Embracing Maori culture in computer science

Computer science and Māori culture? You can have both when you study in New Zealand at the University of Waikato!


Study in New Zealand

When she was at high school Lynley St George managed to break three computers. “So I thought I’d come to university and find out more about how they work,” she says.

In April 2018, the 22-year-old of Ngāti Porou descent graduated from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Science double majoring in Computer Science and Physics.

She’s concerned about the lack of women and the lack of Māori taking sciences. She was only one of two women in her physics classes. “But our lecturer was female and she was inspiring,” she says. Pākehā males and international students dominated her computer science classes.



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Mentoring Māori students

This year, Lynley has started studying for her Master of Computer Science, and she’s also working as a research assistant and a mentor for Māori students. “University has helped me connect to my Māori side. I can see the divide between Māori and Pākehā at university and that’s something I’d like to see change.” She’s started to learn te reo Māori.


Exploring human interaction with technology

While Lynley’s still firming up what she’ll study for her masters degree, it’s likely to be in the field of human-computer interaction. “How we can make computing more accessible to all types of people, make people want to use computers more.”

When Lynley started studying computer science she thought it would just be a matter of learning computer languages such as C# and Java. “But I soon realised that you have to learn how to work with different languages and it’s more important to know the principles of how to pick up a coding language.

“It’s a subject that’s constantly changing and you have to be able to pick up new ideas and run with them, and it’s really important to be able to work in teams.”


Scholarships for Māori students

During her study years, Lynely was awarded a Dame Te Atairangikaahu Scholarship, co-funded by Waikato Regional Council and Waikato Tainui, and she also managed to travel overseas for the first time in her life, thanks to an Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) scholarship. There, physicists and other academics talked about their research in extreme environments.

“That was an awesome opportunity. I’ve loved my time at Waikato. I like the fact it’s central and it attracts such a mix of people from all walks of life and all around the region. I’ve taken advantage of the range of learning opportunities. I’ve never felt boxed in, I’ve been able to explore and have fun, and if I find an academic’s online profile and they’re researching something I’m interested in, I simply go and knock on their door for a chat.”


Teaching CS in te reo Māori

Dr Te Taka Keegan is a computer scientist at the University of Waikato, and in 2017 won the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching.

Dr Keegan (Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whakaue) has a special way of teaching. He uses a Māori teaching philosophy and he’s the only person known to have taught a computer science paper completely in te reo Māori.

“I teach using kaupapa Māori methods, even though the students probably aren’t aware of this,” he says. “My teaching philosophy is based around important Māori principles, including kia hiki te wairua (lifting the spirits), kia hihiko te kaupapa (inciting the passion) and kia hora te aroha (sharing the love).”


Adding to the dictionary

Dr Keegan taught computer science completely in te reo for 12 years. He created more than 500 words that previously hadn’t existed in the Māori language – most of which have seeped into common usage in te reo.


Te reo in tech

The computer science-te reo combination has proved valuable outside the university too. Dr Keegan worked with Microsoft to macronise the keyboard, now a Microsoft standard, and worked on the translation of Office 2003 and Windows XP into Māori.

He’s also worked with Google on various projects including the translation of the Google Web Search interface into Māori. He spent six months with Google in Mountain View as a visiting scientist assisting with the Google Translator Toolkit for Māori. Further work with Google led to Translate in Māori.


This article is brought to you in partnership with the University of Waikato.

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.


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