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Post-Te Whariki Early Childhood Care and Education Policy and Practice in “Whitestream” Early Childhood Care and Education in Aotearoa

Jenny Ritchie

Abstract: This chapter provides a brief context for the early childhood curriculum Te Whariki. He whariki matauranga mo nga mokopuna o Aotearoa, which set in place the expectation of a radically different notion of curriculum, in its non-prescriptive philosophical, sociocultural, holistic, and bicultural nature. Not the least of these challenges was the delivery of a curriculum inclusive of the Maori culture and language by a predominately non-Maori teacher workforce. The promulgation of Te Whariki provoked the need for articulation of applied pedagogies in support of its bicultural expectations. A range of Ministry of Education documents that were subsequently promulgated, aimed at enhancing the delivery of the bicultural curriculum are overviewed. Acknowledgment is made that the aspirations of Te Whariki are still in the process of becoming.

Ritchie J., and M. Skerrett. Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation.

New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. doi: 10.1057/9781137375797.0009.

Te manu ka kai i te miro, nona te ngahere; te manu ka kai i te matauranga, nona te ao.

The bird that feeds on miro berries reigns in the forest; the bird that feeds on knowledge has access to the world. (Mead & Mead, 2010, p. 74)


Despite the initially honorable intentions of the British Crown as expressed in the 1840 Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi, which allowed for British settlement of Aotearoa, entrenched attitudes of white supremacy led inevitably to a legacy of colonization. Through this process Maori were divested of their lands and self-determination, and their traditional values, knowledges, and language threatened to the point of extinction, despite Te Tiriti/The Treaty’s explicitly expressed intent of protection of these. The colonial education system, which Mere Skerrett (in this volume) has termed “whitestream” education, was dismissive of traditional Maori childrearing practices.

Maori traditionally had great respect for children, who were encouraged and supported by the wider collective in a shared parenting model. They were treated with great indulgence and seldom punished. The colonial system reflected its roots in Great Britain, where punishment was routine. This unfortunately resulted in generations of Maori students being beaten for speaking their own language, with the end result that many stopped speaking Maori with their children, in order to protect them. Schooling became associated with punishment, pain, and lack of validation of one’s identity. Education for Maori students reflected the dominant Pakeha (of European ancestry) society, with Maori knowledges consciously and unconsciously denigrated, and was intended to prepare Maori for working-class employment. The outcome of these policies is not surprising. Deficit discourses became deeply embedded within New Zealand society and “whitestream” education. Maori have continuously been over-represented amongst the students who leave school with few or no qualifications, as well as consistently featuring negatively within the justice, health, and economic statistics.

As has been outlined in the previous chapter, from the late 1800s onward, a range of grass-roots ECCE organizations came into being, each born out of a response to particular community circumstances, as well as reflecting to varying degrees the international influences of Froebel, Montessori, and Deweyan philosophies. These services remained outside of the compulsory education sector. This lack of government involvement in the sector had the effect of allowing for freedom and responsiveness to the community. However, this positioning also meant that ECCE services were under-funded and under-resourced.

1990 was the year when New Zealand commemorated the bicentenary of the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi. A greater awareness of the treaty was generated in the Pakeha community at this time (Maori communities had always maintained a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, consistently calling for the Crown (government) to adhere to its obligations under the Treaty). Responsiveness was particularly evident in the ECCE sector to Maori demand for the promises of the 1840 Tirifi/Treaty to be acknowledged. This sensitivity informed the development of Te Whariki, which modeled a process of partnership (between Crown representatives and Maori) amongst the writers. Helen May and Margaret Carr of the University of Waikato led the writing and consultative process along with Tamati and Tilly Reedy, who had been nominated by the National Te Kohanga Reo Trust to write a separate Maori early childhood curriculum to form an integral part of the document. The Maori philosophical framework that the Reedys provided also informed the entire curriculum document, resulting in “a national curriculum whose conceptual framework is based on the cultural and political beliefs of the minority Indigenous people” (Te One, 2003, p. 19). It is anomalous that this progressive, innovative, bicultural curriculum was produced during an era of neo-iberal/neoconservative government, which is backgrounded in the following section.

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