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Maori and Tibetan Education systems from 1945 to present Research Paper



The educational system of a society is fundamental to the development and ultimate advancement of the community. Educators and governments all over the world have acknowledged that the educational structure and practices adopted can have a significant effect on the education of the population.

This can lead to significant impact on economic and social outcomes for their citizens. An educational system which yields high results is therefore seen as being essential for a nation’s well being. In a bid to provide effective education, most countries have developed unique educational systems which are as a result of the various cultural backgrounds or even religious orientations of the particular nations.

The significance of the culture of the minority to education has in some cases being ignored with negative effects. Johnson and Chhetri assert that multicultural countries have a tendency to implement mass education which results in establishment of the culture of the dominant language uniformly, at the expense of minority culture (142).

The Tibetan people of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Maori of New Zealand are two minority tribes who have had education systems that are not culturally relevant imposed on them. This paper shall set out to compare and contrast the education system of these two tribes starting from 1945. The paper shall begin by giving a brief historical overview so as to put the current situation in context. The progress as well as the struggles that the two tribes face today with regard to education shall also be articulated.

Historical Background of the Maori

The Maori who were the original inhabitants of New Zealand encountered British settlers through the missionaries who first settled in the country from 1814. The Maori welcomed the missionary settlers since they did not perceive them to be the advance guard of a cultural and economic invasion (May 68). However, the missionaries served to clear the way for a mass immigration of Britons from the English Mainland. The Maori Chiefs relinquished their power to the British through the Treaty of Waitangi[1] which was signed in 1840.

This treaty gave Britain property rights and the British rule of law was to apply throughout New Zealand. This event was followed by colonization which was characterized by a policy of assimilation. Speedy assimilation of the Maori was seen as the means by which the natives could be turned into a civilized people. The end product that British hoped to achieve was the assimilation of the natives into normative Britons.

Education was to play a central role in the colonial administration’s policy of assimilation. Schools were therefore used as the principle agent of the assimilative process. May reveals that while missionaries initially held a monopoly on the provision of schooling for Maori, the 1847 Education Ordinance encouraged the establishment of industrial boarding schools (70).

These schools could be used to exert even greater influence on the Maori children. This was followed by a move to implement English as the sole medium of instruction in schools. This subjugation of the Maori language and culture resulted in its decline through the years.

Historical Background of the Tibetan

Tibetans are the people who reside in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of the People’s Republic of China[2]. The Tribe was for many centuries ruled under the powerful Tubo Kingdom. This rule was characterized by slavery followed by feudal serfdom. However, the 20th century saw the decline of the Tibetan feudal serfdom owing to the intrusion of imperialist powers like Britain and Russia.

The 1911 revolution by the Tibetans resulted in the overthrow of the corrupt and inefficient Qing Court and the Dalai Lama took up position of ruler for the Tibet government up to 1950. As of 1934, China was seeking the allegiance of the Tibetan to the Chinese Government.

Mckay reveals that a 1934 mission by the Chinese Government proposed to make Tibet a constituent member of the Chinese nation state with the Tibetan government acknowledging the authority of the Chinese Government (123). However, the Tibetans were keen on maintaining their independence.

Tibet fell under Chinese control following the invasion of Tibet in 1950 by the Peoples Liberation Army of China. The invasion which the Chinese deemed as liberation of Tibet resulted in the Tibetan administrators finally succumbing to China’s pressure. The Tibetan government therefore entered into an agreement that among other things recognized China’s sovereignty in Tibet. Since then, China has exerted considerable influence in the affairs of TAR and has been responsible for most of the education policies in the country.

Similarities between Tibetans and Maori Education

Tibetan and Maori education systems both purpose to make education accessible to every member of the society. Before 1951, education in Tibet was a sort of privilege reserved for the rich and powerful minority while the majority of the population did not have access to education facilities.

Following the Chinese invasion, many schools were set up and education was made a priority for the Tibetans. New Zealand also exercised an all inclusive education system with the aim of creating a better educated population. As a result of this, great advances have been made in the education field by both the Tibetans and the Maori.

Following the Chinese take over of the Tibet region in 1950, China opened many school mostly in an attempt to spread the communist ideology. Research indicates that owing to this, the proportion of illiterates and semi-literates in the Tibetan population dropped from more than 90% in the 1950s to 46% in 1982 and further still to 44% at the end of 1994 (Sautman and Dreyer 78).

While it is true that the Chinese involvement in education for the Tibetans was not out of altruism bur rather because education for minorities is “a part of China’s overall defense strategy focusing on the pacification of minorities within its borders”, the literacy that resulted from this education of non-Han Chinese nationalities has been of great benefit to the Tibetans (Sharpes 78). The literacy level among the Maori has also increased significantly from the 1960 with school enrolment reaching a high of 86% in 2004 (Maxim Institute 5).

The education system in New Zealand and Tibet is exclusionary in nature to the Maori and Tibetans respectively. The indigenous Maori people lack access to good secondary schools due to current zoning regulations which disadvantage the Maori people.

The current system makes a person’s socio-economic status a major determinant of their access to schools. As it currently stands, the Maori are overrepresented in the low income earners bracket in the country. These low income Maori are mostly unable to afford the expensive housing in the zones which have suitable schools for their children. The Tibetans on the other hand mostly hail from poor rural regions which lack good institutes of higher learning.

While there are existing programs in Tibet that send exceptional students to study in the interior where there are better educational facilities, these programs are opposed by many parents. The Tibetan parents view the programs as a systematic way to assimilate the young Tibetans into the Chinese culture. This are not false allegations since on been sent to China at the young age, the students return holding the Chinese view of Tibet and also significantly assimilated into Chinese culture.

Both the Tibetan and Maori tribes have made attempts to influence the education of their people albeit with differing successes. The advocacy for change have been necessitated by the great dissatisfaction with state provision of education for the people of Maori and Tibet respectively.

A common change advocated by the Tibetans and Maori is the use of the native tribe in education institutes. In 1987, the TAR’s People’s Congress adopted the regulations on the study, use and development of written Tibetan language. The aim of this was to attach importance in Tibetan languages that had been forsaken by the Chinese. These regulations stipulated that both Tibetan and Chinese languages be used in all official documents.

In addition to this, the educational system was to be centered on Tibetan language education. The Maori education system has also experienced significant changes in the form of the revitalization of the Maori language in school. Progressively from 1900, there was an aggressive public subjugation of the Maori language which led to the language retreating to the point where it was thought to have its end imminent n 1979 (May 71).

This condition was changed significantly following a case in 1986 where the Crown was accused of failing to protect the Maori language. Schools were accused of devaluation of Maori by refusal to acknowledge language and culture in a positive way. This case led to the recognition of the Maori language as an official language of the country and a revitalization of the Maori language as schools that taught through the medium of Maori were set up.

The Maori and Tibetans education systems make use of bilingual education[3]. Historically, the native languages of the Tibetans and Maori were ignored by the Chinese and Britons respectively in their ambition to educate the tribes. The seclusion of the native languages was in both cases caused by the superiority of the colonizers.

The Chinese aimed to promote education since they regarded the Tibetan following of the strange Buddhist doctrines as being simple and naive. The promotion of education sought to establish linguistic conformity for both the Maori and Tibetans. Introduction of the bilingual education, which was an outcome of pressure from the natives who felt that their languages were being ignored, has tried to offset the damage done by linguistic conformity.

Starting from the mid-1980’s, the Chinese government promoted bilingual education with the aim of preserving and promoting minority culture in the region. The Tibet region was one of the beneficiaries of this policy since the people were now empowered to implement bilingual education. However, this policy of bilingual education by the Chinese in Tibet was aimed at enhancing political stability by presenting Tibetans as “autonomous” from mainland china.

The implementation of this bilingual education policy was greatly hampered by a lack of commitment by the PRC government. There was an absence of minority language textbooks and teachers to ensure the success of the education policy. The Maori implementation of bilingual education has been more successful due to government commitment and enthusiasm by the Maori people.

Immersion programs have been experimented on by both the Maori and Tibetan people. Immersion is “where 81-100% of all school instruction is given in the Maori language. In Tibet, public figures have strongly advocated for Tibetan education in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TRA).

In 1995, a Tibetan run pilot school demonstrated that Tibetan students who used Tibetan medium school had a superior performance to their peers who studied in a Chinese medium school (Sautman and Dreyer 163). Despite this encouraging results and strong evidence supporting the adoption of Tibetan-medium education in Tibet, the party state has ignored Tibetan immersion schools.

The Maori have been successful in implementing immersion schools which differ considerably from mainstream education in terms of their pedagogy, context and expectations. As a result of this, the curriculum used in Maori immersion takes into account the “uniqueness of the iwi, the learning and assessment styles of the students, the context uniquely Māori and tikanga” (Mahuika and Bishop 8).

The Maori immersion schools have had great success with students who attend the schools having superior performances to their peers who studied in the mainstream schools.

Prior to the late 1980s, the Tibetan and Maori education systems both followed standardized curriculums structured by the dominant languages. Standardization failed to take into consideration the wide variation in geography, language and local customs exhibited by people of different cultures.

The Hunn Report of 1961 drew the attention of the public to the discrepancies that existed between the achievement rates of Maori in comparison with the non-Maori. While it was proposed that this difference was caused by Maori indifference to post-primary and university education, future research revealed that the main problem was the devaluation of Maori through a “refusal to acknowledge language and culture hence resulting in a negative sense of self and position in young Maori” (Durie 300).

This is the same case for the Tibetans who are subjected to the Chinese educational system which presents a standardized curriculum all over the country. The curriculum downplays the culture and identity of ethnic minorities who are linguistically and culturally different from the Han. The minority nationality children therefore end up resentful due to the lack of reference of their culture or history in the school books (Johnson and Chhetri, 144).

Differences between Tibetans and Maori Education

The level of government reaction to the education interests of the Maori and Tibet differs significantly. While the Maori have enjoyed significant support from the New Zealand government, the Tibetans have had little support for the culturally relevant changes they have proposed.

From the very onset, Tibetan education was marginalized due to the large scale promotion of education in Chinese by the Communist government in 1949. The Chinese authorities in Tibet have since their takeover showed little interest in Tibet education and have in fact deliberately neglected the field of Tibetan education.

This has been in an attempt to give Chinese education a monopoly by leaving it as the only alternative to modernity. The Maori situation has been markedly different since the government has made attempts to develop Maori-based education initiatives. Starting from 1989, the Maori have been given an opportunity to advance their educational initiatives through government funds[4].

This has allowed the Maori communities to gain some amount of control over the provision of education to their peoples (May 74). At the present, the Maori are presented with a wide range of education options ranging from full immersion Maori medium to mainstream English medium. In addition to this, the government has significantly increased its consultation with Maori communities with regard to education strategies.

The progress made by the two tribes in their attempt to have a greater say in the educational life of their people differs. The Maori have made phenomenal progress especially in making the Majority population honor the terms of the Waitangi treaty of 1840.

The 1986 landmark case against the Crown represented a turning point in Maori education since it gave the Maori peoples increased access to government money to fund their own education initiatives. Following The Waitangi Tribunal recommendations, Maori was made an official language and the New Zealand education system stopped its over-emphasis on English which resulted in the adequate protection for the Maori language[5].

The same cannot be said for Tibetans where the Chinese language is over emphasized in the education system. Despite research findings which show that including Tibetan language in the Education system results in better student performance, the Chinese government has gone as far as to make Chinese mandatory and compulsory to Tibetan Students.

Another difference between the Tibetan and the Maori is the level of support that the two tribes have given to attempts by their governments to implement bilingual education which gives the two tribes a chance to have their languages used in schools. For the Maori, the move towards bilingual education is largely encouraged.

As a matter of fact, the establishment of bilingual schools in the late 1970s caused a reversal in the language loss that the Maori had been experiencing. Durie notes that the growing enthusiasm for bilingual education within state schooling was caused by independent movements by Maori parents to establish Maori-medium pre-schools (306).

Parents encouraged the move to introduce Maori into the school curriculum. This advocacy led to the first officially sanctioned English/Maori bilingual school being established in 1977. While the Tibetans have been given similar opportunity to establish bilingual schools by the Chinese government, implementation of bilingual education has met considerable resistance by some minority parents.

These parents believe that the minority language (Tibetan) will not assist the children in future since the language is local unlike the Han Chinese language which is international. In addition to this, there have been some fears that the study of Tibetan will slow the learning of Chinese therefore reducing the chances of the student to qualify in examinations and move on to higher education.

The two education systems differ in the amount of emphasis placed on culturally relevant teaching practices. The Maori have to a great extent succeeded in bringing about culturally relevant teaching practices to their children. Culturally relevant teaching is defined by Ladson-Billings as “as a pedagogy of opposition…specifically committed to collective, not merely individual, empowerment” (160).

Culturally relevant teaching has three main goals which are; academic success for students, development and maintenance of cultural competence by students and finally an in-depth understanding of the current status quo so as to enable the students to challenge and improve the current state of affairs (Ladson-Billings 160).

The Maori have achieved these goals and the students are more in touch with their culture and can challenge the system. The Tibetans on the other hand are unable to implement culturally relevant teachings since this would invariably result in a disruption in the harmonious relations with China. This is because it would increase the risk of the students challenging the status quo; a situation that the Chinese government is unlikely to tolerate.

Tibetans Issues

The political objectives of the Chinese government take primacy over issues such as performance when addressing the education system. The main motivation for educating Tibetans in the TAR has been to promote the stability of the region by ensuring that the Tibetans identify with China therefore bringing about stability.

Education policies in various regions are therefore focused on reestablishing national unity and a national identity. It is for this reason that the Chinese government has objected to the teaching of the indigenous Tibetan language since the language is closely association with the Tibetan nationalistic movement.

In addition to this, the education offered to the Tibetans is infused with political ideologies that the Tibetans may not agree with or even relate to. However, since Tibet is virtually under China rule and the TRA officials are subordinate to the Chinese officials, the Tibetan needs are hardly addressed unless they are in line with the objectives of China.

Despite the vast improvements in education that Tibetans have achieved, the Tibet region remains one of the least literate in China. This is blamed on the low school attendance rate among the Tibetans. The lack of qualified teachers especially in the rural areas has greatly impeded efforts to raise the literacy levels among the Tibetans. Hessler reveals that schools in Tibet receive massive funding from China and as a result of this, tuition fees are nonexistent or very low (Hessler 39).

In addition to this, the Chinese government does a lot to encourage the students to stay in school and receive an education[6]. Despite this, most Tibetan students fail to see the relevance of the education offered to them for their daily lives. Johnson and Chhetri assert that when the students do not see the relevance of what they are taught in class in their lives, they are more likely to drop out of school (145)

Cultural needs are very important to the learner and as such, learners from varied cultural backgrounds may have needs that differ significantly from those of their peers. After its invasion of Tibet, China sought to impose Chinese education which was based on secular values[7].

As a result of this, Tibet schools were obligated to hold anti-religious stance as a result of the standards imposed by the Chinese. This is despite the religion has traditionally been an important facet Tibetans and constitutes the source of Tibet’s national identity. Many Tibet students are therefore angered by this anti-religious stance sine the Tibetans are a religious people (Hessler 40)

Maori Issues

A lower portion of Maori school aged children enroll in school as compared to the non-Maori population. The Maxim Institute reveals that 86% of Maori are enrolled in educational institutes as compared to 95% for the remaining population (Maxim Institute 5). In addition to this, a number of Maori pupils are being exempted from school by having their parents apply for leave from schools due to educational problems under the provision of Educational Act 1989.

These pupils are then put on alternative training or employment which is seen as being more beneficial than the mainstream schools. In 2004, the Maori made up 37% of all early leaving exemptions which is an overrepresentation considering the Maori make up 21% of the schooling population (Maxim Institute 5).

Another problem facing the Maori is low participation in schooling at the senior levels. Historically, Maori are less likely to stay on in post primary schools than non-Maori. This combined with the higher rate of truancy by Maori students has resulted in lower participation in school by Maori students.

Student achievement is linked to their participation in the education system and as such, the more time spent in class by the student the greater the likelihood that they will demonstrate positive educational outcomes. As such, the Maori are unfavorably predisposed to perform poorly as a result of the low participation and high truancy levels.

Unfavorable schooling conditions such as bullying have a negative effect on the child. The bullying rate for Maori children in the mainstream education system is higher than that of European children. A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that 48% of Maori children had encountered the problem of bullying at school while only 48% of European children had encountered the problem (Maxim Institute 6). Bullying has a negative effect on the student since it can result in psychological issues as well as a low level of involvement in schooling.

One of the means through which the Maori have sort to address the cultural issue is through the Kura Kaupapa Maori schools[8]. These schools have at their base a cultural theme since they acknowledge that new information obtained by the student is therefore understood and analyzed differently as a result of past knowledge and experiences. These schools have had great success since they create an environment where pupils are treated with dignity.

However, there have been some major problems experienced by the schools. The most common issue is the lack of skilled and experienced staff in the Kura Kaupapa Maori schools. Teachers for the Maori schools are required to be fluent in the language and they are forced to prepare their own learning resources since the one’s provided by the Ministry of Education are inadequate and not always tailored for the local Maori population.

While significant progress have been made in New Zealand education system over the past few decades regarding Maori education strategy, there still remains some issues concerning the Maori who attend mainstream schools. Mahuika and Bishop state that considerable progress still remains to be made for Maori learners within mainstream English medium schools (4).


A significant fact that has emerged from reviewing the Tibetan and Maori education systems is that culture plays an important role in children’s learning. If the cultural issues are not addressed, the children will exhibit poor performance.

The Chinese have failed to make positive changes despite these revelations and they have continued to implement a uniform education overlooking the cultural needs of the Tibetans. The Maori have experienced changes in over the decades and as of the present, it is widely recognized that Maori students’ needs differ considerably from those of their non-Maori peers.

Following the implementation of Maori immersion and bilingual schools, there has been an increase in the overall achievement of Maori students. Research indicated that the proportion of Maori students who gained an NCEA[9] qualification in 2003 following the implementation of immersion and bilingual programs was 5% higher than the previous year when no immersion or bilingual programs were implemented.

From this paper, it is clear that while bilingual education program can help ensure equal access to education in a multicultural society. The lack of such programs for the Tibetans have led to the decreased performance by the Tibetans as well as lowered interest in the education interest by the children and their parents.

The Maori have therefore benefited since the New Zealand government is keen on establishing a multicultural society. The Tibetans face a different reality since the Chinese government fears that a multicultural society would “threaten the communist state by creating distinct social groups that could develop into divisive social classes” (Johnson 150).

The Maori education system recognizes that the needs of Maori students are not appropriately catered for in the mainstream teaching and assessment programmes. The success of immersion and bilingual education programs in New Zealand is evident from not only the good performances of students in school but also the growing desire of non-Maori in New Zealand to be able to speak the Maori language.

Tibetans on the other hand have an ineffective education system and as a result of the low level of support by China for bilingual and immersion education programs, the Tibetans remain disadvantaged.


This paper set out to compare and contrast the education system of the Maori and the Tibetan peoples since 1945. From the discussions provided herein, it is can be seen that the two tribes faced the same realities of a colonizer coming in and imposing their cultural values and language on the native people.

This caused degradation in the educational achievement of the students from the two tribes. The paper has shown that changes in the Maori education system which take into consideration cultural values have resulted in greater achievement from the Maori students. This is in contrast to the Tibetans who have continued to exhibit poor performance as a result of the neglecting of cultural issues by the Chinese government.

It is clear from the review of these two tribes that the depriving of a people of their cultural identity and language may have a negative impact on the educational development of the people. This is because the socio-cultural context in which a student lives greatly influences their beliefs and value system and their perception of the world.

Modern education is the gateway to modernity and development for any society. For the education to have the desired impact, the cultural aspect must not be ignored. From this paper, it can be authoritatively stated that the compatibility between the education institute and the local environment of the student better facilitates the learning process with better results.

Works Cited

Hessler, Peter. Tibet through Chinese eyes. The Atlantic Monthly, 283 (2), 56-66, 1999.

Maxim Institute. Current issues in Maori Schooling. Policy Paper Education, September 2006. Ministry of Education, Annual Report, 2004 (Wellington: Ministry of Education, New Zealand, 2004). E1, 13.

Murray, Siobhan. Māori Achievement and Achievement at Māori Immersion & Bilingual Schools High Level Analysis. Ministry of Education, 2005.

Sharpes, David. Perspectives on educating minority teachers in the People’s Republic of China. Teacher Education Quarterly, 20 (2), 77-84, 1993.

Durie, Arohia. Emancipatory Maori Education: Speaking from the Hear”. Language, Culture and Curriculum, Volume 11, Issue 3, 1998, Pages 297 – 308.

Johnson, Bonnie and Chhetri, Nalini. Exclusionary Policies and Practices in Chinese Minority Education: The Case of Tibetan Education. Current Issues in Comparative Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2002.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Mahuika, Rangimarie and Bishop Russell. Issues of Culture and Assessment in New Zealand Education pertaining to Maori Students. 2008. Web.

May, Stephen. Indigenous community-based education. Multilingual Matters, 1999.

McKay, Alex. The History of Tibet: The modern period : 1895-1959, the encounter with modernity. Routledge, 2003.

Sautman, Barry and Dreyer, Teufel. Contemporary Tibet: politics, development, and society in a disputed region. M.E. Sharpe, 2006.


  1. Durie notes that two versions of the Waitangi treaty existed; an English Version and a Maori language version. The terms of the two were not identical as since while the Maori language version gave Maori protections and guarantees in respect of people, the English language only emphasized property rights.
  2. Tibet was forcibly annexed by China in 1951. Prior to this, the region had enjoyed independence from 1913 and was ruled by the Dalai Lama.
  3. A Bilingual school is where over 12% of the instructions to the students are given in the native language
  4. This positive outcomes can be credited to the Waitangi Tribunal recommendation.
  5. The Waitangi Tribunal is a Commission of Inquiry with powers to make recommendations on issues concerning the historical failures by Europeans to honor the Waitangi treaty.
  6. Most Tibetan schools are better funded than Chinese schools as a result of the huge investments that the Chinese government makes to Tibetan education.
  7. The Chinese educational system was based on Confucianism, a philosophy of life, and not a religion.
  8. The Kura Kaupapa Maori is a subset of bilingual and immersion schools and they follow a specific teaching philosophy.
  9. The main qualification on the National Qualifications Framework available to secondary school students is the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
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IvyPanda. 2019. "Maori and Tibetan Education systems from 1945 to present." June 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/maori-and-tibetan-education-systems-from-1945-to-present/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Maori and Tibetan Education systems from 1945 to present'. 14 June.

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