Education Minister Chris Hipkins not a fan of the phrase 'white privilege', but acknowledges it exists

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he has to regularly reflect on his own "unconscious bias" when he makes important decisions.

But he doesn't like the phrase 'white privilege', saying it "puts up a barrier to people engaging constructively".

The phrase has been in the headlines recently, after appearing in a blueprint for the Ministry of Education initiative Te Hurihanganui. 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means "inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterised by racial inequality and injustice". Mirriam-Webster says it's "the set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterised by racial inequality".

National Party leader Judith Collins has called for those who wrote the document to be sacked, calling its inclusion "disgraceful".

"They are teaching children - little kids – that they should feel either angry at the kids sitting next door to them, because apparently that kid’s got white privilege, or else the child itself - the white child or Pakeha child - should be feeling guilty because of this white privilege."

Hipkins, appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday, was asked if it should be in there.

"White privilege is not a phrase I'd use - I don't think that it's particularly helpful," he told host Tova O'Brien.'

"I recognise that it's used in Te Hurihanganui... I do think people being able to understand power imbalances in society, I think that is a good thing for kids to understand. Being able to understand inequality."

But the phrase 'white privilege', he says, "generates a reaction from people that actually puts up a barrier to them genuinely engaging in a conversation about power imbalance".

"It's a bit like the use of the word racism - it just puts up a barrier to people engaging constructively, when actually you want to get people to step out of their comfort zone a little bit, you want to create a space where people can say 'actually, I will reflect on my own views and my own practises, and maybe I am wrong'. 

"But just putting up simplistic phrases that gets people's backs up, actually discourages them from engaging in that kind of debate."

Hipkins said he believes it exists, and has "to regularly reflect on that and say, what are the assumptions? What are the biases that I have that are informing this decision?" But he thinks there's a better way to reach those who are sceptical.

"We have to acknowledge there are still people who were raised in that culture 30 or 40 years ago and we have to bring them on a journey. I think we have to do that in a way that builds them up, rather than tears them down." 

Elsewhere in the interview, Hipkins said he wouldn't be making te reo Maori a compulsory subject in schools, but would like it available to any kid who wants to learn it. 

"I would like to see te reo Maori available in every school. I would like to see all Kiwi kids given the opportunity to learn te reo Maori - I didn't have the opportunity to learn it when I was at school. I hope my kids will."

There are workforce constraints at present, he said.

"We need fluent te reo Maori [people] to come forward and train to be teachers. We just don't have enough people doing that."

It's not as simple as just training existing teachers either, Hipkins saying good teachers have confidence in their abilities.

"If you fast-forward 20 years to the future, the majority of people who are teaching 20 years from now are already teaching today. So we've got to have professional development for them so that they have the opportunity to get confident in te reo Maori."

In a separate interview aired on Saturday morning, National MP Paul Goldsmith told Newshub Nation 'white privilege' was a "stereotype".

"There's privilege across New Zealand.... There are certainly New Zealanders of European origin who are privileged, and there are New Zealanders of European origin who are not privileged, who are struggling.

"If you focus on the things that actually make a difference in the education context, get them to school, make sure that at school that teaches literacy and math and they are well prepared to succeed in the 21st century and a global universe, then that's more important.".

Hipkins rejected that, saying international rankings show countries that focus on "the basics" are sliding faster than New Zealand, which hasn't been performing particularly well in the past 20 years.

"Some other countries are getting better, and that's not a bad thing. But New Zealand's mean scores - just our results taken on their own - have been trending downwards... What we also know from the international literature though is that countries that say 'we're just going to focus on the basics - literacy and numeracy' - they're often the countries whose numbers slide the fastest. You've got to have kids engaged in a rich curriculum." 

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