Embracing Māori Cultural Safety in Adult Vocational Education: A Guide for Adult Vocational Educators

Not a disclaimer

So I’m not misunderstood, what I’m writing about here (Māori cultural safety) is not something I consider part of a “woke” liberal agenda. It’s just basic to being a good teacher and human being.

It weird that I have to put this out there, but I feel like I need to given the lack of other resources that deal with this topic in the context of adult education.

My colleagues and friends have gone to great lengths over the years to ensure that I have experienced a culturally safety environment when – as a Pākehā – I have been well out of my depth on marae and in Māori training and education spaces.

I’ve learned many valuable lessons from being in these spaces and I feel a responsibility to continue to support and advocate for Māori cultural values and practices, especially in adult education.

That said, if you know of other better resources, especially video content, please let me know in the comments below and I will promote them.

Also, if you are looking for a Pacific perspective on cultural safety, please check out the videos I made with Pale Sauni here:

Embracing Māori Cultural Safety in Adult Vocational Education: A Guide for Adult Vocational Educators

Cultural Safety

In Aotearoa, New Zealand, cultural safety is a term commonly used to describe the approach towards Māori health and wellbeing. However, the concept of cultural safety is now expanding beyond health to other fields, including education.

For Māori, cultural safety means creating an environment where their culture, language, and values are not only acknowledged but celebrated and respected.

As an educator, it’s essential to understand what cultural safety means and how to implement it in your practice.

In this post, I discuss the concept of cultural safety, its background in health and hauora, and how it can be applied in adult vocational education with perspectives and practical applications explicitly from mātauranga Māori and Kaupapa Māori.

Understanding Cultural Safety for Māori

Before we dive into the practical applications of cultural safety in vocational education, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what cultural safety means for Māori.

At its core, cultural safety is about creating an environment where Māori feel respected, valued, and supported in their cultural identity.

The concept of cultural safety has its roots in the Health and hauora sector, where it was developed as a way to address the disparities in health outcomes for Māori.

Cultural safety recognises that systems – like healthcare – have historically been a site of colonisation and oppression for Māori, with many Māori experiencing racism and discrimination when accessing healthcare services.

As a result, cultural safety was developed as a way to address these power imbalances and create a more equitable healthcare system for Māori.

In the context of education, cultural safety builds on these principles, recognising that education has been – and still is often – another site of colonisation and oppression for Māori.

I’m not going to cite sources, but I consider it a fact that many Māori students experience racism and discrimination in the education system, and as a result, Māori achievement and engagement in education is often lower than that of non-Māori students.

Cultural safety in education aims to address these disparities by creating an environment where Māori students feel valued, respected, and supported in their cultural identity.

Contextualising Cultural Safety to Adult Vocational Education

Now that we have established what cultural safety means in general and its background in health and hauora, let’s contextualise it to adult vocational education with a Māori perspective.

In Māori culture, education is considered a collective responsibility. The teacher is not the only source of knowledge, as learning also comes from the community, the environment, and one’s own experiences.

In the context of adult vocational education, cultural safety for Māori students means creating a learning environment that is inclusive of Māori perspectives, culture, and values. It means acknowledging and valuing the knowledge and experiences that Māori students bring to the classroom.

It also means providing opportunities for Māori students to share their knowledge and experiences and incorporating them into the curriculum.

Additionally, cultural safety requires that Māori students feel safe to express themselves without fear of discrimination or marginalization. This can be achieved through the promotion of positive teacher-student relationships based on respect, trust, and open communication.

Applying Māori Cultural Safety to Adult Vocational Educaction

Now we need to look at how we can apply this concept in the field of adult vocational education. Incorporating mātauranga Māori and Kaupapa Māori into our teaching practices can help us create culturally safe and responsive learning environments for Māori learners.

This approach recognises Māori ways of knowing, learning, and being, and seeks to integrate them into the curriculum and learning experience.

Some practical applications of Māori cultural safety in adult vocational education include:

  1. Building relationships: Prioritizing relationship-building with Māori learners is essential for creating a culturally safe learning environment. This includes getting to know your learners on an individual level, acknowledging their unique perspectives and experiences, and creating opportunities for learners to connect with one another.
  2. Incorporating Māori perspectives and knowledge: Incorporating Māori perspectives and knowledge into the curriculum can help Māori learners feel valued and recognized. This can involve using Māori language and terminology, incorporating Māori stories and history into lessons, and integrating Māori cultural practices into the learning experience.
  3. Providing a safe space for learning: Creating a physically and emotionally safe space for learning is crucial for ensuring cultural safety for Māori learners. This involves creating a space that is welcoming, inclusive, and free from discrimination or harassment.
  4. Reflection and self-awareness: It is important for us as educators to reflect on our own cultural assumptions and biases that may impact our teaching practices. This can involve seeking out opportunities for professional development and education around Māori culture and history, and engaging in critical self-reflection and evaluation of teaching practices.

By incorporating Māori cultural safety into adult vocational education, we can create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all learners. It is essential that educators prioritise this work and actively seek to integrate Māori values, perspectives and knowledge into their teaching practices.

Practical Applications of Cultural Safety in Adult Vocational Education

Let’s sum it up… So how can the principles of cultural safety be applied in adult vocational education settings? It starts with acknowledging the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Māori learners and creating a safe and inclusive learning environment for them.

One practical application is through the use of Māori language, culture, and values in the curriculum. This includes incorporating te reo Māori (Māori language) into teaching and materials and using culturally relevant examples and case studies.

It also involves respecting and valuing Māori knowledge and perspectives, and integrating them into the course content. By doing so, learners are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and connection to the subject matter, which can improve engagement and achievement.

Another important aspect is building strong relationships with Māori learners, their whānau (families), and their communities. This involves taking the time to get to know each learner, their background, and their aspirations, and – if you can and where appropriate – involving whānau and the wider community in the learning process.

Teachers can also make use of whakawhanaungatanga, which is the process of building and maintaining relationships through shared experiences, such as karakia (prayer), mihi (introduction) and waiata (song). All of this helps to establish a sense of trust and mutual respect between the teacher and learner, which can lead to better learning outcomes.

Cultural safety also involves creating a learning environment that is free from discrimination and prejudice. This means being aware of one’s own biases and assumptions and actively working to challenge them.

It also means setting clear expectations for respectful behaviour and addressing any inappropriate behaviour promptly and sensitively.

In summary, cultural safety is essential for promoting the success and wellbeing of Māori learners in adult vocational education.

By acknowledging and valuing Māori language, culture, and knowledge, building strong relationships, and creating an inclusive and respectful learning environment, we can help to create an environment where our Māori learners feel safe, respected, and empowered to achieve their goals.

If you found this helpful

I have a book on learner-centred teaching that incorporates these and other concepts from a Māori worldview. Check it out here on Gumroad.

Author: Graeme Smith

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

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