Tribute to Ma¯ ori educator’s hard work

‘Our culture calls us to climb to highest peaks — and so I did’

David Haxton





For more than 30 years Dr Kathleen Irwin has been engaged in Ma¯ori education research. Her commitment was recognised in the New Year Honours where she was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Ma¯ori education. “It is humbling to be honoured in this way. “I am deeply grateful to my parents and grandparents for the legacy they created. “I love following in their footsteps, albeit with much smaller footprints,” she says. Dr Irwin, from Otaki ¯ Beach, said during secondary school she was a child who got comments on her reports which said ‘talks too much, doesn’t do her homework and could do better’ but she loved debating, speech-making and performing. “Turns out those hobbies helped me develop advocacy, research and public speaking skills, which have been essential in my work.” Her research contribution has been made as a junior lecturer through to professor across five institutions: Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington, Christchurch College of Education, Te Ko¯hanga Reo National Trust and Te Whare Wa¯nanga o Awanuia¯rangi between 1981 and 2008. She founded and led He Pa¯rekereke — Institute for Research and Development in Maori Education, in 1991. Dr Irwin has been a keynote speaker for many years including addressing the first United Nations forum on indigenous issues. She has been on various education boards and was an editor of Feminist Voices as well as Toi Ma¯ori: worlds of Ma¯ori women. While she has achieved a lot in her field of work, it was her PhD that gave her a lot of satisfaction, and which earned her the Nga¯rimu Victoria Cross and the 28th Ma¯ori Battalion post-graduate scholarship. “I taught for 20 years before I finished it. “Our culture calls us to be our best — to climb to the highest peaks — and so I did. “I dedicate it now to my mother who passed away when I was a teenager. “A teacher herself, it was my gift to her to show that I had ‘tried to do better’.”