In education theory for migrant and minority groups, we advise teachers that students will be drawn into their subject when they see something about themselves, their backgrounds and their cultures reflected in the learning. Bishop et al (2007) contend that students are better able to make sense of the material they are grappling with when their cultures are used as a building block in the learning process. Students can meaningfully engage with material because they can draw on prior knowledge with some recognition of the learning conditions. Ultimately, culturally appropriate and rich environments enhance a person’s learning and therefore achievement.
The University of Auckland Law School offers approximately 55 elective courses and one is devoted to South Pacific Legal Issues. The paper is offered in consecutive years subject to the faculty appointing a suitable coordinator or academic to teach it. In just a few weeks the paper will wrap up at the end of this current semester and then go back to the waiting list till its time to appoint someone again. The University of Auckland Law School is considered one of the best in the world, ranked in the top 20 by “the prestigious QS world university rankings’. Last year in great excitement the Dean of the Faculty said that “it’s an incredibly good place to study law.”
As I noted in a previous post, the university has set itself the goal of having a diverse student body with the highest possible academic potential. Auckland has the unique and privileged position of being located in the south Pacific and therefore the opportunity to readily critique legal systems in the region. It has the opportunity compare indigenous legal systems from the Pacific with its own and other western systems. It could use this as a way of meaningfully engaging potential Pasifika students in a way few other universities in the western world could. The opportunities are endless. Yet all it offers is one paper on South Pacific legal issues, every second year. Pretty hopeless effort, really.
It’s only now in schools that we’re encouraging greater levels of understanding and appreciation of how young people’s cultures are building blocks to their learning. That when they recognise a part of themselves in the learning material and environment, their learning outcomes are enhanced. Our parents still believe that becoming a lawyer is at the epitome of educational success. There are numerous Pasifika lawyers in this city and surely the law faculty wouldn’t have to look too far out the window to recognise Pasifika legal intelligence and ability – there’s even a Samoan judge they could speak to at the Manukau youth court. Sadly like many of our schools, it’s too hard for the law faculty to reflect the cultural backgrounds of all its learners so they just stick to what they know… the good old two year summons.