Students were the “push” for an Eastern Institute of Technology initiative which will see degree studies launched in Central Hawke’s Bay later this month, says lecturer Ahuriri Houkamau.
The first intake of Bachelor of Arts (Māori ) students enrolled through EIT’s Waipukurau Learning Centre commence their degree programme on July 20.
A close-knit, committed group, the seven students are staircasing to the degree, having already completed their Certificate in Māori Studies Levels 2 and 4 through the learning centre under Ahuriri’s tutelage.
Ahuriri, who has taught all the certificate programmes offered at the Waipukurau centre, explains:
“These students played an active role, making up their minds after level two that they would do the degree. After they had completed level four and at the beginning of this year, they asked if they could do the degree in Waipukurau. I think my answer was that the chances were pretty slim.”
Undeterred, the group came back to suggest a direct approach to EIT’s Dean of Māori Studies, Dr Roger Maaka – also a Central Hawke’s Bay local, from Takapau.
“I said certainly, there’s nothing wrong with asking.”
The group wrote to Dr Maaka at EIT, and that triggered the moves which led to the degree being offered at the Central Hawke’s Bay Learning Centre as well as on the main campus in Taradale.
The students were delighted when they were told their lobbying had been successful.
“There was a lot of whooping and hollering. They were very elated and very appreciative to have been given the opportunity to learn while still in their own backyard.”
The decision to offer the degree programme in Central Hawke’s Bay was prompted as much by the students’ enthusiasm as their willingness to learn.
“I am enormously encouraged by that,” says Ahuriri, who will continue as the class’s lecturer. For the EIT Bachelor of Arts (Māori) Honours graduate, it will be also be a first-time experience teaching degree level students.
The students, meanwhile, are encouraging others to learn more about Māori language and culture, promoting an upcoming opportunity to enrol for the Level 2 certificate programme starting at the Waipukurau Learning Centre, also on July 20.
“They are doing that in the community. It’s a small community and nearly everyone is connected somehow.”
Ahuriri’s own connection to the community has become more firmly rooted as a result of his EIT education. His mother is Ngati Kere and, he looks to Porongahau as his turangawaewae – the place where he stands.
Heavily involved with the coastal marae, he says that bond developed after he returned from Australia in 1998, badly injured in a car smash and unable to pursue the job for which he had trained, working in steel construction.
Settling back into Hawke’s Bay, he and wife, Angela Houkamau – manager of EIT’s Maraenui Learning Centre in Napier – both launched into studies at EIT.
Ahuriri admits to starting from a low educational base. He shakes his head when asked about his performance at school.
“I was expelled,” he smiles ruefully. “I didn’t know te reo in Australia, so I can empathise with students who start on this learning curve. I can relate to most of their backgrounds and their struggle to get ahead.”
Most of the certificate and degree students at the Waipukurau centre are older than the 42-year-old, and that, he suggests, is because an older generation of Māori, looking to take on more senior roles on their marae, want to learn the language.
But whatever the student’s age and motivation, Ahuriri believes the drive to learn is about identity.
“Our Māori Studies programmes are all empowering stuff – it’s about finding out who you are, your whakapapa and what your place is in the world.”