The Āmua Ao program inspires Māori students to explore a career in STEM
Making friends at Facebook. Hanging out at Google. Catching a ride to Uber HQ. Just some of the activities for a group of Māori students on a whirlwind visit to California.
The trip was the centrepiece of Āmua Ao or “Future World” – a program designed to inspire Māori students and show them where their STEM studies could take them.
Fourteen year old Tremaine Hughes (pictured right), a Ngāti Maniapoto boy from Te Kuiti, south of Hamilton, was initially nervous about taking part in the program. But an introductory workshop in Auckland changed his mind. There, he met the other kids going on the trip and completed problem-solving challenges, such as making robotics devices out of Lego.
“We had to learn about entrepreneurship and technology and also about asking questions,” he says. “It got me motivated and excited.”
Te reo Māori
The trip itself lasted seven days. As well as visiting the Silicon Valley tech giants, the kids took a trip to Stanford University in San Francisco, where they met Maia Wikaira, a Māori student awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to study Environmental Law and Policy.
“I felt motivated and proud that our people are out there and doing things,” says Tremaine.
Throughout the week, the kids took turns to stand up and tuku mihi (give thanks) to the people they were meeting in te reo Māori, the Māori language. Tremaine had never spoken in public before, but hearing Maia talk about the importance of Māori language and culture motivated him to give it a go.
Since returning home, he’s been asked to tuku mihi at several school events. “It inspired me to learn more te reo Māori and be confident in the things I do,” he says.
On the last evening of the trip, the kids were introduced to local business leaders at a formal dinner. Tremaine found himself sitting next to Swyft Inc. CEO Gower Smith, an Advisory Board Member of non-profit Kiwi Landing Pad, which helps New Zealand tech companies starting out in the States.
“He invented vending machines with phones, cameras and headphones and started a whole new company and made millions,” Tremaine explains.
The conversation with Gower left a lasting impression according to Tremaine’s mum Naomi. “He hasn’t stopped talking about Gower since he got back,” she says.
Now fifteen, Tremaine is in Year 11 and taking all the STEM subjects as well as English and Māori.
Naomi thinks he would have taken those subjects anyway, but she’s noticed a difference in him since the trip. “He’s now doing it because he wants to rather than because I want him to do it,” she laughs.
And this enthusiasm has rubbed off on others. “He got so motivated, his cousin who didn’t even go on the trip decided to copy him and do STEM subjects as well!”
Inspiring Māori students
The Āmua Ao program was developed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and Callaghan Innovation, a government agency supporting hi-tech businesses in New Zealand.
As Daryn Bean, NZQA’s Deputy Chief Executive Māori, explains, “The drive here is to have skilled young Māori coming through who are digital, innovative, collaborative, and can solve problems as well as having the core skills in science and technology and mathematics.”
The program is part of NZQA’s commitment to improve the academic achievement of Māori students in STEM, particularly at NCEA level 3 – the qualification required for university entry. In 2014 only 24% of Māori students achieved this level in STEM subjects, compared to 43% of non-Māori students.
After a successful pilot program with 12 students in 2015, the 2016 cohort was expanded to 75 Māori students from across New Zealand. Some were sponsored by Māori businesses, others by the Māori tribes – or iwi – who ran essay-writing and speech-giving competitions to select the students.
A world of possibilities
The feedback, Daryn says, is that Āmua Ao was an inspirational experience for many of the kids. Meeting role models like Maia showed them what Māori students can achieve.
“We talked a lot about that – about being Māori, having your language and your culture and your identity and being able to go out into the world and be successful.
“They see how the world is changing – that it’s global and digital – but they can see themselves in it. If they can aim for the highest qualification, there’s a world of opportunity.”
Āmua Ao has paused in 2017 for Daryn and his colleagues to evaluate and fine tune the program. But they’re now gearing up for a reboot, with domestic and international experiences planned for 2018, 2019 and 2020.
And despite his initial trepidation, Tremaine thinks Māori students should grasp the opportunity.
“Just give it a go,” he says, “and ask as many questions as you can.”
– Jon Brock
“It inspired me to learn more about Māori and be confident in the things I do.”
Author: STEM Contributor
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