Southern polytech gears up for tutoring more students by translating automotive engineering material into te reo

The polytechnic sector has been getting a bad press in recent times.

Former Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker has demanded an apology from Education Minister Chris Hipkins for turning the country’s polytechnic education system into “a national disgrace”.

The Otago Daily Times has described the centralising of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics into one grand organisation, Te Pukenga, as a “shambles”.

National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson and Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds says polytechnics in the South are being forced to cut millions from their budgets because the Government’s mega-merger polytechnic entity Te Pūkenga is in such a mess,

Among the more disturbing reports, new data shows one-third of first year polytechnic students quit their studies last year and some qualifications were unable to retain any learners at all.

Across the country, 12,642 equivalent full-time students began courses at polytechnics last year, but 4124 – or 32.6% – dropped out , according to the figures released under the Official Information Act.

The 15 polytechnics that make up Te Pūkenga offered a total of 227 qualifications last year, but on 51 courses, at least half of all students quit.

But hey.

A report from Christchurch suggests  we have the wrong people at the top making the decisions and points to a way of keeping more students from quitting.

Decision-makers such as the bold Julie McIlwraith should be promoted and her leadership example followed in accommodating speakers of te reo.

This leadership is reflected in the decision by Ara Institute of Canterbury to provide all learning materials and assessments for a trades course – Level 3 Automotive Engineering – in te reo Māori.

The announcement emphasised that this is a first for any non-Māori tertiary institution.

“To enable fluent Māori language speakers to learn and be assessed in their native tongue, Ara is currently translating workbooks, marking guides and assessments for its Level 3 Automotive Engineering course, ready for delivery in early 2023.”

And is there are a big demand for learning about the innards of a car engine in te reo?

Not big in total numbers, but some students (depending on their ethnicity) carry more weight than others.

Julie McIlwraith, who is Ara’s Academic Quality Assurance Manager, says the initiative began when a student who had been educated in kura kaupapa Māori schools expressed concerns about English-based assessments as part of the automotive training course.

We repeat:  one student.

What was to be done?

Do you really have to ask?

McIlwraith gives her reasoning:

“Not only was the learner’s first language an official language, but Ara has a policy that it must consider opportunities for learners to be assessed in Māori if a competent translator and assessor can be found. Ara has several skilled te reo speakers, so when learners like this come with a variety of capabilities, we need to be able to meet them where they are at.”

The potential for future business opportunities to be opened has not been overlooked.

“The Auto Engineering student wants to start his or her own auto mechanical repair business which uses te reo Māori as the principal language so that people who have come up through kura kaupapa Māori have a culturally attuned place to get their cars repaired, she explained.”

Point of Order might be wrong in suspecting the world’s automotive companies haven’t been producing too many manuals in te reo.

Job opportunities are therefore opened for translators in this country.

But translating isn’t as straightforward as you might think:

How to treat the translation of automotive terms like ‘carburettor’ and ‘camshaft’ was an important decision for Ara and part of the kaupapa for the project.

The Ara tutor responsible for the translations explains that many automotive terms do not exist in te reo Māori.

This suggests there weren’t too many cars on the highways of Aotearoa before the colonisers turned up.

The polytechnic therefore had to think about whether to use transliterations, such as ‘kāpareta’ for ‘carburettor,’ or create their own terms and submit them to Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo – the Māori Language Commission, or to simply use the English terms.

“In the end, they decided to use the English terms for any object or activity that does not yet exist in the Māori language.

“Tūtengaehe noted, ‘This is the best choice given the lack of appropriate vocabulary in the language and will provide a gradual growth rate for the language and speakers”.”

McIlwraith says this is an essential perspective for the whole project.

“Because we accept that, currently, all of our learners will end up in workplaces that use the English technical terms, we need to ensure any anticipated barriers to employment are minimised. To do this effectively, allowing the learners to become familiar with terms as used in the workplace of today is essential. We are looking forward to the time when this does not even need to be a consideration,” she says.

Obviously, a precedent has been set here and the way has been paved for a burgeoning of te reo in polytechnics around the country.

The press statement says:

The translations are a “massive undertaking” for Tūtengaehe, but he says he looks forward to more courses being translated for students across the country.

“For me, this is a good first step towards providing speakers of Māori with an environment that lets them know that their language is not foreign to this land and should not have to be foreign to the disciplines in which they wish to learn. Over time, we can help create a population that might even return to our institutions and further develop these programmes to the point where not only the resources could be provided in te reo, but the entire delivery of the course could happen in te reo too,” he says.

It remains for the head of New Zealand’s polytechnics to return to work and give a nudge to initiatives of this sort.

Te Pūkenga chief executive Stephen Town has been on “special leave” for at least five weeks but continues to receive his full salary, between $670,000 and $679,999 a year.

Town, who has yet to speak publicly about his absence or when he might return, repeatedly declined to answer questions when Stuff called him on Friday evening.

During the short interview he appeared to be struggling with his answers. When asked if there were any problems with his health he said, “that’s not up for public discussion, I’m afraid.”

Perhaps the questions were put in the wrong language.

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