Repositioning te Ao Maori as central to education

The 1970s is sometimes described as an era of Maori “renaissance,” notwithstanding that Maori had since 1840 continually and consistently agitated for recognition of what had been promised in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Maori educators now began to have an influence within the state education discourse. The 1970 National Advisory Committee on Maori Education (NACME) report (1970) was a turning point in that at last, Maori were being consulted on Maori education policy. The report stated that teachers of Maori children should have “a sound working knowledge of the cultural background of Maori children” and that therefore teacher education programs “should provide for an understanding of contemporary Maori society including some study of Maori values and attitudes, and introduction to the language needs of Maori children, and methods of dealing with these as well as a background of the cultural and social history of the Maori” (NACME, 1970, pp. 8-9). The report was radical in its implication that in order to ensure that Maori children were equipped to reach their full potential, there was a need modify the system, not the children (Metge, 1990). This would require change by Pakeha (of European ancestry) teachers to take responsibility for understanding and including Maori language and culture. Significant also in this decade was the introduction by Maori academic Ranginui Walker of the concept of “biculturalism” into education discourse when, in 1973 (as cited in Simon, 1989), he identified that Maori children were immersed in two cultural codes, juxtaposing this alongside the monoculturalism of their Pakeha teachers (as cited in Simon, 1989, p. 27), thus subtly positioning these teachers, rather than their Maori pupils, as being in “deficit.”

In concession to Maori demands, official education discourse began in the 1980s to advocate for the insertion of “Taha Maori” (a Maori dimension) into the curriculum alongside “multicultural education,” which emphasized “cultural diversity” (Simon, 1989, pp. 23-28). Maori educators condemned this approach as exploiting Maori culture, which primarily benefited the Pakeha “mainstream.” Graham Smith questioned the advisability of Pakeha gaining un-moderated access to Maori knowledge, and expressed concerns about the counter-productive effects resulting when monocultural Pakeha teachers were ill-equipped to deliver Maori content with any authenticity (G. H. Smith, 1990). Ranginui Walker (1985) identified Pakeha racism as a contributing factor to the undermining of the official “Taha Maori” policy by these teachers, and questioned the depth of official commitment to the policy in the light of the unwillingness to specify a time allocation for the teaching of taha Maori (Maori dimension). Judith Simon (1989) critiqued these education policies as designed to contain the resistance of Maori and other ethnic groups, in order to preserve the relations of dominance and avoid Maori calls for power-sharing, whilst maintaining a pretext of a discourse of egalitarianism.

In 1985 the country’s early childhood services, previously divided into childcare (under the Department of Social Welfare), kindergarten, and Playcentre (under the Department of Education) and nga Kohanga Reo (under the Department of Maori Affairs) were brought together as “early childhood care and education” under the administration of the Department of Education. Early childhood teacher education now became integrated for all early childhood services, taught as a three-year diploma-level qualification. This was an internationally innovative and progressive step, validating the roles and status of early childhood workers and the important work of our sector (May, 2001).

Long-standing Maori activism and resistance to the colonialist onslaught eventually began to gain some traction. 1986 saw a landmark finding of the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission that has been established to examine Maori claims for restitution for breaches of the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi. In their response to a claim by Maori that their language should have been protected, the Tribunal not only agreed that state policies had jeopardized the Maori language in breach of the expectations in the Treaty, but went beyond that to allocate responsibility for the widespread Maori educational “failure” as residing within the education system, concluding that:

The education system in New Zealand is operating unsuccessfully because too many Maori children are not reaching an acceptable standard of education. For some reason they do not or cannot take advantage of it. Their language is not adequately protected and their scholastic achievements fall far short of what they should be. The promises of the Treaty of Waitangi of equality in education as in all other human rights are undeniable. Judged by the system’s own standards Maori children are not being successfully taught, and for that reason alone, quite apart from a duty to protect the Maori language, the education system is being operated in breach of the Treaty. (Waitangi Tribunal, 1986, pp. 58-59)

A Maori teacher had informed the Tribunal of her view that:

The frustrations of being a Maori language teacher are just the same as those of being a Maori in New Zealand society. The frustrations of being a Maori language teacher are essentially summed up in the feeling that the education system has invited you to be a mourner at the tangihanga (funeral) of your culture, your language and yourself. (Maika Marks, as cited in the Waitangi Tribunal, 1986, p. 57)

During the 1980s, Maori actively reasserted their rangatiratanga (authority) in relation to ECCE provision offered by Maori, for Maori, in the medium of Maori language, as Mere Skerrett has explained in Chapter 3.

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