A push for more Māori and Pasifika wāhine in aviation

The Royal New Zealand Air Force opened its Whenuapai air base in Tamaki Makaurau last week to 34 teachers, providing them with hands-on experience in aviation and technical roles.

The six-day School to Skies camp aims to provide teachers with the knowledge and hands-on experience they need to inspire students, especially Māori and Pasifika wāhine, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Squadron Leader Lisa Eavestaff says influencing not only Year 13 students but also their teachers will go a long way.

“It initially started with running a camp for Year 13 wāhine but, in 2021, we thought, why just influence this group of girls if we can influence the teachers - we’re going to be able to extend that reach even more. The camp for the teachers is a student learning experience where we bring them on, we show them the real-life application of STEM so they can go back to their classrooms and hopefully influence their students into STEM career pathways,” Eavestaff says.

Eavestaff wants to see an increase in Māori and Pasifika wāhine signing up.

“To get into the air force and into the technical aviation trades, you need that STEM background, so you need to have studied science and maths at Level 2 or Level 3 NCEA and for a lot of Māori and Pasifika people this is a barrier to entry because they dropped out of these subjects a lot earlier.”

Inspiring Pasifika

“So the work that we’re particularly trying to do with Māori and Pacific people is actually going into the intermediate year levels and influencing with a lot of our partners who are doing similar things and starting to influence at the earlier year levels so they will be inspired to take these subjects at school.”

For teacher Shontee Parker from McAuley High School in Ōtāhuhu the fear for most Pasifika students is leaving home and family.

“Because I work predominantly with Pacific Islanders the initial fear is being away from home so my encouragement would be 'Don’t worry, there is a family in there, don’t worry because you’re surrounded by several other people that look like you - there’s a place for you in the Air Force or any other military group,” says Parker.

It has been an eye-opener for Waitakere College digital technology teacher Paul Simmonds (Te Arawa) who says this hands-on opportunity gives him the knowledge to push and encourage his students even more.

“A lot of students or kids at that sort of age can only dream as big as things that they can actually see in their own life. If they get that experience even if it’s second-hand from me, they may actually see bigger opportunities. Some of them will be very capable with some of the things that we’ve been doing so far in this camp. I can definitely see a lot of my students, both Māori and Pacific and other students. This will be right up some of their alley,” Simmonds says.

“I think society has shifted a lot. I think diversity is being celebrated so much more today than it was and we’re recognising the importance of it. It takes a long time to make cultural changes but if this is the start of it and if it’s the Air Force or just New Zealand society, we’re going to see a difference. It may be a bit late but it is better than never,” Eavestaff says