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Tiahuia Kawe-Small

Tiahuia (nō Rereahu, Maniapoto, Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga) is deputy principal at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua in Invercargill and Ahi Pepe MothNet project collaborator.

Tiahuia Kawe-SmallWhat do you do on an average work day?  He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?   

Let’s just say every day presents a different landscape when you’re in a senior management role at our kura. You arrive at work with set tasks then the dynamics of the ‘here and now’ quickly take precedence. Before you know it, the day is over and you’re taking those tasks home to complete. 

An average day always involves meetings - scheduled and unscheduled - with adults and students; lots of lateral thinking, problem solving and planning ahead.  In my experience Kaupapa Māori education has always been high maintenance, always expecting more of you than an average day in teaching should offer.  You certainly learn fast.

What did you study at school? And after high school?  I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?  

High school in Southland was not a happy experience for me, I certainly lived up to the low expectations of my teachers and the system helped them by only offering me the core subjects: maths, English, science, German, French, then options of Pitmans shorthand/typing, physical education and home economics.  

I wasn’t able to take Te Reo Māori and had art taken away (the subject I loved!) because my behaviour was questionable. I failed my school certificate, passing only in English, thus cementing my career pathway to the local freezing works. 

Fortunately that blueprint was erased when I moved to the North Island to live with my Koro.  A new school, lots of Māori speaking Māori students, kapa haka and an unrestricted choice of six subjects. But the game-changing factors were the teachers and the relationships that nurtured self worth and potential. 

I passed all my school certificate subjects in science, geography, history, physical education and topped my maths class. I sat and passed the university entrance exam in biology, geography, history, computer studies, English and maths. 

After college I returned to the South and entered Dunedin Teachers' College and Otago University to study a Bachelor of Education with Te Reo and Tikanga Māori as a major.  I also have a Post Graduate Diploma in Language and Literacy Education from Waikato University.

Tiahuia with whānau

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei? 

My experiences at high school and study at university definitely had a direct influence on what I do now. 

My high school experiences highlighted the differences between failure and success.  Although I was somewhat ‘successful’ in the Pākehā world (measured by my certificates and degrees) my education was incomplete; it failed to equip me to be Māori. 

My study at university taught me why this happened and I chose to do all I could to learn my language and to ensure Māori students receive a complete education.  Inequity continues to plague the Kaupapa Māori education structure and I am now seeing the next generation of educators picking up the manuka (carrying the mantle).

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?

I would say follow your passion, don’t accept that you can’t do anything or that you won’t amount to anything.

Believe in yourself – you have to put in the hard work, define success on your terms, be inspired by mentors of like mind and surround yourself with them and their synergy. 

Always look to your past to shape your future. You are never alone, your tūpuna walk with you.  Karawhiua!

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

That would have to be by far my involvement in NZEI-Te Riu Roa (the union representing Primary and Early Childhood Teachers and Support Staff) from 1990 to 2004. 

University study politicised me and NZEI-Te Riu Roa became the vehicle that mobilised my views. The union had just become Treaty based, so it was the perfect industrial structure to liberate those who desired to seek change in the education system. Some significant industrial battles and changes were secured for Māori teachers. 

The professional side of NZEI-Te Riu Roa established a platform for teachers working in kaupapa Māori to address the inequity of resourcing. The notion of ‘an unequal input for an equal output,’ continues to challenge the upper recesses of those making the decisions in education today.  A fresh faced generation of Māori educators are learning quickly that they have a role in keeping the decision makers accountable.

Tiahuia at an expo

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?   He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

As a teacher I have experienced many changes in curriculum, sometimes the changes are lasting but most of the time they come and go.  STEM has a recent whakapapa birthed from a merging of need; a need of knowledge and skill in all these areas. These subjects have always existed in their own mana; fused together they attractive attention and funding to assist schools to better prepare future generations.   

For Māori educators, the arts are an integral vehicle in explaining our world; pūtaiao, hangarau, hanga, me te pāngarau have always existed as a unit, it’s evident in our history, our waiata, our whakairo and our pūrākau. Teaching STEM through the arts validates Māori knowledge and ways of learning. Perhaps STEAM is a more inclusive acronym to use? 

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

I am heartened to see so many women of mixed race leading the way in STEM subjects, making it an attainable option for other women to follow.  I know for a fact that female role models have an incredible affect on personal belief systems. It affected me in my schooling and continues to inspire me today.   

In 2016 I was teaching at a Kura Kaupapa Māori that participated in an Unlocking Curious Minds outreach project ‘Making a good impression: from fossils to false teeth’.  A team of 5-6 post grad students with all their equipment arrived from the Faculty of Dentistry.  They could all speak 2 or more languages and 5 of them were female.  

My students had a great afternoon of science. The most memorable moment was when a student made the comment, “I want to do that cool stuff when I grow up and be just like you.”  That was satisfying to hear as a teacher and reaffirming that you don’t need to loose a part of yourself to learn.

Tiahuia with her friends Barb Anderson and Tahu McKenzie

Tiahuia Kawe-Small, nō Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga, Rereahu, Maniapoto.  He pouako ahau i Te Wharekura o Arowhenua, i Waihōpai, Murihiku, waihoki, he ringa raupī mō te Tumuaki. Paimarire! 

Tiahuia Kawe-Small (nō Rereahu, Maniapoto, Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga) is a teacher and deputy principal at Te Wharekura o Arowhenua in Invercargill. She has also been involved in the Participatory Science Platform and Unlocking Curious Minds project Ahi Pepe MothNet.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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