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


Ministry of Education guidance

The New Zealand Ministry of Education, aware of the challenges facing the then predominately unqualified early childhood sector in delivering Te Whariki, funded a range of in-service professional learning opportunities, and also rolled out a series of documents in support of curriculum enactment. Directly after the promulgation of Te Whariki, the Ministry produced a “Revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices (DOPs) for Chartered Early Childhood Services in New Zealand” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996a), which brought these objectives and practices into alignment with the recently released new curriculum Te Whariki. DOPs number 10 states that “Management and educators should implement policies, objectives and practices which:

  • (a) reflect the service’s philosophy, quality curriculum, current theories of learning and development, the requirements of the DOPs and legislation;
  • (b) acknowledge parents/guardians and whanau [families’] needs and aspirations for their child;
  • (c) reflect the unique place of Maori as tangata whenua [Indigenous people of New Zealand] and the principle of partnership inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi;
  • (d) are inclusive, equitable and culturally appropriate;
  • (e) are regularly evaluated and modified by an on-going, recorded process of internal review” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996a, p. 2).

The positioning of recognition of both Maori as tangata whenua and of Te Tiriti o Waitangi at tenth of a list of 12 items is telling. Interestingly Te Whariki was not referred to in the entire document, although the Te Whariki aspiration statement is positioned as a “Guiding Principle” of the Revised DOPs and content from the principles and strands of Te Whariki is interwoven throughout.

Recognition that implementing Te Whariki was perceived as daunting by many within the largely unqualified early childhood sector led the Ministry of Education to provide a supporting document to the Revised DOPs, which was called “Quality in Action. Te Mahi Whai hua” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1998). It contained an integrated series of “Bicultural Approaches” throughout its series of explanations of “desirable” practices. Under DOP5(a), where educators should “plan, implement and evaluate curriculum for children in which their helath is promoted and emotional well-being nurtured, and they are kept safe from harm” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1998, p. 41), the document begins the relevant section of “Bicultural Approaches” with the statement recognizing the integral importance of “taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing)” to not only tamariki Maori (Maori children) but also “to the well-being of all children in their service” (p. 42). In scoping the writers and writing process for this document, the Ministry had clearly followed a Tiriti o Waitangi based model, as was instigated by Helen May and Margaret Carr in the production of Te Whariki, in foregrounding te ao Maori (Maori worldview) within this supporting document.

In recognition that strengthening the “quality” (and “bicultural”) provision was an ongoing and challenging requirement, and in response to neoconservative ideologies of accountability and “quality assurance” in relation to public spending, the Ministry in 1999 released a document designed to enhance “quality” provision in the sector, “The quality journey. He haerenga whai hua” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1999). In its introductory pages, the document included “the principle of partnership inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi” as one “touchstone of quality improvement” and asked services to reflect on how well they were supporting Maori children and communicating with their whanau (families), and upon the extent to which staff incorporated Maori language and culture and beliefs within their service (p. 6). This document was not widely picked up within the sector, possibly because of an intuited distrust of being captured by the managerialist emphasis of the neoconservative/neoliberal National government of the day, which infused the document with managerialist languag- ing such as “Developing a Quality Improvement System” (p. 8). As a response to the lack of uptake of “The Quality Journey’,’ another document outlining processes for center review was subsequently produced, which continued the Te Whariki metaphor of weaving the curriculum, “Nga Arohaehae Whai Hua. Self-review guidelines for ECE” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2006).

The 2002 strategic plan for the sector, instigated and promoted by the incoming Labour-led government, “Pathways to the Future: Nga Huarahi Arataki” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2002) contained reinforcement of the need for educators to work “in partnership” with families, and in particular, Maori and Pacific Island families to support their children’s education. This focus can be interpreted as compensatory (remedying impacts of colonization) and/or as reflecting a monetarist neoliberal anxiety about future economic impacts of a large Maori and Pacific unskilled workforce (Nuttall, 2005). The strategic plan also outlined a staged program to reach the goal of requiring all ECCE teachers to become qualified by the year 2012. Sadly, the change of government in 2008 meant that this expectation was reduced to a 50 percent minimum. Also under the goal of “improving the quality of ECE services” was the “vision for mainstream services [to be] more responsive to Maori [by] 2012,” with an example given that:

Maori children attending mainstream ECE services have their learning and development extended by teachers who are competent in Te Reo [the Maori language], at least being able to pronounce Maori names correctly. These teachers understand and acknowledge Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Maori cultural values. They work in partnership with local hapu [subtribes], iwi [tribes] and the Maori community generally to deliver effectively to Maori children in their service. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2002, p. 14)

This extremely limited aspiration of “at least” being able to pronounce Maori children’s names correctly in ten years’ time sits awkwardly at odds with the broader, deeper cultural competencies required by non- Maori teachers in order to enact the rest of the espoused vision.

Further documents produced by the Ministry for the early childhood sector, and ostensibly reinforcing the “bicultural” stance of Te Whariki, include a series of booklets of examples of assessment, which follow a narrative paradigm, entitled Kei Tua o te Pae. Assessment for learning: Early Childhood Exemplars (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2004, 2007, 2009). Booklet Three of the 20 series of 20 booklets focuses on “Bicultural Assessment” (Ministry of Education, 2004). The other 19 booklets generally lack examples of bicultural practice whereby te ao Maori (Maori worldview) perspectives are integrated into the “learning stories” For example, Booklet 12, focused on the strand of Well-Being/ Mana Atua contains no learning story reflecting the central importance in te ao Maori (Maori worldview) of spiritual well-being (in fact there is no mention at all of spiritual well-being) despite “spiritual dimensions” being recognized as significant to Maori and Pacific Islands peoples in the Well-being Strand of Te Whariki (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996b, p. 46). In response to concerns raised by Maori educators, a further assessment document was produced. “Te Whatu Pokeka” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2009) has a particular focus on the assessment of Maori children. The latter document received only minimal financial support from the Ministry of Education for professional learning to upskill teachers in comparison to the hefty funding provided for Kei Tua o te Pae.

In 2011 the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Teachers Council, the professional body that oversees both teaching qualification provision and individual teacher registration, released a jointly produced document, Tataiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Maori Learners (New Zealand Ministry of Education & New Zealand Teachers Council, 2011). Since all teachers in Aotearoa will inevitably teach Maori learners, it seems obvious that the document would have been better titled “Kaupapa Maori Competencies for Teachers” Choosing to entitle the document as being for “teachers of Maori learners” allows “whitestream”-thinking teachers to dismiss the document as being irrelevant to them. Tataiako was produced to align with Ka Hikitia Managing for Success. Maori Education Strategy 2008-2012 (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2008), stressing the importance of “identity, language and culture—teachers knowing where their students come from, and building on what students bring with them; and on productive partnerships among teachers, Maori learners, whanau [families], and iwi [tribes]” (New Zealand Ministry of Education & New Zealand Teachers Council, 2011, p. 4). The competencies for teachers in Aotearoa outlined in Tataiako are defined as follows:

  • ? Wananga: Participating with learners and communities in robust dialogue for the benefit of Maori learners’ achievement.
  • ? Whanaungatanga: Actively engaging in respectful working relationships with Maori learners, parents and whanau [families], hapu [sub-tribes], iwi [tribes], and the Maori community.
  • ? Manaakitanga: Showing integrity, sincerity, and respect toward Maori beliefs, language, and culture.
  • ? Tangata Whenuatanga: Affirming Maori learners as Maori.

Providing contexts for learning where the language, identity, and culture of Maori learners and their whanau is affirmed.

? Ako: Taking responsibility for their own learning and that of Maori learners. (New Zealand Ministry of Education & New Zealand Teachers Council, 2011, p. 4)

These competencies contain dispositions of humility, positioning teachers as learners alongside their students, and requiring pro-activity on the part of teachers from the dominant, “whitestream” culture to genuinely engage in relationship-building with Maori children, families, and communities. Furthermore, these competencies require a certain depth of experience and understanding in order for teachers to recognize and affirm Maori knowledges. In the following section, recent reporting by the government’s review agency demonstrates that these dispositions and knowledges are currently lacking in the ECCE workforce.

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