Racism education initiative backed in BOP

Taika Waititi is helping to spearhead the campaign. Photo. Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand.

A campaign aiming to give teachers the tools and support to identify, confront and dismantle racism has been backed in the Bay of Plenty.

The Unteach Racism initiative has been launched by the Teaching Council this week and has backing from internationally renowned film-maker Taika Waititi.

Developed for teachers and education leaders, the opt-in campaign tries to acknowledge a teacher’s position to lead change and make a difference for children and young people facing prejudice and bias based on ethnicity.

The programme is being backed by Ripeka Lessels, principal of Te Whata Tau o Putauaki in Kawerau.

“The initiative is a long time coming,” says Ripeka.

“The Unteach Racism concept is not about naming and shaming, but about exploring how insidious racism has become in normal everyday practice and helps the user to identify this and suggests tools that may help dismantle the practice.”

Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin says addressing racism is a journey the entire country is on.

“This isn’t new ground for teachers,” says Lesley.

“Many teachers are already doing so much to celebrate diversity and ensure children and young people feel they belong and are valued, crucial factors for success. Unteach Racism builds on, and supports, this work.”

The campaign supports teachers to continue to grow in their Code of Professional Responsibility Nga Tikanga Matatika commitments to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, social justice, respecting diversity of learners, affirming Maori learners as tangata whenua, and promoting and protecting principles of human rights.

Ripeka believes it is a timely exercise considering the global climate of discussion surrounding race relations and, more specifically in New Zealand, regarding colonial history.

“Some parts of the world have moved on from their colonial ties, but others have only just realised that the impact of racism on a society has produced such inequitable outcomes for the minority.

“In Aotearoa's case, tangata whenua, have suffered from this inequity.”

Unteach Racism is built on the Human Rights Commission’s ‘Give Nothing to Racism’ campaign and features Thor: Ragnarok director Taika, who is also featured in the nation-wide ‘Give Nothing to Racism’ campaign.

Taika invites teachers to “unteach racism” in a video where he tells the story of his own experiences with prejudice at the age of eight.

Young Taika was accused of sniffing glue, stealing lunches with low expectations of his academic ability, particularly in English language, but it was two teachers who convinced him society was wrong.

“As teachers you have the real-life ability to make a difference for kids in the face of racism,” he says in a video.

“You have the power to unteach racism. Will you?”

Having such a prominent figure attached to the initiative is a big boost, Ripeka believes, especially given the Raukokore-born star’s regional ties.

“Taika is the most appropriate person to be fronting this Unteach Racism concept,” says Ripeka.

“He is not just New Zealand renowned, but world renowned and from the little old Bay of Plenty.

“This is his story of how racism impacted his life. His story is one of success despite the racism he faced as a child.

“Some might feel confronted by him, but the concept of Unteach Racism may help people explore those feelings further. He is authentically Aotearoa, and unapologetically Maori.”

An app and a website with online resources is available to support teachers and education leaders to grow their own knowledge and understanding of racism. It includes advice for teachers to self-reflect and gives advice for having frank, open conversations about racism with colleagues.

For Ripeka, the enterprise is seen as a positive way to impact the next generation of New Zealanders to understand the history of Aotearoa.

“Children should know that they can have an authentically New Zealand identity with Maori based on the truth about New Zealand's colonial past,” says Ripeka.

“This is needed before welcoming any other ethnicity to our shared Aotearoa. Embracing this will help them embrace everyone else.”

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