The work of educator Mere Berryman was acknowledged nationally when she was named one of three finalists for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.
Associate Professor Berryman from Waikato University’s Faculty of Education has spent the majority of her career working to lift Māori student achievement.
It all started with a germ of an idea Dr Berryman had more than 20 years ago when teaching at Mt Maunganui Intermediate.
“Māori students weren’t doing as well as other students, and nobody seemed to see it as a problem but me. It was patronising and accepted; it was seen as normal.
“Only the principal supported me when I tried to address the problem. Other teachers blamed the students, yet I could see, despite some of them coming from harsh backgrounds, they were full of potential. But I felt like I was the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, so I made the decision to leave classroom teaching and become a researcher, in search of some answers.”
Starting out as a researcher didn’t come easy, but after six months she secured funding from Ross Wilson, then CEO of Specialist Education Services. Then as she studied for bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees at Waikato she worked with Professor Ted Glynn and Professor Russell Bishop, and together they developed Te Kotahitanga, a programme that supported teachers to improve Māori students’ learning and achievement and to provide culturally responsive contexts for learning. “It’s widely regarded as the most effective programme of professional learning and development of its type,” Dr Berryman says.
Other programmes followed, including He Kākano, and Kia Eke Panuku: Building on Success.
Kia Eke Panuku was funded by the Ministry of Education. It was a change-management approach that required all participants to self-review their evidence of Māori students’ participation and achievement, to be open to the views of others, and to make the necessary personal and professional changes to ensure Māori students enjoy and achieve educational success as Māori. Kia Eke Panuku was led by the University of Waikato with contributions from teams from the University of Auckland and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. It was adopted by 94 secondary schools throughout New Zealand.
Dr Berryman has gained satisfaction from knowing her work has had substantial influence. “ERO, for example, is building its valuation principles based on our research. We know it’s not okay for Māori to leave their culture at home anymore. Students should be able to enjoy learning and achieve success as Māori.”