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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Monday, February 09, 2009

Literacy programme making early wins

A New Zealand programme to improve literacy levels among South Auckland and West Coast Maori and Pacific Island children is being hailed as a highly significant international breakthrough.

Dr Stuart McNaughton, the director of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre which developed and tested the programme in 50 decile - 1 South Auckland and West Coast schools says Maori and Pacific children were found to be 2 years behind the national average in reading comprehension when the programme started three years ago but that they have now more than caught up.

He says the programme involves assessing individual children’s progress, adding the Centre's expertise in teaching methods then fine tuning teaching.

“This is a very important scientific breakthrough. We’ve just published the results in a very important scientific journal internationally, and that gives me the confidence to say we are very sure of what we found. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, we have further evidence that in fact schools can do better with Maori children than they are currently doing. That is hugely significant,” Dr McNaughton says.

Principals and staff in the participating schools have been highly supportive of the work and the Ministry of Education has embraced it with funding support.


A proposed Maori cemetery in Invercargill is being opposed by some residents who say it will devalue neighbouring properties.

Michael Skerritt, from Waihopai Runaka Holdings Ltd says the site was already set aside for a cemetery reserve and they received consent to develop the 2.26ha section last August.

He says rather than devaluing the surrounding properties, the urupa will enhance the area.

“Their section over the road is lower so they really won’t see anything. There will be flaxes and toitoi in the front row and then some things that grow about 3 metres high in the second row and then intermittently some taller ones in the back row so it will really enhance the area. It will be beautiful,” Mr Skerrit says.


A study into measuring obesity levels in adolescent girls from different ethnic groups has found Maori are the sportiest.

PHD student Elizabeth Duncan from AUT University in Auckland found Maori were among those ethnicities with the highest levels of body fat, however they were also the most active.

She says more in depth research would help figure out why.

“Without doing a longitudinal study, that is over a lifetime or number of years, you can’t really say what’s causing it. We’re suggesting the Maori girls are doing a lot of sport and physical activity, but perhaps it’s their diet that’s contributing to the overweight,” Dr Duncan says.

Her research also showed the Body Mass Index, or BMI, could be adjusted according to ethnicity for more accurate readings.


An internally significant New Zealand breakthrough in teaching methods means that poor literacy levels among Maori children could become a thing of the past.

Dr Stuart McNaughton, the director of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre which has been working with 10,000 primary students across 50 schools, says the approach involves assessing individuals’ progress, identifying problems and then fine tuning teaching methods.

He says a study in 14 decile one schools in South Auckland, made up largely of Maori and Pacific children, found reading comprehension was about two years behind national averages but after three years using the method they had caught up to the national average.

Similar results were achieved on the West Coast of the South Island where 34 schools were involved in the programme.

“Its particularly significant for Maori children. It’s very important for the decile one schools in south Auckland in general and for the schools on the West Coast of the South Island but it’s particularly pertinent for those children that the schools have not found the best ways to teach and the schools in which Maori children have found there achievement levels are not as high as they should be,” Dr McNaughton says.

The research means that the option to use mainstream schooling for Maori could be realistic in guaranteeing Maori achievement levels.


The screening tool used to measure obesity levels in adolescent girls has come up short for Maori according to a PHD researcher at AUT.

In her study looking at girls with different ethnic backgrounds, Elizabeth Duncan found the Body Mass Index cutoffs currently used nationally would be more accurate if they were more flexible for Maori, Pacific Islanders and South Asians.

She says some groups like Maori, had greater muscle mass and heavier connective tissue which meant they could be overrepresented in obesity statistics.

“In order to represent the equivalent levels of body fat you would raise the cutoff slightly but in saying that we also don’t know enough about the health risk profile of that group so whether or not those levels of body fat might so until we know more about health risk we know we can’t say we should raise the cut off or lower the cut off,” Ms Duncan says.


Taranaki Maori health advocate Hayden Wano says he's keen to provide input to a ministerial health taskforce if it can improve frontline service to Maori.

The current CEO of PHO Hauora Taranaki, and former chair of the Taranaki District Health Board says the eight-member group has a wide cross section of talent from the health sector.

He says the taskforce is charged with providing advice to the health minister Tony Ryall on priorities in the sector.

“The committee itself has been asked to look at areas where money might best be spent and prioritise where resources can be shifted to people working at the front line and for Maori my sense is that could mean continued improvement in access, particularly to primary care services,” Mr Wano says.

The ministerial taskforce will work through to the end of July.


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