What’s the problem? The impact of colonisation

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What are the effects of colonisation on learner success?

Colonisation refers to the loss of sovereignty by one group to another group.

The impact of colonisation, in terms of its enduring legacy and effects on the colonised, is associated with low levels of literacy and numeracy.

Here we’re talking about the colonisation of Māori by the British Crown and European settlers.

The historical phenomenon of colonisation stretches around the globe and across time. In our New Zealand Case Study this refers to the colonisation of Māori by the British Crown and European settlers.

You can make your own parallels depending on where you are in the world, but let’s dig into the New Zealand story.

In the 1800s colonisation directly impacted Māori life expectancy. Sometimes this was from warfare, but often it was from illness and introduced diseases.

Māori had no immunity to illnesses brought by settlers that were common in Europe. This included measles, mumps, and whooping cough.

All of these took a terrible toll among Māori In the European population, these diseases often affected children. But among Māori, these affected both adults and children.

In the 19th century too, introduced respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and tuberculosis also killed large numbers of Māori.

Loss of Māori land following the 1860s wars, Crown purchase and the Native Land Court led to the displacement of large numbers of Māori.

Losing their land reduced many tribes to poverty and living conditions that were overcrowded and unhygienic.

Loss of land also meant they lost access to traditional food sources. Poor diet helped disease take hold and spread.

Māori life expectancy began to increase in the late 1890s and the population began to recover as Māori gained immunity to European diseases.

Despite improvements in the first half of the 20th century, Māori were also still severely disadvantaged socially and economically. This meant poorer housing and nutrition than Pākehā, or non-Māori New Zealanders.

In 1979, just 139 years after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), Māori academics believed that the loss of te reo was so great that it would suffer language death.

The main cause of this was colonisation and a state policy of assimilation. In some cases, there are specific pieces of legislation regarding education that we can link to this loss.

Since the 1970s, though we have seen many gains including:

  • The development of Māori-language immersion kindergartens (kōhanga reo), schools (Kura Kaupapa), and tertiary institutions (whare wānanga).
  • The recognition of Māori as an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1987.
  • Māori broadcasting since 1989 and Māori television since 2004.

But the impact of colonisation on Māori remains far reaching. It extends into to politics, spirituality, economics, society and psychology.

For Māori, colonisation means dealing with the impacts of devastating loss including the loss of:

  • Land
  • Power
  • Identity
  • Status
  • Language
  • Culture

The impact has been intergenerational. And this is not a comprehensive list, but enduring impacts include:

  • Low levels of participation and achievement in positive indicators such as education and economic well-being.
  • Over-representation in negative indicators such as drug and alcohol abuse and imprisonment rates.

Some questions to think about

Here’s a good place to stop and think about the impact of colonisation on your own learners.

  1. What do you know about colonisation?
  2. What do you see as the enduring effects of colonisation in education, and in particular, on learner success?
  3. What do you do in your teaching or training to value other languages or cultures?
  4. What more could you do to strengthen the overall well-being of learners in your care who may be living with the legacy effects of colonisation?


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Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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