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Ara-Te Pūkenga workshops aim to support rangatahi Māori NCEA students after a tough year 

Te Puna Wānaka Wharenui is filled with learning and laughter as rangatahi Māori gather for NCEA study and support

Keala Tuki and Mahinirangi Wilson enjoy the space provided by Ara Te-Pūkenga for some holiday revision

It might be school holidays, but a three-day programme at Ara Institute of Canterbury – Te Pūkenga to support Māori rangatahi in the lead up to NCEA exams has proved popular, filling the Te Puna Wānaka Wharenui with learning and laughter.

Around 50 ākonga have signed up to Te Ara Pūtahi, which offers one-on-one tutoring, advice on career pathways, CV writing, mini-taster courses or simply a space to connect with others trying to get their NCEA over the line in what has been a challenging year.

Tia Hunt, Te Kaiwhakauru - Team Leader Engagement Services at Ara-Te Pūkenga says stress and disconnect caused by Covid-19 is something he sees on the ground.

“Our team are in close contact with schools. We are hearing that attendance is down, there’s a lack of engagement, and we want to play our part in rebuilding relationships with education and overcoming challenges,” he says.

The programme is a fresh initiative for Ara-Te Pūkenga. “We run our regular Pacific Bloom holiday sessions for Pasifika students, and we identified a real need for our Māori rangatahi to have access to the services and support here at Ara –Te Pūkenga too,” Hunt says.

Ākonga say distractions at home makes study more difficult

It comes as principals nationwide express concern about students struggling with NCEA after disruption from lockdowns. A recent Radio New Zealand report claimed this year is shaping up to be the worst of the pandemic with two years of Covid-19 disruptions leaving many young people short of the motivation and credits they need to get their NCEA qualifications.

But, for Hunt, Te Ara Pūtahi is not all about the work.

“It’s the perfect time of year to find a safe space and get some work done but also have kotahitanga (togetherness) after a hard year. Our approach is holistic. Tuakana tutors will be on hand to help with self-directed learning, but some may just want to look around and have a kai - and that’s okay too,” he says.

Oli Williams enjoyed a session offered by the New Zealand Broadcasting School

Over three days, the students are being offered the opportunity to find out more about engineering and broadcasting as well as Puhoro STEM Academy (a course which assists Māori secondary schoolers though science, technology, engineering and maths subjects) and Te Whare Tū Taua (Māori martial arts).

While admitting it's hard to get out of bed for extra study in the holidays, the students say they are grateful for the opportunity and the space.

Ana-Hera Walker, a Year 12 student, says she’s looking for help with physics and maths leading into exams.

Friends Saahiti Sachithran (left) and Ana-Hera Walker found the tutoring useful for catching up on interrupted studies.

“It’s hard to get motivated and easy to get distracted at home. Here we had a tutor who visited each group in the room explaining things and offering us tips and formulas to find the answers,” she says.

Saahiti Sachithran, another Year 12 student, says Covid-19 has definitely made things harder.

“Once you get lost on a Zoom call it’s hard to catch up,” she says. “The level of understanding is much harder to get than when you are face to face.”

Hunt says the hope is that if students are more engaged with school, the flow on might be that they are more engaged with learning pathways beyond school too.

“We want them to know about the facilities here at Ara-Te Pūkenga - for example our incredible whare. We want students to know they can be a part of this, that we have the cultural capability, they can belong here, and we are here to help,” he says.