The Curriculum that Governs Early Childhood Education
Feel free to take a look at the Early Childhood curriculum “Te Whāriki He whāriki mātauranga - mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa.”
You can download it from the following URL:
The Early Childhood curriculum was made public in 2017 - some years ago. It seems robust from the educational and pedagogical perspectives but there are concerns about its emphasis on one ethnic minority, leading to possible neglect of others.
To assist the reader I have copied selected text from that document and placed it in the appendix to this article. I will say little about it because I have written at great length already about the primary and secondary curriculum refresh (Lillis, 2023a, b, c and d). We see a great deal that is positive within the Early Childhood curriculum and I do not disagree with all that much there. But, nevertheless, it seems to favour the world-view and language of one particular ethnic and cultural group.
It pays great respect to Māori and their world-view and in principle we can agree with such an approach, especially as Māori were indeed here before the rest of us. However, as I have written several times in prior articles, over the last fifty or sixty years, New Zealand has become a very multicultural society. Asians, Pacific people and Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people now make up approximately 40% of our total population, or more than two-and-a-half times those who self-identify as Māori. Probably, few or none of those people of different ethnicities and backgrounds would expect to be accorded special status within either primary or secondary education, but some of them may have particular views on the education of their children that reflect their cultures of origin.
Have we invited them to speak and, if so, have we listened? We have heard from Māori and both they and matauranga Māori feature very prominently in our refreshed primary and secondary curriculum. But should not the world-views of other ethnic and cultural groups also be taken into account and addressed explicitly in the ongoing discourse on education and within our curricula?
What about our Growing Islamic Community, for Example?
Recently, I have been getting to know immigrants from within our Islamic community. Accordingly, on Friday 10 February I visited a Mosque in Wellington. It was my second visit there, the first in December 2020. On both occasions I had a very pleasant time, having been made very welcome. I will visit them again very shortly for friendly discussions on the New Zealand primary and secondary education curriculum.
In 2018 the number of Muslims in New Zealand was 57,276, up 24% from 46,149 in the 2013 census (Statistics New Zealand, 2022). Most of New Zealand Muslims are Sunni, but many Shias live in New Zealand too. Most Muslim immigrants are from North Africa and the Middle East.
The key objection to the Early Childhood curriculum is its failure to accord equal status to all children and to the cultural world-views of immigrant communities. The same objection applies to the primary and secondary curriculum refresh. Māori are a critical part of our society but so too are others. Should not Islamic, Pacific and Asian people be invited to articulate their world-views too, state their perspectives on education, and receive explicit mention within our curricula? We have heard Pacific views and probably Asian too, and they receive some attention in our curricula, but much less so than Māori. Surely our Islamic community will have their perspectives too. Let’s hear them. Let’s teach the cultures of Pacific, Asian and Islamic people, as well as Māori, within our Early Childhood curriculum and our refreshed primary and secondary curriculum. Let’s give all children equal status. In other words, mana orite for everyone!
Lillis, D. A. (2023a). Education is in Big Trouble
Lillis. D. A. (2023b). Reactions to the Proposed New Zealand Curriculum Refresh
Lillis, D. A. (2023c). New Zealand Must Fight the New Curriculum
Lillis, D. A. (2023c). Have Your Say about the New Curriculum
Statistics New Zealand (2022). 2018 Census totals by topic – national highlights. Archived from the original on 23 September 2019. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
Selected Text from the Early Childhood Curriculum
Readers can read and judge for themselves. After the foreword, the first paragraph is as follows:
Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. Signed in 1840 by representatives of Māori and the Crown, this agreement provided the foundation upon which Māori and Pākehā would build their relationship as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand. Central to this relationship was a commitment to live together in a spirit of partnership and the acceptance of obligations for participation and protection.
Te Tiriti | the Treaty has implications for our education system, particularly in terms of achieving equitable outcomes for Māori and ensuring that te reo Māori not only survives but thrives. Early childhood education has a crucial role to play here, by providing mokopuna with culturally responsive environments that support their learning and by ensuring that they are provided with equitable opportunities to learn. The importance of such provision is underscored throughout Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum.
Comment: Let’s remember that non-Māori constitute nearly 84% of the population of New Zealand. To be fair, it does say:
New Zealand is increasingly multicultural. Te Tiriti | the Treaty is seen to be inclusive of all immigrants to New Zealand, whose welcome comes in the context of this partnership. Those working in early childhood education respond to the changing demographic landscape by valuing and supporting the different cultures represented in their settings.
Let’s go to page 60
Curriculum and pedagogy are the means by which kaiako in an ECE setting influence, support and provide guidance for children’s learning and development. Pedagogies described or implicit in Te Whāriki are consistent with the four curriculum principles. These principles are a synthesis of traditional Māori thinking and sociocultural theorising.
Leading Māori theorists such as Pere and Durie have contributed to the development of theoretical perspectives and emphases (for example, on identity, language and culture) that are unique to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Comment: This is fine. What of Pacific, Asian and Islamic theorists?
Te Whāriki reflects research that adopts critical theoretical lenses to examine the influence of social conditions, global influences and equity of opportunity on children’s learning and development. Critical theory perspectives challenge disparities, injustices, inequalities and perceived norms. The use of critical theory perspectives is reflected in the principles of Te Whāriki and in guidance on how to promote equitable practices with children, parents and whānau.
Comment: Critical Theory includes a family of methods and approaches to social philosophy, where the main objective is to challenge existing power structures. Of course, we have inequities across ethnic and other groups, historic injustice and countervailing good and bad on every side. However, is it the purpose of our curriculum to challenge power structures or is it to support effective learning?
A kaupapa Māori approach to assessment situates the child within Māori ways of knowing and being and is carried out in ways that recognise and support the educational aspirations that whānau have for mokopuna. Kaupapa Māori assessment requires kaiako to recognise what and who mokopuna bring to the early childhood context, including their inherent strengths, traditions, history, whānau, and whakapapa. Assessment informed by kaupapa Māori does not view the child in isolation but recognises that the mokopuna emerges from rich traditions and is linked strongly with whānau, hapū and iwi. Kaupapa Māori assessment is concerned with enhancing the mana of the child and their whānau. This means placing Māori constructs of the child and their whānau in the centre of the frame, ensuring that assessment captures the strengths, abilities and competencies of the mokopuna and their whānau.
Now let’s go back to page 6
Located in Aotearoa New Zealand, this vision implies a society that recognises Māori as tangata whenua, assumes a shared obligation for protecting Māori language and culture, and ensures that Māori are able to enjoy educational success as Māori.
Comment: Again - what about Pacific, Asian and Islamic people? What about enjoying educational success as Pacific or as Chinese or as Hindu or as Muslims?
On page 12
All children should be able to access te reo Māori in their ECE setting, as kaiako weave te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into the everyday curriculum.
Kaiako should have an understanding of Māori approaches to health and wellbeing and how these are applied in practice. Models such as Te Whare Tapa Whā emphasise the importance of te taha wairua to holistic wellbeing.
Comment: Fair enough, but what about Pacific, Asian and Islamic approaches to health and wellbeing?
Kaiako develop their own knowledge of te reo Māori, tikanga Māori and Māori world views so that they are better able to support children to understand their own mana atuatanga.
Comment: Again, fair enough, but what about Pacific, Asian and Islamic world-views?
Respect is shown for Māori views of the world, the natural environment, and the child’s connection through time to whenua, atua Māori and tīpuna.
The identities, languages and cultures of Pasifika children are strengthened by acknowledging the interconnectedness of people, place, time and things.
Comment: Good to see that Pasifika are mentioned here but what about others?
Kaiako are cognisant of the concept of tangata whenua and the relationship that Māori have to each other and to the land. This guides kaiako relationships with whānau, hapū and iwi. Kaiako share appropriate histories, kōrero and waiata with mokopuna to enhance their identity and sense of belonging. Kaiako support mokopuna to engage respectfully with and to have aroha for Papatūānuku. They encourage an understanding of kaitiakitanga and the responsibilities of being a kaitiaki by, for example, caring for rivers, native forest and birds.
Appropriate connections with iwi and hapū are established. Kaiako support tikanga Māori and the use of te reo Māori.
Comment: Why not establish connections with others too?
Kaiako are aware of the concepts of mana and whakapapa and the importance of these concepts in the development and maintenance of relationships. They understand the collaborative processes inherent within whanau.
Kaiako recognise mokopuna as connected across time and space and as a link between past, present and future: ‘He purapura i ruia mai i Rangiātea’. They celebrate and share appropriate kōrero and waiata that support mokopuna to maintain this link. Kaiako support mokopuna to stand proud and firm (tū tangata) by building and maintaining relationships based on respect and reciprocity.
Comment: Are recent immigrant children from Ethiopia and the Lebanon encouraged to sing their own songs or are they expected to sing only kōrero and waiata that support mokopuna?
It is important that te reo Māori is valued and used in all ECE settings. This may involve, for example, using correct pronunciation, retelling stories, and using Māori symbols, arts and crafts.
Comment: It is indeed important that Te Reo is valued and preserved. Should it be used in all ECE settings? What about six-year-olds recently arrived from Somalia, the Ukraine and Iraq? Should not their priority be to learn to speak and write English?
Language and culture are inseparable. Kaiako enhance the sense of identity, belonging and wellbeing of mokopuna by actively promoting te reo and tikanga Māori. Kaiako pronounce Māori words correctly and promote te reo Māori using a range of strategies based on relevant language learning theories.
Comment: Do Kaiako enhance the sense of identity, belonging and wellbeing of mokopuna from Eritrea and Afghanistan by actively promoting te reo and tikanga Māori?
The use of te reo Māori in the programme is encouraged. Kaiako are supported to learn te reo Māori and to understand what it means for a child to be growing up bilingual.
Comment: A child speaking native Mandarin and learning English is already growing up bilingual.
Children may express their respect for the natural world in terms of respect for Papatūānuku, Ranginui and atua Māori. Kaitiakitanga is integral to this.
Kaiako are aware of the history of Māori exploration and navigation. They encourage mokopuna to connect to this legacy by providing safe and challenging environments and experiences. Kaiako recognise the relationship mokopuna have with the environment. They support them to fulfil their responsibilities as kaitiaki of the environment. For example, kaiako encourage mokopuna to observe nature without harming it.
Comment: Others were great explorers and navigators too.
How might children be encouraged to connect with and care for their worlds in ways that are responsive to Māori values?
Comment: How might children from Egypt be encouraged to connect with and care for their worlds in ways that are responsive to Islamic values?
Both Te Whāriki and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa envisage a culturally competent child who is able to move confidently between te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā.
Te Whāriki acknowledges that, for Māori, the child is a link to the world of the ancestors and to the new world, connected to people, places, things and the spiritual realm; they belong to whānau, hapū and iwi and they are a kaitiaki of te Tiriti o Waitangi.
...the principles of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa are strongly connected to te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Comment: Early childhood education provides education and care for children before primary school and is not compulsory. Most children in early childhood education are three or four years of age. Do they and their teachers or carers have obligations to the Treaty? If so, then those obligations apply equally for all children, teachers or carers, regardless of culture of origin.
The learner understands the values of their whānau, hapū and iwi, enabling access to the Māori world. They also know their identity and origins.
Comment: Does this assertion apply to Pacific, Asian and Islamic people and their children?
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.