Jack Goldingham Newsom is the founder of Thynke, who help students to succeed beyond what they thought possible. In creating Thynke, he set out a vision to help young people be informed about their education, and knowledgeable about the skills and competencies they need to develop to be change-makers in the 21st century. Check out what they offer on their website,