Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Dr David Lillis: Reactions to the Proposed New Zealand Curriculum Refresh

Design of the New Curriculum

Recently, I wrote about the proposed refreshing of the New Zealand Curriculum, expressing concerns about the heavily Treaty-centric nature of the proposed national curriculum and embedding of traditional knowledge across the curriculum (Lillis, 2022a). The refresh involves a staged process, scheduled for completion by 2026.


 "Te Mātaiaho" is the proposed working name for the Curriculum Framework and means “to observe and examine the strands of learning.” It is critical to understand that the new curriculum will be imposed on all students and not only Māori. 


The draft curriculum in its current form is nothing short of appalling and constitutes a very negative reflection on Government, the Ministry of Education and other organizations that have contributed to the draft. The main objections are as follows:


1.     Traditional knowledge is to be embedded across the curriculum

2.     Traditional knowledge is to be accorded equal status to modern science and possibly taught as science

3.     The curriculum is being used as a political tool to elevate the status of one ethnic and cultural group at the expense of all others.


I want to make clear that there is much in the proposed curriculum that is positive from an educational and pedagogical point of view. The curriculum has indeed been designed to be cumulative, where progressions replace curriculum levels and achievement objectives with five phases of learning (TKI, 2022). Each phase of learning contains progress outcomes that describe what “ākonga” should understand, know and do at each phase of learning (the Te Aka dictionary defines ākonga as a student, pupil, learner or protégé). The refreshed New Zealand Curriculum is to be organised around the same eight learning areas and key competencies of the 2007 Curriculum. These learning areas are: English, the arts, health and physical education, learning languages, mathematics and statistics, science, social sciences, and technology. 


However, through appeal to some obscure interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, the curriculum is being used as a political tool to force a particular culture, language and world view on every student, regardless of background, for many years into the future. Traditional knowledge (Mātauranga Māori) will sit at the heart of the learning areas - in which key competencies, literacy, and numeracy are woven explicitly into each learning area. This is where we have grave doubts. 


My own opinion on the draft curriculum is that it is truly shameful, highly retrograde, will damage education severely, will harm the learning of millions of students over many years to come and will greatly diminish the credibility of New Zealand’s education system, both here and across the world. 


Various observers, including certain Māori observers, caution against equating traditional knowledge (including mātauranga Māori) and science. For example, Georgina Stewart recognises the difference, stating that, while mātauranga Māori includes empirical knowledge of the natural environment, it does not share the same paradigm or theoretical framework as science. She suggests that it makes more sense to relate mātauranga Māori to a Māori form of philosophy, rather than chasing after the status claim of ‘Māori science’ (Stewart, 2021). 

Research at the level of the Ph.D and that is publishable within the international literature on indigenous or traditional astronomy, for example, is valid and worthwhile research and has both cultural and historic significance. However, such research is fundamentally different from the skillset and research effort of a professional astronomer or astrophysicist who must acquire advanced and very challenging degrees in areas such as applied mathematics, physics and chemistry, and whose work will not be published or taken seriously unless subjected to very intensive, international peer review and judged to have met established benchmarks of quality and substance. 

The pre-eminence of science in the twenty-first century was hard won through the explorations and the subsequent scientific advances made through empiricism and falsifiability. However, Mario Bunge has given us a warning that has become particularly relevant in New Zealand today: 

Over the past three decades or so very many universities have been infiltrated, though not yet seized, by the enemies of learning, rigor and empirical evidence: those who proclaim that there is no objective truth, whence “anything goes”; those who pass off political opinion as science and engage in bogus scholarship. These are not unorthodox original thinkers; they ignore or even scorn rigorous thinking and experimenting altogether (Bunge, 2006).

Over the next four years, there will be regular opportunities for the public, the education sector and others to have their say in the refresh. Each year, testing within the learning area design phase will occur around June, and wider sector feedback will occur around September. So we will have opportunities to improve the current draft. 

Here I give further reactions to the proposed curriculum. In doing so, I respond to selected statements made within two critical documents from the Ministry of Education. These documents are as follows:


1.     Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum - Your guide to the NZC refresh  

2.     Te Mātaiaho Draft for Feedback


Below, I reproduce statements, questions or other text from the two documents in italics and then give my responses. 


Document 1: Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum - Your Guide to the NZC Refresh,and%20Health%20%26%20PE%20in%202024.


. . .  ākonga want to learn from a curriculum that is meaningful to them and their whānau. They want a stronger focus on wellbeing, identities, languages and cultures. That’s why we’re refreshing the NZC so that it honours our obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is inclusive, clear about the learning that matters, and easy to use. 

Apparently, students want a stronger focus on wellbeing, identities, languages and cultures. Such a focus is laudable and we presume that a large number of them asked for stronger focus on these things as part of some consultation process!? Though many New Zealanders feel that the persistent use of Te Reo in official documents and in naming of public institutions etc represent a form of duress and possibly a demonstration of power on behalf of Government and those involved in the curriculum refresh and other treaty-centric political initiatives, I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. Thus, I am prepared to subscribe to an optimistic view in which the intention is honourable; that is, to honour Māori and help to preserve Te Reo. However, I note that most often no translation is provided. Using Te Reo is indeed respectful to Māori but it has become very pervasive, bearing in mind that about 3.5% of the population of New Zealand speak it as their mother tongue (World, 2023). However, refreshing the national curriculum so that it honours “our obligations to the Treaty of Waitangi” is extremely concerning. What exactly are our obligations to the Treaty of Waitangi within the domains of primary and secondary education? 


Many people, including myself, prefer to use the correct legal name for this country - New Zealand - but have no objection to others’ use of alternative names. However, the persistent use of alternative names for this country in official documentation and by organizations that may have been contracted to assist in the curriculum refresh (e.g. the New Zealand Association for Research in Education) suggests a degree of capture, perhaps willing, or perhaps in some cases, unwilling. If members of staff of a government agency, school teachers or contractors who are paid to engage in developmental work towards a major initiative such a curriculum refresh, are expected to use alternative names, then they may feel that they have little choice.


New Zealand is a multicultural society, rather than a bicultural society. Our country should not be re-configured to accommodate one self-identifying minority. Most importantly, our education system should not be reconfigured bi-culturally and nor should we pretend that traditional knowledge is the equal of twenty-first century science. In no other country would such an idea be taken seriously. 


Designed to be cumulative and increasingly complex – the progression approach replaces year levels and achievement objectives with five phases of learning (Y1-3, Y4-6, Y7-8, Y9- 10, Y11-13). These phases of learning are the signposts that guide the learning pathway. Each phase of learning contains progress outcomes that describe what ākonga should understand, know, and do at each phase of learning.

I believe that we can be perfectly happy with this approach. Clearly, experts in education practice and research have provided evidence-based input to this particular design and we can be confident that the design is robust and defensible, or as good as any other approach. 


. . . key changes in the refresh of the NZC – including the draft Curriculum Framework, and Understand, Know, Do progression model. These changes are designed to define the learning that matters across the school journey – from new entrants, to school leavers.

Indeed, here it is confirmed that the new Treaty-centric, Mātauranga Māori-embracing curriculum will be imposed on all New Zealand students over many years into the future. In 2021 the New Zealand population included approximately 968,600 children between the ages of 0 and 14 years (Statistics New Zealand, 2021). Quite literally, several million students will experience the new curriculum in the decades to come. Is this situation fair on non-Māori students of the future and, indeed, is it fair on Māori students to be taught Mātauranga Māori as truth across the curriculum? How would learning Mātauranga Māori as science help a Māori or any other student to acquire the skills to enter a competitive-entry university programme in medicine, law or engineering, let alone take degrees in the physical, mathematical or biological sciences?  


Mātauranga Māori will sit at the heart of the learning areas - with key competencies, literacy, and numeracy explicitly woven into each learning area.

The embedding of traditional knowledge across any national curriculum of any nation is very worrying. Notwithstanding the good things that all traditional knowledge, including Mātauranga Māori, has achieved over time, we live in the twenty-first century, an age characterized by great improvements to humanity’s quality of life, attained through research, science and technology. By all means, incorporate within the science curriculum those parts of traditional knowledge that are compatible with modern science and teach those parts of traditional knowledge that deal with morality, values, ethics and mythology in social studies, history or other related classes. However - to position the traditional knowledge of a small minority at the heart of a national curriculum? That is irresponsible and highly dangerous.


The general model of provision of expert advice for policy and decision-making relies on an appeal to scientific facts and data for informing policy decisions, based on the notion that better scientific characterization of a problem will lead to better policy (Gluckman et al, 2021). Māori and matauranga Māori have much to add here, especially in relation to holistic perspectives on people, nature and critical issues such as in protecting our environment, ensuring sustainable resource management and in manaakitanga (caring for others). But no traditional knowledge is the equal of science in its capacity as the systematic organization of knowledge that can be rationally explained and reliably applied (International Science Council, 2021) or as a method of thought which obtains verifiable results by reasoning logically from observed fact (Orwell, 1945). Traditional knowledge cannot be expected to match science in its advanced training, established methods, cooperation and peer-review. There is no shame whatsoever in that traditional knowledge, accumulated in the past by communities that had limited resources, cannot be the equal of the modern biomedical, mathematical or physical sciences. 

We suggest that in our education system a clear separation is maintained between all indigenous knowledge (including mātauranga Māori) and modern science and that traditional knowledge does not become embedded across the entire curriculum.


Te Mātaiaho is a tool that navigates the future for our ākonga by honouring our past to enrich our present. 

Perhaps we can agree that navigating the future for our ākonga can be advanced by honouring our past to enrich our present - but how should we enrich our present? Surely not by positioning one ethnic group in status above others; nor by re-creating a version of history to suit one particular narrative!? We hope that such outcomes are not intended.  


Te Mātaiaho includes a whakapapa, a refreshed purpose statement calling us to action, a Te Tiriti o Waitangi statement, and a refreshed Vision for Young People – written by young people, for young people. 

Should we not be concerned by the terminology “calling to action”? This is political, rather than educational, rhetoric. Are we being called to action to engage in improving education or to achieve political change and create a bicultural society?


A national curriculum indeed sets the aspirations for learning for a nation and to some extent captures society’s vision for its young people. It can indeed inspire and guide the kind of learning that enables young people to be confident, connected and actively-involved members of society. However, it is not the role of a national curriculum to advance political change outside the sphere of education. Never should it be the function of a national curriculum to support purely political dimensions of a nation’s constitution, treaty or other founding document or, indeed, to ensure equality of outcomes. Instead, the objectives should be the support of equality of access and opportunity and to underpin first-class education that enables students to learn and succeed.


Document 2: Te Mātaiaho Draft for Feedback


Te Mātaiaho is designed to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to be inclusive of all ākonga. The curriculum is framed within a whakapapa that connects all its components. This whakapapa and its karakia were gifted by Dr Wayne Ngata with the support of eminent experts in mātauranga Māori.

As stated above, the new curriculum should be designed primarily to underpin effective learning as its first priority and only then give effect to the political-educational parts of the Treaty as a secondary goal, should those parts exist – but do they? I have no problem with the widespread use of Te Reo terminology, but something is badly wrong when we are told by an education ministry that a national curriculum has been designed to give effect to a treaty.


Te Mātaiaho is a curriculum designed for all ākonga and their right to belong and flourish through high-quality learning experiences

We are being led to believe that a Treaty-based curriculum is for everyone and that all of us must get on board. Instead, though it talks about all students in New Zealand, nevertheless it appears to prioritize one ethnic group, its language and world view. This is no longer the education system in which I and many others taught generations of students in New Zealand. 


Te Tiriti o Waitangi I the Treaty of Waitangi is a central pillar of Te Mātaiaho, the refreshed New Zealand Curriculum. Te Tiriti is recognised as a founding document of government in New Zealand and a fundamental component of our constitution. Important principles for realising the vision and aspirations of Te Mātaiaho derive from the preambles and texts of Te Tiriti. Te Tiriti sets out mutual obligations for the Crown and Māori that guide how tangata Tiriti and tangata whenua can live together with mutual respect.  

Over the last fifty or sixty years New Zealand has become a very multicultural society and the relevant population statistics were given in a previous article (Lillis, 2022b). Asians, Pacific people and Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people now make up significantly more than those who self-identify as Māori (Ehinz, 2022). Every person must count as equally important as everyone else and deserves both equal social, economic and political decision-making power and equal opportunity to achieve success and lead a fulfilling life. Accordingly, our education system must give equal opportunity and status to all students, regardless of social, ethnic and religious background. A treaty-based curriculum of the kind proposed by the Ministry of Education is not equitable but, despite assertions that it is inclusive of all ākonga, instead favours one ethnic group over everyone else and prioritizes its world view over those of other groups. 


What important principles for realising the vision and aspirations of Te Mātaiaho derive from the preambles and texts of Te Tiriti? We are getting into very serious political agendas here. Why should our law, policy, processes and entities support a bicultural, but not a multicultural, joint sphere of governance and management of resources, taonga (treasures) and Crown lands? Why must we have a bicultural, mātauranga-informed, but not a multiculturally-informed state service? Why should one cultural and ethnic group co-govern and/or co-design and deliver services, but not Asian people or immigrants from Iraq, Eastern Europe or Syria?   


Te Tiriti o Waitangi provides for the active protection of taonga, including Te Reo Māori, tikanga Māori, and mātauranga Māori, and enables fair and equitable educational processes and outcomes for Māori and for all ākonga. Te Mātaiaho will help foster the next generation of Te Tiriti partners by moving beyond the rhetorical notion of ‘honouring Te Tiriti’ to giving effect to it. Transformation within and through education and schooling requires leadership that is courageous, resilient, and productively disruptive – leadership by educators who hold themselves accountable to the principles of Te Tiriti, to their communities of interest, and to those ākonga who have historically been left behind or situated on the margins.

We agree with initiatives that support and empower Māori, give Māori a clear voice in decision-making and that aim to close gaps in educational and socioeconomic achievement. However, does the Treaty of Waitangi promise fair and equitable educational and other processes and outcomes for Māori and for all ākonga? It is a laudable idea, but what exactly are fair and equitable outcomes in education? Does the Treaty demand equal percentages of students attaining qualifications across demographic groups? Is it the function of any treaty to guarantee equal outcomes? For what are educators to hold themselves accountable, apart from delivering the best possible education to all students and to treat their students, colleagues, their communities and their natural environments with fairness, respect and dignity? Who are the next generation of Te Tiriti partners? Are the words “partner” or “partnership“, mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi? What is this transformation mentioned above? Is it a transformation to better education or some kind of political transformation in which greater political and economic power accrues to some group? 


Te Tiriti provides the vision and mandate for New Zealand citizens to exercise their mutual responsibilities to each other. Giving effect to Te Tiriti through a refreshed school curriculum creates an inclusive learning platform for all ākonga to participate in and enjoy an education that extends every learner’s potential, produces success in multiple forms, and enables the fulfilment of lifelong ambitions and dreams. 

It is not the responsibility of our education system to give effect to political aspects of any treaty that favour particular groups and, in any case, how will giving effect to the Treaty of Waitangi within the curriculum create an inclusive platform for Pacific students, Asian students, Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East or, indeed, Pakeha students? Of course, there is the notion of mutual obligations but, unfortunately, much of the text that describes the curriculum refresh is primarily about obligations to one group. 


Knowing who we are, where we come from, and what makes us unique as a country will enable a more confident international outlook that extends within and beyond our Pacific locality to the global opportunities offered across the world.

We can agree with the notion that knowing who we are will give us confidence. However, knowing who we are should not extend to any distortion of history. There was both positive and negative in Māoridom and there was good and bad in colonialism. Knowing who we are should not extend to parity in the curriculum for any kind of traditional knowledge, including mātauranga Māori, with science. Indeed, we should encourage discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has supported the dominance of Eurocentric views, including the misuse of science as a rationale for colonisation of Māori and the suppression of Māori knowledge, but it is critical that those discussions remain objective and are not tainted by any political agenda. 


MĀTAIAHO | To focus on the strands of learning - Eight learning areas, incorporating mātauranga Māori and integrating the key competencies, values, literacy, and numeracy  

No kind of traditional knowledge should be imported in such a way as to sit at the heart of the eight learning areas, except the social sciences, learning languages and, perhaps, the arts. Even then, these areas encompass much more than traditional knowledge. As I said in my last article (Lillis, 2022), the NCEA Reform and Curriculum Refresh incorporates non-scientific ideas within our national science curriculum through the presentation and teaching of myths. For example, the NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary introduces the idea of “mauri” within the domains of biology and chemistry as the vital essence, life force of everything: be it a physical object, living thing or ecosystem. In Chemistry and Biology, mauri refers to the health and life-sustaining capacity of the taiao, on biological, physical, and chemical levels (NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary, 2022).

Every person pursues his or her own path through life and some people choose to pursue studies in the sciences. For example, an honours degree in physics (of the kind that I undertook as a young man) involves coursework and research in pure and applied mathematics, quantum mechanics, relativity, classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, optics, molecular and solid state physics, nuclear physics and possibly solid earth geophysics, geomagnetism, dynamic oceanography, atmospheric physics and astrophysics. Never will any university physics student, anywhere in the world, hear of a life force; nor will students of any other science. Thus, teaching high school students of science that a life force exists within inanimate things constitutes willful neglect of duty on the part of Government and the relevant Ministries, compromises the education of future students and will bring our national science curriculum and, indeed, the entire NCEA system into disrepute. 


MĀTAINUKU | To focus on creating a foundation - The central pou that states the purpose of the curriculum and calls us to action  

Again we have the “calling to action” – political, but not education, rhetoric 


By learning Te Reo and becoming increasingly familiar with tikanga, Māori students strengthen their identities, while non-Māori journey towards shared cultural understandings.

Some class time devoted to Te Reo and Māori culture and history will give all New Zealand students an appreciation of Māori culture, their history and their very significant contributions to the New Zealand of today. In the later years of education students, if they wish, should be allowed to reduce or relinquish their involvement in Te Reo and Māori culture in order to focus on gaining credible skills and qualifications. Of course, we should also introduce students to Pacific cultures, Asian cultures, African cultures and the cultures of Islamic immigrants from the Middle East.


By learning Te Reo and becoming increasingly familiar with tikanga, Māori students strengthen their identities, while non-Māori journey towards shared cultural understandings. All who learn Te Reo Māori help to secure its future as a living, dynamic, and rich language. As they learn, they come to appreciate that diversity is a key to unity.

We can agree with all of this, especially with the notion that Te Reo and matauranga Māori should be treasured and preserved and also that schools should play a part. However, for most students beyond the first years of compulsory education, Te Reo and matauranga Māori will not prove to be very helpful in either their academic work or as they enter the New Zealand and international marketplaces. 


Refreshed purpose of the curriculum - Te Mātaiaho starts from the premise that learners are taonga. It sets out an obligation to nurture and care for every learner as an individual, as a member of a whānau, and as a citizen of the world. Te Mātaiaho acknowledges and gives effect to the mutual obligations set out in Te Tiriti. Te Mātaiaho supports every child to live individually, and collectively, in a society that promotes peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equity, and collectivism. It demands respect for their cultural backgrounds, their abilities and disabilities, their gender and sexual orientation, and their religion.

We agree wholeheartedly with this statement but we should always bear in mind that it must apply to all students, from all backgrounds - hence the words “mutual obligations.” Dignity, tolerance and respect for minorities are obligatory, but minorities must also demonstrate these qualities towards each other and - even for Pakeha. Bias, racism and prejudice are to be found within a small minority of every ethnic and cultural group. 


Key Shift 1 Realising the intent of Te Tiriti - This is a shift from acknowledgment to authentic understanding and valuing of Te Tiriti. This reflects our maturing nationhood, shaped and enabled by our mutual obligations to and through Te Tiriti. Beyond anchoring our nationhood, Te Tiriti enables positive policy interventions targeted at high and disproportionate levels of inequity experienced by Māori. The referencing of Te Tiriti also acknowledges and supports our shared responsibilities in supporting Māori language, knowledge, and culture.

What is meant by authentic understanding and valuing of Te Tiriti? Is the maturing of our nationhood to be based on a particular interpretation of a treaty? What is meant by “maturing“, here? Does it mean every New Zealander speaking Te Reo and practicing mātauranga Māori? Does it mean embedding mātauranga Māori right across the new primary and secondary curriculum? Does it mean valuing and resourcing mātauranga Māori equally to science? Does it require valuing Māori medicine and western medicine equally? Have we matured when we create a bicultural joint sphere of governance and management of resources, taonga and Crown lands? Are we mature when Māori are providing for Māori but everyone else is provided for by the state, or when the public service is bicultural rather than multicultural, or perhaps when Māori, but nobody else, co-govern, co-design and deliver services?


Perhaps we can accept the notion of maturation to a degree. The treaty may or may not enable positive policy interventions targeted at high and disproportionate levels of inequity experienced by Māori. However, policy interventions targeted at high and disproportionate levels of inequity experienced by Māori are already in place; for example, in relation to COVID response (Te Arawhiti, 2022); business support (Te Puni Kokiri, 2022), Māori economic and employment initiatives and Māori health and wellbeing initiatives (, 2022), the creation of the Māori Health Authority, grants aimed at encouraging Māori into tertiary education (Ara, 2022); and financial support to help Māori landowners build housing (Controller and Auditor General, 2022). 


Such initiatives are well-intended and justifiable, in view of present inequities. They may require further action but do not of necessity require any treaty. However, New Zealand needs interventions targeted at inequities that are experienced by all disadvantaged groups, especially in relation to health and wellbeing and, of course, education. Here, we have one self-identifying group that constitutes less than 17 per cent of the population as one category, while everyone else, regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion and nation of origin, forms the second category. 


Actions for school leaders- Leading kaiako to give effect to our obligations to Te Tiriti, through genuine actions and the intent to build a more inclusive, bicultural sense of nationhood 

What about non-Māori students? Is it truly the responsibility of school leaders to give effect to our obligations to the Treaty? What are those obligations? Why a bicultural sense of nationhood and not a multicultural sense? The Te Aka Maori dictionary defines “kaiako” as teacher, or instructor.


Leading kaiako to design local curriculum that includes content about Te Tiriti, covering local and national contexts and the significance of Te Tiriti in highlighting and responding to persistent inequities and disadvantages for Māori

Do we also highlight and respond to persistent inequities and disadvantages for Pacific people, Asian people and other recent immigrants? In New Zealand we also have Pakeha who do not enjoy the privilege of affluence or good health. In 2022, about 187,300 New Zealand children lived in poverty, or 16 percent of the population. Approximately 14 percent of Pākehā children were living in poverty, compared to 17.8 percent of Māori children (RNZ, 2022). There was and there remains a percentage gap, but that percentage gap is not as large as is commonly supposed. In the Wellington Region suburbs of Lower Hutt, Avalon or Newtown we see many immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, some of them fleeing poverty and warfare. We encounter relatively disadvantaged families all over New Zealand and they need assistance and encouragement, just as much as Māori. 


Our country is diverse and the population statistics for 2018 are as follows (Ehinz, 2022):

European - 70.2% or 3,297,860 people

Māori - 16.5% or 775,840 people

Asian - 15.1% or 707,600 people

Pacific peoples - 8.1% or 381,640 people

Middle Eastern, Latin American and African - 1.5% or 70,330 people. 


Here, our population statistics are based on total response ethnic groups, so that everyone is included in every ethnic group with which they identify and percentages add to more than 100%. 


Indeed, we have significant numbers of people of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds and all of them deserve both equal social, economic and political decision-making power and equal opportunity at the level of the individual. They also deserve equal opportunity of access to, and status within, education. In addition, they deserve equal respect for their cultures of origin.  


Leading kaiako to incorporate Te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori in the co-design of localised curriculum with whānau, hapū, and iwi

This action for school leaders is fine for Māori and for anyone else who wishes to become involved with incorporating Te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori in the co-design of localised curriculum with whānau, hapū, and iwi. It is fine for the first few years of primary education, as long as we involve students in learning about other cultures and world views. However, it should not be forced on all students beyond primary education, when their focus should be placed on the acquisition of key competencies such as literacy and numeracy and, of course, on obtaining qualifications that will enable them to engage in higher education, compete in the international marketplace, hold down rewarding careers and lead fulfilling lives.    


Key Shift 3 Setting high expectations for all - Actions for school leaders - Leading kaiako to set high expectations of themselves and to be courageous in designing rich coherent pathways and local curriculum that disrupt the status quo and ongoing inequities for many ākonga

What is meant by disrupting the status quo? How will the creation of local, mātauranga Māori-based curricula disrupt the status quo and address ongoing inequities that cannot be addressed through financial support, education programmes, scholarships, a dedicated health ministry (the Māori Health Authority) and other forms of assistance? We hope that disrupting the status quo does not mean enforcing major political and social change in raising the status of one group, its language and world view, over those of everyone else. 


Mātaitipu | Refreshed vision for young people - We, the ākonga of Aotearoa, know our world is connected, our wellbeing is collective, and that we have a shared responsibility to each other. We understand our roles in activating Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We are strong in our identities, languages, cultures, beliefs, and values. This means we can confidently carry who we are wherever we go.

Did the “ākonga of Aotearoa” really come up with this statement? If they did, then they deserve great credit for their idealism and altruism. Surely is it a positive thing to be strong in identity, language, culture, beliefs and values. Did they ask to be known as “ākonga” and do they wish, en masse, for this country to be known henceforth asAotearoa”?


The learning that matters: Understand, Know, and Do - Weave the learning strands together. For all learning areas, there are three elements: Understand, Know, and Do. These elements are not separate, and they are not in sequence. Weaving them together ensures that learning is deep and meaningful and supports ākonga to use their learning for informed decision making and action.

We agree with and support weaving together of the three elements: Understand, Know and Do. We presume that this particular aspect of the curriculum design has undergone extensive testing, research and evaluation and matches the effectiveness of designs in other countries. 


The respectful inclusion of mātauranga Māori is a deliberate feature of the Understand-Know-Do structure that helps ākonga understand a dynamic and evolving knowledge system unique to Aotearoa

Respectful inclusion of mātauranga Māori should take place in social studies and related subjects, but not throughout the curriculum and certainly not in science. Unfortunately, the dynamic and evolving knowledge system will indeed be unique to New Zealand but it will prove to be a knowledge system that will have diminished currency in other countries and for many in New Zealand. Is it respectful towards immigrant students who do not speak English as a first language to require them to absorb a language and traditional knowledge that will be of little use to them in their home lives, their social lives or in their careers?


The New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies: Thinking; Using language, symbols, and texts; Managing self; Relating to others and Participating and contributing.

We expect that these competencies have been tested and found to be educationally and pedagogically robust and therefore should be retained. 


Values (from the 2007 NZ Curriculum) - Values are deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act. Every decision relating to curriculum and every interaction that takes place in a school reflects the values of the individuals involved and the collective values of the institution. The content of the New Zealand Curriculum learning areas is value-rich and demonstrates what the values look like in each discipline. The incorporation of mātauranga Māori in all learning areas supports the development of values that are Te Tiriti-honouring and inclusive.

How does the incorporation of mātauranga Māori in all learning areas support the development of values that are inclusive for those who do not self-identify as Māori? Do we see this notion in any other country in the world?  


Purpose statement for Mathematics and Statistics in the New Zealand Curriculum - Being numerate in Aotearoa New Zealand today relies upon understanding diverse cultural perspectives and privileging te ao Māori and Pacific world-views. 

This statement is patently a great exaggeration. Understanding diverse cultural perspectives is most desirable from ethical perspectives but has little to do with being numerate, while privileging te ao Māori and Pacific world-views has absolutely nothing to do with being numerate.


Like mathematics and statistics, mātauranga Māori is a body of knowledge with a history and a future. When we afford mana ōrite to mātauranga mathematics and statistics and mātauranga Māori while retaining their distinctiveness, ākonga can draw from both in ways that are beneficial to both spheres of knowledge. For example, they will understand how ethical questions posed by measurement, quantification, and stories told about data take unique forms in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

For any person trained in pure or applied mathematics or in statistical methods to the level of the Master’s degree or Ph.D, this statement also constitutes a great exaggeration. Effectively, mana ōrite between mātauranga mathematics and statistics and mātauranga Māori means that they are equal in status. The international mathematical and statistical community is very unlikely to accept this assertion. What major ethical questions take forms that are unique to New Zealand? 


As they progress, ākonga can use their mathematical and statistical knowledge and skills to contribute to their communities, Aotearoa, the Pacific, and beyond as informed citizens. Mathematical and statistical models can help identify misinformation and disinformation and are essential to resolving collective global challenges, including securing human rights and social justice, adapting to a changing climate, and building an equitable, sustainable future.

We can agree with this statement in full. We are seeing a strong social justice flavour here, rather than promulgation of the use of mathematical and statistical knowledge in pursuing scientific endeavour such as in the domains of biomedical science, social science and engineering. We have nothing to disagree with here, in principle, but are the mathematical and statistical sciences now to be used in pursuing a social justice agenda? If so, then that is a very legitimate end use, provided that it is a balanced and fair agenda. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric of Māori activists and others in justifying the proposed revisions of the New Zealand curriculum is far from objective.


Progress Outcomes: Understand - Mātauranga Māori and mathematics and statistics help make sense of the world. Mātauranga Māori and mātauranga mathematics and statistics consist of different systems for viewing, understanding, and organising the world and how we operate in it. The interfaces between them offer opportunities for meaningful inquiry and for mathematical and statistical insights that uphold the integrity of each.

This statement is greatly inflated, making Mātauranga Māori seem somehow equal to mathematics and statistics as they are understood and applied within the 195 countries across the world. To be fair, the interfaces between them may indeed offer opportunities for meaningful inquiry and for mathematical and statistical insights. How the interfaces will uphold the integrity of each is unclear. 


Mātauranga Māori and mathematics and statistics help make sense of the world. 

We can agree to a point but they are not the same and, while mathematics and statistics help make sense of the world, right across our world, Mātauranga Māori is confined to a small fraction of the population of New Zealand. 


Key features and critical questions  -  A curriculum that gives effect to Te Tiriti needs to embed Māori ways of thinking and being. It values, validates, and practises mātauranga Māori, while acknowledging that each iwi and hapū has their own evolving kete of mātauranga Māori. 

The Te Aka Maori dictionary defines “kete” as a basket or kit. If Māori ways of thinking and being were intended for Māori students only and for those who wish to have ongoing involvement with Māori ways of thinking and being - then, fair enough. Even here we have reservations, because other nations will evaluate New Zealand’s education system and will not pronounce a favourable judgement. Otherwise, these assertions are extremely naïve and highly dangerous for education in New Zealand. We must remember that the intention is to force this agenda on all students for decades into the future. Therein lies a very serious problem.  


How can we establish and build a nurturing and reciprocal relationship with mana whenua? 

The Te Aka Māori Dictionary (2022) defines mana whenua as territorial rights, power from the land, authority over land or territory, jurisdiction over land or territory - power associated with possession and occupation of tribal land. What is this critical question about ownership and legal issues relating to land doing in our refreshed curriculum? Perhaps there is an alternative meaning to mana whenua!?


How are we inviting mana whenua to share their thinking and ideas and their values and aspirations for tamariki in their rohe? How can we make engagement and dialogue sustainable for mana whenua? 

“Tamariki”means children and “rohe” refers to the home territory of a particular iwi or tribe. What are these critical questions doing in our refreshed curriculum?  If they belong there, then why are we not asking equivalent questions about other immigrant cultures?


How willing are we to challenge ourselves? How far are we willing to go? 

Just how much energy and time are expected of young Asian, Pacific, Pakeha and recent immigrant students and their families and, of course, teachers and education professionals, to challenge themselves in incorporating Te Reo and matauranga Māori into both education and everyday life when they have their own lives to live and their own issues to face? Just how far are they expected to go?


How are we involved in the life of the marae? Have we visited? How frequently? Have we stayed?

By all means we should have some involvement in the life of our local marae. I have visited marae and have got to know, and have become friendly with, Māori people. However, in recent years I have spent much time getting to know Pacific people and Muslim immigrants. Though not religious, one afternoon I attended Friday prayers at a mosque in Wellington - the Newtown Masjid. I enjoyed that experience and I endorse getting to know people of all backgrounds, including Māori at their marae.


How can we make mātauranga Māori and Te Reo me ona tikanga prominent throughout the whole curriculum? 

The idea of making any form of traditional knowledge prominent throughout a nation’s curriculum is extremely worrying and especially the expectation that all of us should get behind this idea. 


How can we access the learning we need to be more knowledgeable and skilled in mātauranga Māori and Te Reo me ona tikanga?

Some class time on Te Reo and mātauranga Māori for our non-Māori children will enhance their outlook and understanding of Māori people and culture. They should also spend class time on Pacific culture and language, Asian cultures, Islamic cultures and other immigrant cultures. If students want more Te Reo and mātauranga Māori, then they should be supported in exploring further Te Reo and mātauranga Māori. However, students who need to develop literacy and numeracy skills and acquire qualifications that are credible and portable to tertiary institutions in New Zealand and other countries should not be forced to spend significant time on Te Reo and mātauranga Māori beyond primary school, especially those students who do not self-identify as Māori.



The proposed curriculum is an indictment on Government and the relevant institutions within our public service. It will cause severe damage for decades to come and must be fought with all of the might that the public of New Zealand can engender. The education of millions of students and the credibility of our education system are at stake.




Ara (2022). Māori Education Trust,of%20the%20Trust's%20scholarships%20here. (2022). Government delivers timely support for whanau


Bunge, M. (2006). In praise of intolerance to charlatanism in academia

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Controller and Auditor General (2022). Financial support to help Māori landowners build housing


Ehinz (2022). Ethnic Profile: New Zealand has a diverse ethnic mix,%25%20Pacific%20peoples%20(381%2C640%20people)


Gluckman, P.D., Bardsley, A. and Kaiser, M. (2021). Brokerage at the science-policy interface: from conceptual framework to practical guidance 

Humanit Soc Sci Commun 8, 84.


International Science Council (2021): Science as a global public good. ISC Position Paper.

Lillis, D. (2022a). Education is in Big Trouble


Lillis, D. (2022b). The Media and Co-Governance


NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary (2022). Ministry of Education.


Orwell, G. (1945). ‘What is science?’ Tribune, 26 October 1945.

RNZ (2022). Fewer Kiwi children living in poverty but disparity between Māori and Pākehā remains

Statistics New Zealand (2021). National population estimates: At 30 June 2021


Stewart, G. T. (2020). Mātauranga Māori: a philosophy from Aotearoa

Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 52:1, 18-24, DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2020.1779757. 


Te Aka Maori Dictionary (2022).


Te Arawhiti (2022). COVID-19 assistance for iwi


Te Puni Kokiri (2022). Pakihi Māori – Māori Enterprise


TKI (2022). Refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum,and%20the%20learning%20that%20matters


World (2023). Te Reo Māori speaking countries,M%C4%81ori%20as%20their%20mother%20tongue


 Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics.


MPHW said...

Thanks David, an excellent critique.

If MoE does not specifically respond to the key arguments you have made it is guilty of dereliction of duty, in which case I think the Public Service Commission or the Minister needs to intervene.

As a matter of public interest, what academic qualifications does the Secretary of Education hold? If someone can answer this it might give some insight into how MoE can get away with some of the rubbish that it has been producing in recent times.

MW said...

Thank you Dr.
You provide a far more balanced view than those who persist in the brainwashing of our children.

Mudbayripper said...

Such a lot to read David. I did read your last article to the end, but not this one.
Anyway I didn't feel it was necessary, as my conclusion will always be the same.
It's just plain wrong.

Anonymous said...

Orwellian. Straight out of 1984.
The politicization of Education is the hallmark of the totalitarian state.

The fact that this is proposed in the name of Maori - i.e. people with some Maori ancestry - is both ludicrous and dangerous to the viable future of NZ.

To be cancelled by the next Minister of Education - back to the drawing board with a steering group who reflects the reality of NZ's demography

Anonymous said...

David I don't know how you can sleep at night. It makes me very upset to read your wonderful explanation of what is proposed to "refresh" our Education curriculum and I couldn't make myself read past about 75% of your article.
It is wonderful that you can set all this out so clearly. How can people who purport to educate students cooperate with this outrage? They are traitors to our country and I hope there will be a day of reckoning for them.

Cara said...

Thankyou for this meticulously researched analysis David.
Similar attempts to indoctrinate the young with race-centric ideology that is perverted, self-serving and illiberal have been made in the USA. My impression is that once parents get wind of what’s going on, hell will have no fury like theirs!

Robert Arthur said...

When I last enquired the public submissions on the "histories" (the term used) curriculum had not been made available to the public and there seemd no intent to do so. The msm seem to have made no attempt to access and review. Quite apart from their general pro govt approach, the PIJFund conditons disqualify use of and the presence of discourages any separate review which could hardly avoid some criticism.
By attaching titles in maori and couching all in very rambling oblique, obscure non Churchillian language any outsider interest in intentions is severely discouraged.

Anonymous said...

Phew - what a mission, but thank you.

Firstly, I did wonder how and why, by international measures, the educational performance of our young has been declining in recent years when the number of head office educational staff has been burgeoning? It is now obvious that the latter have had their attention diverted to other matters.

While I appreciate the efforts you have gone to here and I don't believe anyone can doubt your sincerity and conviction, in my opinion you have been too moderate and accommodating in your acknowledgement of the purported virtues of all things Maori.

While it was inevitable occurrence, let's ignore the last two centuries of colonisation and the impact that has had on Maori culture and that culture's ‘world view’, which these days keeps being cited, but seldom (if ever) explained?

In those centuries prior colonisation, what precisely had that ‘world view’ achieved for Maori?

It certainly hadn’t achieved for them unity, other than at comparatively small tribal levels and where inter-tribal conflict was rife. Nor had it advanced their technology far above a fairly basic subsistence level, with very poor clothing, housing, health and hygiene; no pottery, metallurgy, wheel; and, only the most rudimentary of implements. They had no written language; no way of recording and passing on of knowledge other than orally; and their beliefs heavily incorporated animism and superstition. They actively engaged in warfare, slavery, infanticide and, as their natural sources of protein diminished, cannibalism. Importantly, their average life expectancy was a fraction of that of today.

That said, with a culture that had struggled in its existence, yet alone advancement, my question to the Ministry of Education (and to fellow New Zealander’s) is – “Why is this ‘Maori world view’ and related topics something we should want to embrace to the extent of it being at the very core of our children’s education?”

Presumably this ‘world view’ and associated matauranga Maori and tikanga etc. etc. have largely been lost even to those that identify as present day Maori, for if it is still common knowledge and so useful and successful at addressing the issues we encounter in the world today, why is it that Maori tend to be the predominant cohort at that least desired end of most social statistics? So where is the proof that this knowledge is actually worth knowing in the world today, and our children will have to address tomorrow? And, if colonisation has limited the extent of that knowledge, who is in charge of its remanufacture and how can we be sure that that reproduction is authentic and, again, what are its proven benefits?

The bottom-line is that this extreme level of indulgence and reverence to be accorded to all things Maori is a patent nonsense and what is intended is not education but, is pure and simple, INDOCTRINATION. We must all stand and unite against it and I look forward to marching on Parliament and/or signing the petition demanding a referendum?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr David your conclusion is a personal opinion not a fact based statement! Very untidy & sad coming from a supposedly learned scholar

Anonymous said...

Surely the first and most important task of the MOE, is to get Maori kids to school. Most that those who push the contents of this article, and wish to politicise the education system to be provided to ALL NZ children, forget that their major culture /bloodline is Non-maori.

David Lillis said...

To the person who criticized my personal opinion and conclusion as untidy and sad - I can see where you are coming from. I believe that you are genuine and I respect your view on what I have written. Of course, the article represents an expression of my opinions, but I have given links to relevant background documents and presented selected text from them so that readers can see where the text came from originally and can form their independent judgements. I expect nobody in particular to agree with my perspectives, though I know many who do. Instead, I invite you and other readers to demonstrate why a curriculum that places any form of traditional knowledge at its core, and prioritizes the culture of one minority above the culture of others, is indeed what is needed in the twenty-first century for all students, regardless of social, cultural, ethnic and religious background.

My opinions were not formed in a vacuum. As I said in a previous article, earlier in my life I taught at several high schools with large enrolments of Pacific and Māori, spent five years as a part-time tutor at a university physics department, worked as a quantitative researcher and statistician in education and finished my career as Senior Academic Manager at a tertiary, degree-granting institution with large numbers of Pacific and Māori students. Further, I said that I respect people of all cultures and always got along well with minority students and also with Pacific and Māori teachers, several of whom (both former students and teachers) remain as friends of mine - many years later. I confirm that I have no dispute with any culture, religion or ethnicity.

I assure you that I did not wish to write that piece and I confirm that I do not get paid to write my articles. However, I wrote it for a reason - to highlight genuine concern for the wellbeing of New Zealand, which I believe to be under some threat; specifically, in relation to the education of future students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions - but also in other ways; for example, a tangible polarization of society today and potential damage to mutual respect and relations between communities and demographic groups.

I believe that the draft curriculum is ill-posed and, unless re-directed, will cause damage to education into the far-off future. I suggest that harm to the learning of generations of students and a significant diminishment of the credibility of New Zealand's education system are also untidy and sad, and that action must be taken immediately to correct the situation.

If people, such as myself, go public on a sensitive, race-related opinion piece, then we take a risk. The risk is that of public censure and retaliation from relevant organizations. Various negative labels can and may well be applied publicly and one's reputation and career can be harmed. We must be certain of our facts, comfortable with our opinions, confident that we are doing it for the right reasons, and be prepared to take what comes. My own approach is to criticize ideas, policies and institutions constructively (whenever possible) but never to attack people. However, many who have expressed opinion publicly on present-day issues in New Zealand have indeed been the targets of invective - including myself. I express my views only where I believe that doing so can potentially influence for the good.

Frankly, I do not enjoy going into print with negative commentary, but remaining silent, or being understated and pleasant about it all, will achieve little. Our children will pay a heavy price for a distorted curriculum that will result from inaction on our part.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, David. You are to be commended for taking a stand and all NZ owes you a debt of gratitude for your efforts in bringing this to our attention. This is a truly shocking state of affairs and too few know of the mischief that is being wrought. Hopefully, there will be a continuing and increasing groundswell of reaction that will see this subversion of our education system ended.

Unknown said...

You seem to have missed that ECE curriculum Te Whāriki, written by Māori and produced in bilingual format has been taught to 0-5 year olds for the last 27 years.
You seem to have missed that ECE curriculum Te Whāriki, written by Māori and produced in bilingual format has been taught to 0–5-year-olds for the last 27 years.

Furthermore, you appear to be misrepresenting the refresh. Science will still be taught as Science is taught now.

The refresh brings the current mainstream curriculum in line with what is being taught to 0-5-year-olds. Moreover, as the current curriculum is in breach with the Treaty the refresh aims to resolve this.

As someone who has studied Te Whāriki and applied its invaluable, holistic approach to teaching I can confidently say that you are wrong. It is very sad that you feel such tremendous, bias toward correcting the mistakes of the past.