Interest in the issue has been renewed due to the fact that New Zealand’s Auditor-General is probing the spending of funds by Blockhouse Bay Intermediate (BBI), a school situated in Central Auckland.
During the July school holidays last year, 12 teachers from the school visited the islands of Aitutaki and Rarotonga to “immerse themselves in local culture and teaching practices” says the school’s principal Michael Malins.
He claims that he wanted to, “ensure BBI's teaching practices benefited Pasifika pupils' learning”. However, according to a report released in 2016 by the Education Review Office (ERO), pupils of Cook Island ethnicity made up only one per cent of BBI's roll.
BBI staff were welcomed by Cook Islands Ministry of Education officials when they arrived on July 8. They spent time observing lessons in local classrooms and visiting various churches, amongst other things. When asked what the tangible benefits of the trip were, Malins said the progress of the school’s Pasifika students’ writing had "strengthened significantly".
Teachers covered their own accommodation costs and all other expenses.
The school paid $18,976 for the 12 teachers' flights and insurances. Malins claimed this money was from international student fees.
However Blockhouse Bay Intermediate is not the first school to come under the spotlight for trips to the Cook Islands. In 2015, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tamaki Nui A Rua funded a trip to Rarotonga for 27 students, four staff, and four parents. The purpose of the trip was to achieve educational experience and personal development of the wharekura students. The school spent $56,246 but collected only $13,294 from those who went on the trip.
Also in 2015, students from Te Kura Kokiri in Tauranga explored their “deep connections” with Takitimu waka, which historically left Rarotonga during the great migration to Aotearoa.
Pirini Ngatote Edwards said at the time, “we are retracing the footsteps of our ancestors from Takitimu”. Edwards said many of the students were “stunned” at the similarities of the cultures.
In 2016, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Hoani Waititi Marae sent 251 students, staff, and caregivers to Rarotonga. The purpose of the trip was said to be to achieve educational outcomes connected with the founding principles of “Te Aho Matua”.
To meet the $399,104 cost of the trip, the school fundraised $50,455, received $82,066 from family contributions, and used $21,466 from a transport allowance. The school met the remaining balance of $249,632.
A mother of a student from BBI said "it was a real shock” learning about the trip.
“It's such a lot of money. It's just crazy. They should have to give the money back to the Ministry of Education because that's not money well spent," she said. She believed the funds would have been better spent on resources, such as books or laptops.