From 10-12 March, our marae was in full-on science mode as around 50 Year 9 to Year 11 students from a number of Dunedin high schools attended a science wānanga run by the University of Otago Division of Science.

The science wānanga was initially developed in response to a request from the late Dr Paratene Ngata in 2007. He wanted to see more Ngāti Porou rangatahi achieving in science and health sciences, so that the iwi would be in a position to make its own decisions and manage local resources.

Science wānanga offers a two or three-day interactive science experience for Māori students, based on marae and within communities. Hands-on science is presented by tertiary student role models and enthusiastic scientists, alongside mātauranga Māori provided by kaumātua and the local community. Wānanga challenges the barriers rangatahi have identified to achieving in science – “it’s too hard,” “too much bookwork” and “not about me”. Topics are chosen by communities and rangatahi are supported, in a culturally-safe environment, to develop positive learning relationships with teachers, scientists, tertiary role-models and other Māori students interested in science in their rohe. University students and staff gain experience in Te Ao Māori, the opportunity to improve their competence in Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho and a clearer understanding of the relevance of the university’s Māori Strategic Framework.

The University of Otago’s Division of Sciences, in partnership with Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou, welcomed Kings High School, Queens High School, Bayfield High School, St Hildas Collegiate, Kavanagh College and Otago Boys and Girls High Schools, to the inaugural Science Wānanga for Ōtākou Marae. Year 9 to 11 Māori students and their science and/or Te Reo Māori teachers had the opportunity to gain practical scientific skills and knowledge in real-life contexts, working alongside scientists from the local community, university scientists and postgraduate students as inspirational role models who respect the mātauranga that students bring. 

This year saw the implementation of a new partnership model for science wānanga, developed in close collaboration with Te Runanga o Ōtākou (TRO). During our consultations, TRO had identified the selected schools as having a high number of Ngāi Tahu and/or Ōtākou affiliated students. Additionally, TRO nominated particular students from those schools, based on that affiliation, with the remaining students selected by participating schools.

The University of Otago sees this initiative as an expression of our relationship with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu through their Papatipu Rūnaka and our commitment to Māori development.

The science themes chosen by TRO focused on fisheries, resource management and coastal erosion. The overarching theme of the wānanga was resource management, investigating fisheries and coastal erosion impacts on the Otago Harbour and its inhabitants. A boat trip aboard the Vivienne J launch was a highlight and even Tama-nui-te-rā shone down on us over the three-day period.

Marine biologists were on hand taking the rangatahi through the NZ Marine Studies Centre at Portobello during the day and spot lighting for fish and plant species during the evenings. The surveying team, utilising their equipment, skills and knowledge, and walking along Te Rauone beach and reserve, were able to point out the decline of the coast and the uncertain future of Otago Harbour.

Response to the wānanga
Here’s a story from one of the surveying team and a few extracts provided by the rangatahi themselves when asked: How has the wānanga changed your thinking about science?

“That it is not all just hard core calculations and equations and you can actually find out what kind of career you would be interested in.”
“Now I think marine science is cool. It makes me more motivated to listen in science and keep in as much knowledge as I can.”
”Ah well science at school is very boring and now I think of it in a different way because this science is very fun.”
”It taught how important sea life really is.”
”I thought science was just lab work and boring stuff, but we done heaps of experiments and getting out there.”
”I got to see like jobs and things you can do with science in life.”

And when asked, what part of the wānanga did you enjoy the most?
“Being able to share my thoughts with other Māori interested in science .”
“The boat trip because we got to learn about mapping from a boat and because we could see some albatross.”
“The food – because it was mean.”
”The boat – because it was fun and chilled.”

“Doing activities with heaps of new people. The boat trip was cool too.”
“It helped me remember how much I love marine biology, and I now want to have that as my plan B for the future.”
“Playing guitar.”

On the downside, the most common gripes, which are typical with this programme and of this age group were, “it was too short,” “not enough sleep,” “getting up early, ” “having to do chores”.

And to conclude, now for some input from one of the surveying team:
Ko Motupohue te maunga
Ko Te Ara o Kiwa te moana
Ko Ngāi Tahu te iwi
Ko Awarua te rohe
Ko Te Rau Aroha te marae
Ko Mariana Pagan tōku ingoa.

Recently I was invited to be a part of the science wānanga programme held at Ōtākou Marae. The three days carried three themes; coastal erosion, resource management and fisheries.
I am currently in my fourth year studying towards a Bachelor of Surveying at Otago University. My involvement with the wānanga was as support and also to lead a surveying project with the students about coastal erosion and surveying. Our identity is formed and shaped by the relationship that we hold with land and resources. This understanding was presented to the students through the wānanga activities.

It was amazing to see students connect with each other over the time spent at Ōtākou Marae and to be involved with a team of people that opened their eyes to the different opportunities there are within sciences. The experience enabled me to give back and share something that I am passionate about. I also learnt a lot from the students and the experience is something I will be forever grateful for.

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Science wānanga participants.

Science wānanga participants.