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Defining Success

The Leadership Statement for International Education (2011) states that “As well as strengthening our education system, international education is expected to contribute to our goals for research, innovation, trade and tourism. International education also encourages the immigration of highly skilled people, and helps to grow links with our major trading partners in Asia, Europe and the Pacific”. However, in practice, international fee-paying students are increasingly seen by secondary schools in New Zealand as a way to balance out their accounts.

Data show that these students are particularly attracted to high decile school (MoE, n.d.), helping to widen the divide between the schools which have to “feed children breakfast and those which boast world-class sporting and performing arts facilities” (Jones & Singh, 2015).

We could use this data to discuss equality in access to quality education (and we should), but I would like to use this information today to discuss culturally responsive pedagogies in practice.

Arguably, education in New Zealand is increasingly being managed with commercial purposes. Principal and Boards of Trustees desperate to offer their students the best possible facilities and opportunities are tempted into taking international fee-paying students to do so.

In 2015, the international education market brought $1billion to New Zealand on fees only). The secondary sector was responsible for $150 million. However, as indisputable as this economic benefits are, Education Counts, in their report on the impact of international students on local students, found that “despite the findings that domestic students hold relatively favourable perceptions of international students, most investigations have concluded that domestic students are largely uninterested in initiating contact with their international peers. Significant intercultural interaction is unlikely to occur spontaneously to any large extent, and it is almost certain that interventionist strategies would need to be introduced to promote more and better intercultural activities” (Education Counts, n.d.)

Unquestionably, there much to be gained from the intercultural interactions between international and local students. However, I would like to focus here on a particular issue: how this mercantilization of education is limiting the capability of leadership and board of trustees to reflect the needs of their communities without losing their international clientele (particularly considering that international numbers have plateaued in the last 5 years and schools are competing for the same number of students).

The Māori Participation and Performance in Education Report points out that “It is well known that Māori students as a group spend less time in the education system, and do less well in it, than non-Māori students as a group”, however, although there are some tools available to leadership in order to help Maori to succeed as Maori, some schools might be distracted from this obligation by the low number of Maori students in their role, the commercial importance of other ethnic groups and/or the lack of teacher capability to integrate this into the classroom.

An ERO report responding to language diversity in Auckland argues that including student mother tongue as an instructional language can help student attainment. Some schools might decide to invest in Chinese speaking aids or teachers in order to cater for their international students. How different the scenario would be if we could make the same investment to address all of our at-risk students' needs?

Furthermore, the vast majority of international fee-paying students enrol in high decile schools (particularly those offering international examinations). In some areas of Auckland, this has changed the social composition of the areas surrounding some schools. These communities, with a particular educational agenda, could pressure leadership to make decisions in regards to curriculum, influencing the definition of success not only for their children, but for the whole school.

Manathunga (2011) talks about assimilation (relinquishing one owns culture in favour of the dominant) and transculturation (taking parts of Western knowledge and blend them with one’s own). However,  how authentic cultural responsiveness is when institutions deal with groups that overemphasise assimilation and, sometimes see New Zealand as a pit-stop on their final journey to universities in the US? Could this emphasis on Western-medium education lead to the self-reaffirmation of traditional Eurocentric values in education (content-rich curriculum, pre-set syllabus, grade-oriented assessment)?

Perhaps, the secret of cultural responsiveness resides exactly there: managing agendas and including everyone. However, it can also be argued that institutions need to develop capabilities (particularly amongst staff); set process and systems; choose pathways and qualifications; define what is relevant knowledge, etc. and, therefore, they need to choose a focus.

In this process, minorities could slip through the fingers yet again. If so, we all lose, because “the dominant culture and White students also benefit from learning a curriculum that is culturally responsive” (Khalife et al, 2016. p1287).

Culturally responsive schools should offer ALL students (regardless of their economic or strategic value) the chance to make connections to places and foundational stories, rescuing their linguistic and cultural capital. Si’ilata (n.d) points out that schools are not culturally neutral domains, because teachers (and leadership, I will add) are culturally located beings. They need a critical examination to make connections and build bridges between individuals and cultures in order to discover what is valuable knowledge and allow learners to build their own learning map (what, how and who with they want to learn).

Schools have a powerful tool in the Tataiako to start exploring how manaakitanga, Tangata whenuatanga and ako look like in other cultures, empowering learners from all backgrounds,  but grounded in the uniqueness of New Zealand bicultural partnership.


Jones & Singh (2015). Decile drift. Retrieved from

Khalifa, M. A., Gooden, M. A., & Davis, J. E. (2016, 07). Culturally Responsive School Leadership. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1272-1311. doi:10.3102/0034654316630383

Manathung, C. (2011, 11). Moments of transculturation and assimilation: Post-colonial explorations of supervision and culture. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(4), 367-376. doi:10.1080/14703297.2011.617089

Ministry of Education - Education Counts. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Māori achieving success as Māori – MASAM. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Responding to Language Diversity in Auckland. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Si’ilata, R.  (n.d.). The cultural diversity curriculum principle. Retrieved from


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