Home Education Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation
Te Whariki as a kaupapa Maori vision
Not only was Te Whariki the first ECCE curriculum for New Zealand, it was also the first “bicultural” and bilingual education curriculum for the country. The introduction of the document contains the commitment that “In early childhood settings, all children should be given the opportunity to develop knowledge and an understanding of the cultural heritages of both partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996b, p. 9). It contains a section written in the Maori language intended for Maori-medium settings (pp. 31-39), as well as the integration of expectations pertaining to inclusion of Maori language and content interspersed throughout the document. An example from the Maori section of Te Whariki reads that: “Ma te whai mana o te mokopuna ka taea e ia te tu kaha i runga i tona mana Maori motuhake me tona tino rangatiratanga” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996b, p. 32) [“Through the pursuit of pride, prestige, and authority the child will be able to stand strongly in her/his sense of Maori independence and self-determination”—author’s translation]. Te Whariki contains currents strongly reflective of social justice, such as in this example from the Strand Belonging: “Strategies for managing behaviour are used not only to prevent unacceptable behaviour but also to develop ideas of fairness and justice and to introduce new social skills” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996b, p. 63). The curriculum was ground-breaking not only for Aotearoa, but also internationally, in the prominence given to recognition of Indigeneity within regular state educational provision, the dominance of Western early childhood discourses being “rightfully counterbalanced” by Maori worldviews (Fleer, 2013, p. 221).
The Indigenization of the curriculum can be seen in the structure of the document, which foregrounds a separate Maori text, “Part B,” intended for Maori immersion services such as Kohanga Reo (pp. 31-38). The Maori text whilst described in the Table of Contents as “an integral part of the document” (p. 4) is actually a curriculum within a curriculum. The remainder of the document is intended for services that are not Maori immersion, that is, the vast majority of services in Aotearoa, in which the main medium of education is English. The principles, strands goals, and learning outcomes detailed in “Part C” of the document reflect an integration of te ao Maori aspirations. Te Whariki has four over-arching principles: Empowerment/Whakamana; Holistic Development/Kotahitanga; Family and Community/Whanau Tangata; and Relationships/Nga Hononga. Intervoven with these principles are the five strands of the curriculum: Well-Being/Mana Atua; Belonging/Mana Whenua; Contribution/Mana Tangata; Contribution/Mana Reo; and Exploration/Mana Aoturoa. By way of example of this integration, the explanation of the principle of Whanau Tangata/Families and Communities states that:
New Zealand is the home of Maori language and culture: curriculum in early childhood settings should promote te reo and nga tikanga Maori [Maori language and cultural beliefs and practices], making them visible and affirming their value for children from all cultural backgrounds. Adults working with children should demonstrate an understanding of the different iwi [tribes] and the meaning of whanau [extended families] and wh[a]naungatanga [relationships]. They should also respect the aspirations of parents and families for their children. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996b, p. 42)
The kaupapa Maori (Maori philosophical) framework arguably provides an important structural and philosophical coherence to the document, given its depth and complexity. Te Whariki is recognized for its “theoretical plurality” (Fleer, 2013, p. 217) in simultaneously drawing upon a wide range of theorists and paradigms, including socio-cultural, constructivist, cognitivist, and developmentalist views (Fleer, 2013; Ministry of Education, 1993).
Concerns have long been expressed about the capacity of the early childhood education profession to deliver on the expectations of Te Whariki, not just in regard to the lack of (bi)cultural competency, but because of the complexity of delivering a curriculum that requires a sophisticated range of dispositions on the part of educators (Cullen, 2003; May, 2009). One of the writers of Te Whariki, Helen May, considered that “the holistic and bicultural approach to curriculum of Te Whariki, inclusive of children from birth, was a challenge to staff who were more familiar with the traditional focus on play areas and activities for children in mainstream centres” (May, 2001, p. 248). Whilst in previous writing I have taken the optimistic view that Te Whariki is a document of promise that can serve as a lever for change toward counter-colonial pedagogies (Ritchie, 2003a, 2005, 2013), early childhood educators have acknowledged ongoing challenges in the realization of its potential as a “bicultural” document (Ritchie, 2003b; Ritchie & Rau, 2006).
In addition to and in accordance with the affirmation of the status of Maori as tangata whenua (people of the land—Indigenous peoples), Te Whariki is strongly socio-cultural, rather than solely developmen- talist. It requires educators to acknowledge and represent the values and belief systems of not only Maori and Pakeha (those with European ancestry) but of all children and their families attending that ECCE center, recognizing their identities and learning as being sourced in their nature as cultural beings (Rogoff, 2003). Te Whariki goes beyond a merely “child-centered” approach, drawing upon te ao Maori (Maori worldview) influences as seen in the foundational principles of Whakamana/Empowerment and Nga Hononga/Relationships to define these pedagogically significant relationships as inclusive of whanau/ parents. Another example of te ao Maori conceptualizations having reconfigured dominant Western discoures can be seen in the key strand of Mana Atua/Well-being, which adopts a holistic, integrative focus on emotional and spiritual as well as physical well-being. The curriculum highlights the roles of dispositions and working theories in children’s learning (p. 44), which are to be strengthened through dialogical engagement within learning communities. Inherent, although not explicit, within Te Whariki, is an understanding of the importance of narrative, and that these narratives can be the result of collaborative processes of co-constructed meaning-making (Jordan, 2009) and are also a means of intergenerational knowledge transmission (Lee, 2005). Learning in this view is a process of storying, reified through careful and respectful listening and documentation.
Early childhood educators were widely consulted in the development of Te Whariki, and were generally supportive, yet concern was expressed about the preparedness of a sector, which was at that time dominated by unqualified teachers, to deliver such a complex and challenging curriculum (Cullen, 2003; May, 2001). Furthermore, the sector was dominated by Pakeha (of European ancestry) educators, the vast majority of whom had only a superficial knowledge of Maori language and culture. A sociocultural critique of the delivery of programs over the past two decades could well ask a range questions as to: whose cultures and languages are being represented?; in what ways and to what degree of authenticity are these represented?; and how deeply are educators engaging with the specificities of individual children and families regarding their histories, values, and passions? From a Deleuzian perspective, Te Whariki might be considered to be a “plan(e)” that “can only be inferred from the forms it develops and the subjects it forms” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. 293). In the remainder of this chapter I provide an overview of key Ministry of Education documents that form part of the ever-shifting assemblage of Te Whariki, reflecting “relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness between unformed elements” (Deleuze & Guattari,
2004, p. 293).
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