Shaquille Shortland says it was the passing of kuia Merle Hohaia, late last year, that cemented his passion for teaching "all things Māori." And as it turns out, it's been keeping the 23-year-old very busy.
"Whaea Merle was one of our peers, a kaimahi of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and a rangatira of Taitokerau," the Diploma in Adult Education graduate says.
Shaquille saw the programme, taught in Whangarei, as a stepping stone to help advance his career as a teacher, but what he ended up with was more.
"All I expected to gain was the tohu. However, what we actually gained was a deeper understanding of Ngā Takepū o Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. We were lucky to have such diverse and knowledgeable peers in our class, such as Whaea Merle, who added huge value to the learning," he says.
"The last time I saw her she had presented her last assignment based on the takepū Mauri Ora. She was a lady full of aroha, wairua and mātauranga. She was the pilot in Ngā Puhi for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa along with her husband Hone Hohaia and others. Her passing motivated me to leave my well-paid banking job which led me to places such as the Māori Land court and Literacy Aotearoa. Me whai whakaaro ki a ia me tana whānau e tangi tonu māna."
Shaquille is now studying for his level 4 Certificate in Bicultural Social Services while working for the Ministry of Justice helping whānau navigate their way through court hearings as well as setting up classes for staff, including judges, to learn basic te reo me ona tikanga.
Shaquille also teaches night classes in Te Reo Māori through Literacy Aotearoa and is currently being commissioned to write and create education programmes for Literacy Whangarei.
He says the opportunity to design, create and write Te Reo Māori and Tikanga programmes was one of the main reasons he chose to study with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, as it was based around values he'd been brought up with both at home and while boarding at Hato Petera.
"It was great to be able to incorporate kupu or whakaaro Māori into our assignments and not be afraid of it lowering our grade because there was no marker able to understand the message," he says.
"A direct result from this would be my role today as a tutor at Literacy Aotearoa. I get to teach my own way, and ways that suit the tauira of that class. I've even adopted a few techniques and lesson styles that peers in our class used."
Next year, Shaquille plans to pursue adult teaching to degree level but then again, he's loving the Manaaki Tangata social services programme right now as well.
"I'd like to further fill my kete mātauranga to enable me to further produce high quality, relevant and relatable learning strategies and programmes that will enable and empower our whānau, hapū, iwi and hāpori," he says.
"I would definitely recommend these courses to those who want to make a difference for our whānau whānui while getting to know more people who have the same passion."
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