The New Zealand Herald has reported that 12 teachers from Blockhouse Bay Intermediate School spent two weeks in the Cook Islands and Aitutaki at a cost to the school of nearly $20,000.
The trip took place last year during the July school holidays. School principal Micheal Malins has reportedly defended the trip saying it was “very much a working trip and not a holiday.” He reported to the Herald that the funds for the trip came from international student fees.
He said that the purpose was to immerse staff in Cook Islands culture and teaching practices to ensure Blockhouse Bay Intermediate’s teaching practices benefited Pasifika pupils’ learning.
According to the New Zealand Herald, a 2016 Education Review Office (ERO) report on Blockhouse Bay Intermediate shows that the Cook Islands ethnicity make up about 1 percent of the school’s roll.
PacificEyeWitness has not been able to locate the 2016 ERO report for the school. But the 2015 ERO review report shows the school roll was 784. Students of Europeans and Indian descent make up the largest population groups at the school. There were about 60 students at the school who identified as Maori, making up 7 percent of the roll. Samoans students accounted for the highest number of Pacific students at 6 percent, followed by Niueans at 3 percent. The Cook Islands ethnicity is not specified in the school rolls. It lists other Pacific as 3 percent.
Mr Malins said that his associate principal planned the Cook Islands trip:
The school wanted to challenge perceptions that Pasifika pupils’ cultural background was a barrier to educational achievement, Malins said.
Before leaving Auckland the 12 teachers – a fifth of the staff – attended professional development courses about raising student achievement and progressing the Ministry of Education’s Pasifika Education Plan.
The school, based on that response, lacks an understanding of the cultural backgrounds of the people of the Pacific.
Pacific peoples is a generic umbrella term referring to a melting pot of very diverse and distinct cultures and languages within the Pacific region. And athough Pacific island nations shares characteristics with another, the Cook Islands is a distinct Pacific culture with its own language, traditions, dances and differences to say, Samoa and Niue.
2015 Education Review Office Report on Blockhouse Bay Intermediate shows the breakdown for Pacific students at the school.
The Auditor-General’s Office is reportedly looking into the Blockhouse Bay Intermdiate’s spending. The New Zealand Herald report that a parent said that nothing about the trip was mentioned in the school newsletter. And at least one person raised the question of whether this was presented to a Pasifika group.
At the end of 2017, the Auditor-General’s Office issued a report of their school audits around the country. For some reason, the Cook Islands Aitutaki trip was not part of last year’s audit.
The school audit report revealed other financial decisions by Blockhouse Bay Intermediate School that came to the Auditor-General’s attention:
- The school spent $12,000 on hospitality in the year. This included $7,000 for a farewell party and a $3,000 leaving gift for the principal, which exceeded the $1,000 the board had approved.
- The school failed to pass on $3,700 collected specifically for Fiji flood victims. The school kept the funds and used them for school purposes.
- Blockhouse Bay Intermediate paid $26,000 towards the total cost of $82,000 for a trip to Korea for 18 students and three teachers.
- The school paid $2,500 for expenses incurred for overseas trips without suitable receipts.
The funds for the school’s Cook Island trip covered airfares and insurance only, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Photo taken during a week in the Cook Islands and Aitutaki, February 2018. Photo credit: R. Oravecz