A prominent Māori academic is warning Kiwis to be vigilant about where they receive information on mātauranga Māori after it was thrust back into the headlines by an international scientist claiming teaching it in science classes was “ludicrous”.
Last week evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins penned a column for right-wing UK magazine The Spectator saying mātauranga Māori curriculum changes were “virtue-signalling” and criticised the use of te reo Māori in Government documents.
In response to Dawkins’ tweet about the policy, Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, Space X and Twitter then replied: “This is insane.”
Professor of mātauranga Māori at Massey University Rangi Mātāmua (Tūhoe) told the Herald people who don’t understand mātauranga Māori are often the most vocal in determining what they think it is and how they see it as an “enemy of western science”.
“You don’t traverse the greatest expanse of ocean on the planet, crisscrossing it and populating every single habitable land mass in that space on myths and legends, nor do you do it on spirituality, you do it on science.
“Based on mātauranga Māori they established the complex lunar-stellar calendar systems, systems of time, they evolved various technologies in terms of the way that they fished, and gardened and built houses and operated their lives.”
He believed some people view knowledge that isn’t Western as being not as correct, or as accurate, as Western science.
“I love Western science, I also am part of mātauranga Māori, and I love that, I don’t see them as adversaries.”
He said one of the benefits of indigenous knowledge systems is that they aren’t “cut off” from the general population.
One example of this was global warming, which he said in a mātauranga Māori sense, meant the knowledge of what is happening doesn’t end with just knowing, it changes how you go on to live your life.
“And that’s why our knowledge systems are not separated from our cultural practices, from our actual everyday practices, and even from our spirituality.”
What is mātauranga Māori?
Mātauranga Māori, he said, is an indigenous knowledge system and a way in which our world is understood.
He told the Herald mātauranga Māori is best understood when it is practised and people actually connect with a particular way of knowing and behaving in relation to the environment.
“Often mātauranga Māori has been incorrectly positioned or described as an opposite to Western science, so it’s seen as spirituality and mysticism, sprinkled in with a bit of magic and there’s no empirical science.
“It’s not an enemy of science, in fact they work really well together, it’s just a different way of understanding the world and connecting to the world through that knowledge system.”
How is it being rolled out in schools?
Ministry of Education Te Poutāhū (Curriculum) senior manager Rob Mill said feedback from participants in the NCEA Level 1 mini-pilot last year indicated positive support for the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori from both teachers and ākonga (learners).
“The 2022 NZC NCEA mini pilot tested 29 Level 1 subjects and included 92 schools and 150 teachers. Pilot schools were identified by expression of interest and supported through two planning workshops followed throughout the year by monthly online subject-specific pilot hui.”
Mill said each pilot school tested one or more NCEA subjects and enrolled one class or their whole cohort in the new Achievement Standards.
He told the Herald the NCEA Change Programme had reached a number of significant milestones since it commenced, which are helping to build momentum and realise change 2 Mana ōrite mō te mātauranga Māori, equal status for Māori knowledge.
Through 2020 and 2021, he said the Ministry of Education consulted on and confirmed the addition of Te Ao Haka (Māori Performance), Mau Rakau (Māori Martial Arts) and Whaiora (specialised learning about Māori models of wellbeing) as new subjects grounded in mātauranga Māori.
“An operating model was also developed for all Learning Areas in the NZC (New Zealand Curriculum) that embeds mātauranga Māori in subject materials and products, where appropriate, as they are being developed. Inclusion of mātauranga Māori is adding local and authentic context, as well as deepening each subject’s existing knowledge base.
“The full pilot in 2023 includes a larger number of pilot schools using Achievement Standards from across subjects to assess their integrated teaching programmes.”