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Home arrow Education arrow Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation


Progressive traditions

The new immigrants of settler societies bring with them to their new land their hopes and dreams for their future and a better life for their children and descendants. An ethic of egalitarianism was a strong feature of settler discourse in New Zealand: “The working class call no man master—indeed, they are all the working class—it is no uncommon thing to see a judge ploughing, or a general peeling potatoes” (as cited in Belich, 2009, p. 157). The 1877 Education Act established state-funded, secular primary schooling for all children from age five. Early New Zealand kindergartens, however, were initiated by philanthropists, and had religious and Froebellian influences (May, 1997, 2006). In 1893 New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote. In the 1930s there was “a mood of idealism” (Beeby, 1992, p. 90), a strong current of progressivism flowed through the country. Influenced by the democratic ideals of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and others, shared through the international New Education Foundation/ Fellowship movement, the hopes for education as a force for societal transformation “were extravagantly high” (Beeby, 1992, p. 90). This was an era when “When faith in the power of education, properly understood, was so widespread and so strong” (Beeby, 1992, p. 90). After the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Labour Government introduced the ethical innovation of a system of universal “social welfare” that aimed to support members of the national community from the “cradle to the grave,” promoting a sense of community responsibility (Lunt, 2008). In 1935 an alliance was formed between Wiremu Tahupotiki Ratana, head of a Maori political movement, and Michael Joseph Savage, leader of the Labour Government, in which Savage signaled the commitment of his party to attend to Maori concerns “in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi” and to Maori well-being (Savage, as cited in Walker, 2004, p. 185). Despite these espoused good intentions, racism was pervasive and discrimination against Maori persisted (Baker, 2012).

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