Self-Determination or Rangatiratanga

This is an exciting time for our business as we employ new staff, launch Kaha Education and rebrand Ihi Research. We have a great team of innovators working across education and research. 

What is interesting for me is the synergy that exists between two quite different kaupapa. At Ihi Research we have been lucky enough to work on the Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu Whānau Enterprise Initiative evaluation. Last year we evaluated 23 of these great innovations and a common theme emerged - the aspiration of whānau to be self-determining.

Similarly, in our work in education we have been meeting with schools talking about the Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) and the desire of schools to develop student agency. Essentially student agency is the ability for the student to be self-determining in their learning. 

What is interesting is the variety of ways that teachers, whānau, students, navigators, academics and cultural leaders understand and support the concept of self-determination. This has led us to unpack and discuss a concept which is very complex.

Self-determination is a characteristic of a person that leads them to make choices and decisions based on their own preferences and interests; to monitor and regulate their own actions, and; to be goal-oriented and self-directing. This may seem simple, but self-determination has its own theory of human motivation and personality that seeks to explain people’s inherent development and innate psychological needs. It is concerned with the motivation behind the choices people make without external influence or interference.

The challenge for us is to seek to understand how this concept of self-determination, or rangatiratanga, is culturally bound. In New Zealand, we often transplant the latest next best idea or international concept, in this case Student Agency, into our education system. At Ihi Research and Kaha Education our passion is to support Māori achievement by taking what we learn from whānau and how they describe self-determination in their Whānau Ora enterprises and applying this knowledge to the classroom so that we can support teachers to understand and critique what is currently a highly westernised definition of student agency. 

Interestingly, one of the micro-theories within Self-Determination Theory focuses on Relational Motivation Theory, or the development and maintenance of close personal relationships and belonging as part of a person’s psychological needs. All the evidence in education points to the quality of relationships between teachers and learners as essential to student achievement, particularly for Māori. Could it be that we need to shift schools from conversations about student agency bound by western concepts of independence to a more Māori focused concept, bound by interdependence, cultural connectedness and quality relationships?

Posted 21 Feb 2017