Home Education Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation
Prior to 1960, very few Maori children were enrolled in early childhood settings in Aotearoa, although no particular records were kept
(McDonald, 1973). In i960 a government-commissioned social policy document known as “the Hunn Report” (Hunn, 1960) listed a range of concerns regarding Maori health, education, housing, crime-rate, land ownership, and employment, all of which remain current areas of disparity (Dale, O’Brien, & St. John, 2011; Ministry of Health, 2006). It recommended a new policy of social “integration” for Maori, which involved “combining, not fusing, the Maori and Pakeha elements to form one nation in which Maori will remain distinct” (The Hunn Report, 1961, p. 61). Whilst exposing Maori educational “failure,” the report appeared to be laying the blame on Maori, not on an education system that had consistently failed to meet the needs of Maori. It imported from overseas the negative, victim-blaming perspectives of “cultural deprivation” and “deficit,” which saw “minority” children as having inadequate language, a shortage of concepts, lack of life experiences, poor motivation, and an inability to deal with the abstract, and attributed these failings to the child’s upbringing (Metge, 1990, p. 23). Parental apathy was considered to be responsible for Maori children’s failure (Walker, 2004). Yet the report also identified the need for the Ministry of Maori Affairs to “do something” about the educational difficulties faced by Maori children in the education system (McDonald, 1973). This led to the establishment in 1962 of the Maori Education Foundation, which, in line with progressive thinking, internationally recognized “pre-school education” as an “agency of social reconstruction” (McDonald, 1973, p. 1). The founding chairperson stated that:
Our main objective is clear: to strengthen Maori home life and the language, general knowledge and experience of children in their crucial pre-school years until every Maori child is as well-equipped as the European child to come to school (McLaren, 1974, p. 87).
Although still defining Maori aspirations in Pakeha (Western) terms of educational success, the focus on the early years of life was supported by the Maori Women’s Welfare League, which began actively promoting the benefits of ECCE for Maori children. By 1968, 472 pre-school centers for Maori families had been established, mainly in rural areas of the North Island, following the Pakeha model of Playcentre, which involved cooperatives of mothers offering play-based sessional programs. Geraldine McDonald’s 1973 study of “Maori Mothers and Pre-school Education” involved 103 mothers in 12 rural, marae-based, and urban services. McDonald found that despite the mothers espousing a strong desire to preserve the Maori language, this was actively occurring in only two of the settings. There appeared to be no appreciation yet of the potential for ECCE services to be an ideal vehicle for this purpose, although in some of the settings Maori mothers were using te reo Maori (Maori language) informally (McDonald, 1973). Cultural practices being maintained within the pre-schools included: karakia (grace) being said before meals; respect for whakapapa (Maori ancestry) being instilled within the marae-based pre-schools; manaakitanga (generosity and hospitality) demonstrated through practices such as daily sharing of kai (food) at meal-times and through powhiri (welcoming) for guests; intergenerational connection being maintained through regular involvement of grandmothers; and Maori songs and crafts featuring as part of the programs. McDonald criticized those who had blamed poor Maori achievement on Maori attitudes and lack of motivation, saying that “if it is values that have to change, it has to be the dominant culture’s negative stereotyping of Maoris” (McDonald, 1973, p. 175). Her research indicated that early childhood programs run by Maori for Maori were most successful for Maori, developing Maori women’s leadership skills, expressing Maori values and culture, and networking well within the Maori community. She considered Maori leadership to be particularly necessary in communities in Maori/Pakeha settings in order to retain Maori involvement and uphold te reo and tikanga Maori (Maori language and culture).
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