An Investigation into the Identification of Māori Gifted and Talented Students in Mainstream Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand

Guest blogger Emma Scobie-Jennings writes about her research.


Gifted and talented education has always been a passion of mine, but as my career has progressed I have become more and more interested in how students from minority cultures are identified and catered for in mainstream schools. In 2012 I completed a Master’s thesis on this topic and, in recognition of Gifted Awareness Week, would like to briefly share the outcomes and recommendations that arose from my research.

Giftedness and talent is a cultural construct and what it means to be gifted and talented varies from culture to culture. When schools operate on the norms of the majority culture, what it means to be gifted and talented for minority cultures is often overlooked or not understood. My research set out to establish what is happening in mainstream schools for Māori students who are gifted and talented. I decided to focus on identification as I saw this as the first step towards appropriate provision for Māori students who are gifted and talented. However, as the research progressed I discovered that actually having a culturally appropriate definition was the first step, and intertwined with this was the need for a culturally responsive environment in order for Māori students to be able to display their cultural gifts and talents.

The study used survey methodology and content analysis to establish the definitions and identification procedures used in mainstream schools in one region of Aotearoa New Zealand. The barriers and challenges these schools faced when identifying Māori students who are gifted and talented were also examined. The findings indicated that although some schools had definitions and identification practices which were culturally responsive, their practices were not leading to the formal identification of the numbers of gifted and talented Māori students that are suggested by the literature.

Eleven schools took part in the study and six of these provided the definitions they are currently using. Of these six schools, three specifically mentioned culture-specific abilities and/or qualities as an area of giftedness and talent in their definition and one further school included a document which explicitly described what these might be for Māori using Mahaki and Mahaki’s (2007) descriptors. Five out of the eleven schools had consulted with their Māori community when developing their definition but none of those schools had identified any students as demonstrating giftedness and talent in culture-specific abilities and/or qualities in the last 12 months. These results are similar to the Education Review Office’s (2008) finding where the majority of schools they studied had not adequately taken into account Māori concepts of giftedness and talent in their definition. They also found that of these schools, most had not consulted with their community to help them understand and incorporate these concepts.

Within the eleven schools only nine Māori students had been identified as being gifted and talented in the last twelve months. Six of these nine students were identified as gifted and talented in the area of academic ability, one in leadership and two in sport/physical ability. The respondents noted many reasons for this; however the main reason cited was that teachers were not confident in identifying aspects of giftedness and talent beyond academic ability.

Although the schools’ definitions of giftedness and talent and identification checklists made reference to culture-specific abilities and qualities, the identification processes and numbers of Māori students being identified as gifted and talented did not match up in most cases. This means that Māori students that are or have the potential to be gifted and talented may not be experiencing the opportunities to allow their gifts and talents to be recognised and developed. The main reason cited for this was teacher knowledge, expertise and confidence in this area. However, only one school had taken part in professional learning and development which involved the identification of Māori students who are gifted and talented. The literature reviewed strongly promoted the importance of a culturally responsive environment to the identification and development of Māori students who are or have the potential to be gifted and talented, but again this relies on teachers having the knowledge, support and confidence to create and maintain such environments.

Gifted and talented education is a vitally important aspect of education and meeting the needs of all gifted and talented students remains a major issue in Aotearoa New Zealand education, but is particularly an issue for students from minority cultures. Culturally responsive gifted and talented education has the capacity to improve learning outcomes for all students from minority cultures as it requires teachers to concentrate on students’ strengths rather than focusing on deficits. On the basis of the findings of this research, the recommendation is made to school leaders that they enable their teachers to undertake professional learning and development about how to create and maintain culturally responsive environments for Māori students. This step would benefit not only the Māori students who may be gifted and talented but all Māori students in their classrooms. There are many providers offering professional learning and development in this area, however teachers need to have time and money to take part in these initiatives. With the current demands on primary teachers to implement National Standards and the focus on raising literacy and numeracy levels, unfortunately gifted and talented education seems to not be a priority. This is a short sighted view, and one that does not take into account the benefit improving gifted and talented education provides for all students, encapsulated by the notion that “a rising tide lifts all ships” (Renzulli, 1998, p. 1). The Ministry of Education needs to reassess the current disproportionate weight given to the improvement of literacy and numeracy levels. Teachers need to be provided with the means to seek ways of improving these levels that will also benefit gifted and talented students, such as developing culturally responsive environments that cater to all student’s needs.

If you would like to read my full research report, please email me at and I will happily email you a copy.


Education Review Office. (2008). Schools’ provisions for gifted and talented students. Wellington, New Zealand: Education Review Office.

Mahaki, P., & Mahaki, C. (2007). Mana tu, mana ora – Identifying characteristics of Māori giftedness. Proceedings of the National Gifted Education Advisor Hui. Auckland, New Zealand.

Renzulli, J. S. (1998). A rising tide lifts all ships: Developing the gifts and talents of all students. Retrieved 12 October, 2012 from Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development:

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You can contribute to gifted awareness by reading, writing or sharing posts. Please also consider talking to a parent, a teacher, a school board member or a principal about giftedness. If at all possible, write to your Member of Parliament. 

Image credit: The image of children and their artwork by Dunedin Public Libraries has a CC-BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license.


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in education, Educational Research, New Zealand, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to An Investigation into the Identification of Māori Gifted and Talented Students in Mainstream Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand

  1. Sam says:

    Gifted Māori in Kura Kaupapa Māori struggle to have their needs met too. Kura are often smaller and so are less equipped to cater internally, and external programmes if they (the tamaiti) are supported by the kura to attend are in English/from an English mainstream perspective, testing for access to such programmes is in English. (saying this from experience as it seemed we needed to choose between having his academic needs met and him learning in total immersion. After a long ‘battle’ we took our eldest out of KKM, and then to start he had a teacher who did not understand his cultural needs and then eventually the school being supportive placed him with a new teacher where overall it’s working better than it’s ever done

  2. tllriley says:

    Emma it is great to see you sharing your research!

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