The importance of a structured mentoring programme for Māori students is illustrated by Hawke and Morrison (1994). The transition from secondary school, or indeed any situation, is increasingly hard for Māori students, particularly in the first year of study.
The particular experience of returning students is different again. Increasing numbers of Māori students are participating in tertiary education at a later stage of life (Ministry of Education, 1999). Many have had negative schooling experiences and, as a consequence, have avoided formal education for a period of time. The academic experience of these students is often unrecognised and not accommodated for within the tertiary provider structures.
While many Māori students overcome the initial barrier of actually making it to tertiary education they are often placed in an isolated environment in which they receive little or no guidance in terms of academic or personal support.
It is suggested that isolation is one of the major causes of the high drop-out rate of first year Māori students (Hawke & Morrison, 1994). Mentoring has two components: the transference of knowledge and skill; and the creation of a relationship which ensures that this transference is successful (Parker-Redmond, 1990).
Mentoring can occur in many facets: between staff member and student; post-graduate student and under-graduate student; and student and student. However, in most cases there is a degree of seniority of the mentor, a more advanced knowledge of a particular subject than of the student who is mentored.
Whilst attempts have been made to locate examples of formal mentoring structures within tertiary providers, it is also apparent that many situations of informal mentoring occur both within and outside the provideral structure. Often this can occur between two people who already have a relationship and who, through similar circumstances such as area of study, geographic location, or ethnicity, provide a sounding-board for each other.
In most instances, mentoring can be viewed as a reciprocal process, whereby each participant receives and contributes to the learning process. Obviously the student receives additional support and guidance in terms of their study area and personal issues. The mentor experiences personal development. Mentoring is a gift relationship (Barondess, 1997, p.488).
Collectively, the mentors and the mentees [sic] contribute to a learning environment which supports "togetherness", of being a "whānau" (Rua & Nikora, 1999, p32).
An interesting addition to the role of the mentor is provided by Lintner (1999) who describes mentors as role models. Lintner identifies that mentors provide an example to other, in this case native American, students. Emerging from Lintner's research is a reference to these role-models/mentors as `cycle starters':
"We who mentor in education are the cycle starters. It's a legacy really. People seek us for insight and assistance. And for those who may benefit from this assistance, they now have the unspoken obligation of passing it on, of giving it to others...we must start this cycle of success" (participant in Lintner's study, 1999, p.48).
The notions of obligation and responsibility are placed on the role-model/mentor in the first instance, and are passed on through the mentored. This creates an environment which is supportive and most importantly, empowering.
Case Study: School of Science and Technology, University of Waikato.
Waikato University has a large population of Māori students and is renowned within Aotearoa for its provision of Māori and bilingual education. Equally important is its reputation in the fostering of bicultural approaches to science teaching and research (Moller, 2001). The University of Waikato's catchment area is 41% Māori. The Māori participation rate in 1999 was 22% of the total university population. Therefore, despite large numbers of Māori enrolments within the University, this does not represent maximum participation by Māori. Furthermore, participation of Māori in the School of Science and Technology in 1999 was lower per capita than for other ethnic groups and was disproportionate to the percentage of Māori within the University (Rua & Nikora, 1999).
The Dean of the School of Science and Technology developed four major equity initiatives to address low levels of Māori enrolments. Alongside a scholarship and grant writing strategy, school visits and field trips with secondary schools within the Waikato region, Te Pütahi o te Manawa, a mentoring programme for Māori students, was established in 1995.
In the context of Te Pütahi o te Manawa, mentoring is best defined as a form of socialisation whereby a more experienced individual acts as a guide (Rua & Nikora, 1999, p.4).
Aims of Te Pütahi o te Manawa are to:
- improve the retention of Māori students
- decrease completion time for under-graduate degrees
- nurture tauira and foster their growth and professional development as science students
- address feelings of isolation by Māori students.
(Rua & Nikora, 1999)
Students who identify themselves as Māori at enrolment are contacted via the University database. Each Māori student is assigned a mentor or kaitiaki and is grouped according to their major subject. The role of the kaitiaki is to provide academic and personal support to that Māori student during their academic year. This support may continue for another year or two after that initial year.
- often senior Māori students in their final year of under-graduate study or pursuing graduate studies
- academically able and involved in cultural and sporting activities
- selected by the Co-ordinator of the scheme
- given a nominal amount of money in recognition of their contribution.
(Rua & Nikora, 1999)
An evaluation of the effectiveness of Te Pütahi o te Manawa, alongside other equity initiatives within the School of Science and Technology, was carried out in 1999 by Mohi Rua and Linda Nikora. It concludes that "role modelling and mentoring on the part of more senior students are major strategies used and appear to have a positive effect on how Māori students feel about the environment and experience of science at university" (p.41). Furthermore, 41% of under-graduate Māori students recognised kaitiaki as a source of support and 32% of students had been helped by a kaitiaki in their first year of study (p. 42). As in most evaluations, several recommendations are made to improve the effectiveness of the equity initiatives.
Kaitiaki have reported that the impacts of the Te Pütahi o te Manawa mentoring programme include a sense of belonging, being supported (as a whānau), making friends and being comfortable in the School of Science and Technology environment (Rua & Nikora, 1994, p.42).
According to Māori staff (of which there is currently only one) within the School of Science and Technology, one reason for the success of Te Pütahi o te Manawa is the increased support from the Dean of the School. Although Te Pütahi o te Manawa was initiated by the School in response to low levels of Māori enrolments, further ideas initiated by the Māori staff and students are well received. The provision of a Māori student space is one example.
Case Study: Faculty of Science, Victoria University of Wellington.
In June 2000 the Science Faculty of Victoria University initiated Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao, a mentoring scheme for the Māori and Pasifika students. A key initiator of the scheme, Liz Richardson, was involved in the establishment of Te Pütahi o te Manawa at Waikato University. Low enrolment trends of Māori students at Waikato University were being mirrored at Victoria University, prompting a need to review the needs of student groups who were not well represented in sciences.
The need to attract, retain and encourage non-traditional groups is the driving force behind a new and comprehensive mentoring scheme for Pasifika and Māori science students at Victoria University (NZ Education Review, 9 June 2000).
A survey of Māori and Pasifika students revealed many of the issues faced by students were similar to those of students in science at Waikato University: isolation; an unwelcoming environment; and confusion over the place of Māori within science. One objective of Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao is to help students overcome those issues through academic and personal support.
The aims of Awhina are three-fold...we want to attract and retain more Māori and Pasifika students into science, help them realise their full potential and increase the numbers of Māori and Pasifika students progressing to post-graduate study (Vic News, 29 May 2000).
Any Māori or Pasifika student is offered a place on Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao. Each student is assigned a mentor who supports them throughout their first academic year. Mentors will touch-base regularly with these students providing a basis to intervene at early stages of academic or personal problems.
The scheme was trialled in the second semester of 1999 with 16 mentors looking after 10-12 Māori and Pasifika students. Enrolment figures for 2000 stood at about 6% Māori and 3% Pasifika students. In 2001 the number of mentors will increase to 40 allowing for smaller groups to be controlled by individual mentors. The programme aims to double the number of Māori and Pasifika students.
There are three types of mentors:
(1) Mentors are responsible for providing ground level academic and personal support to their individual students.
(2) Career Mentors are located off campus, are usually ex-science graduates who are working in the field and provide career advice for students.
(3) Community Mentors are also located off campus and provide community links to students, as well as providing advice on areas outside of the sciences.
The first set of mentors were initially identified by staff members within the Faculty.
Recruitment of mentors continues through mentors identifying students with mentor qualities. Students moving into their second year of study become mentors for first year students, and so on. This creates a support network that spans all levels of study and also includes staff members.
A wānanga is held every year on the University marae, Te Herenga Waka. For many students this is a first time marae experience and also a chance to meet mentors and other students, and to forge relationships.
Other resources available to Māori and Pasifika include a mini-library which students can utilise for course-related books, old exam papers and old course notes. An online booking system for 2001 will enable students to access the database from the Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao web page. In addition to the extra tutorials in specialist areas established by mentors in reply to student demands, te reo Māori tutorials are available to all staff and students within the Faculty of Science. The importance of empowering students through recognition of identity is significant.
In addition, Māori and Pasifika students have access to a whānau room for study or personal reasons. Tutorials and revision and skills workshops are often held in the whānau room. Students use the room on a booking system and have access to PCs. The room provides a separate space for Māori and Pasifika where their cultural values can be practiced.
The success of the programme is measured through the pass marks of students, how many students are returning and enrolment figures. Grades of students who did not participate in Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao are on average lower than those who participated.
Success is also measured by the personal development of the mentors. Apart from receiving monetary support in recognition of their contribution, they are also succeeding academically with increases in grades and gaining of scholarships (NZ Education Review, 9 June 2000).
Once again success of Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao is largely advantaged by the support and commitment of the senior management of the Science Faculty. All funding for the programme including resourcing of mentors, purchasing of course-related materials and the cost of the wānanga is provided for by the Faculty. Despite funding restructuring within Victoria University the Faculty is committed to continue to fund Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao. The Faculty acknowledges the value that Māori and Pasifika students bring to the learning environment.
Another key to the success of Te Rōpu Awhina Pūtaiao is the ownership of the programme by Māori and Pasifika students.
The Faculty of Science has already seen the benefits of Awhina. Three of the last year's mentors have recently received prestigious scholarships for graduate studies and all are convinced that being a mentor contributed to their success. This year a large number of Māori and Pasifika students are enrolled at graduate level. Awhina has brought Māori and Pasifika students and faculty staff closer together, it addresses EEO issues and it benefits all participants (Vic News, 29 May 2000).