At the heart of the school

Issue: Volume 94, Number 2

Posted: 9 February 2015
Reference #: 1H9cqG

Ricky Prebble, senior history teacher at Wellington East Girls’ College, talks about the Maori History in School Curriculum project that he is helping to lead, and plans afoot to construct a wharenui that will become the heart of his school’s effort to reflect the principles of biculturalism with more than words.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.

The year-long event presents our nation with an opportunity to celebrate the bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Treaty of Waitangi 175 is a commemoration that provides the opportunity for us to reflect on New Zealand’s cultural diversity, our values, histories and traditions.

As educators we are tasked with preparing our current young learners to carry the Treaty into the future, and ensure it remains a living charter that underpins New Zealand’s national identity.

Keeping it current

Significant events in New Zealand such as celebrating and learning about the Treaty of Waitangi help young people to see the Treaty as something relevant today and in their future.

This is an important role for educators such as Ricky Prebble, senior history teacher at Wellington East Girls’ College (WEGC).

Ricky believes that students can have a tendency to ‘pigeon-hole’ the Treaty, believing that – because they’ve already covered the facts around the 1840 signing – they’re just going over old ground.

“I think in the past, actual study of the Treaty tended to be slotted into a junior social studies one-term programme, and that was that. Students might not have any other relationship with the Treaty. I can’t obviously say how other schools approach study of the Treaty, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job at WEGC so far: we focus a lot on perspectives around the Treaty. That’s a key skill that we try to develop.

“So we’re asking students: why was a treaty even seen as necessary? Who wanted the Treaty? Who didn’t want the Treaty? How have these perspectives shaped our country?

“We encourage students to think about the relevance of the Treaty to their own lives and to draw connections to contemporary events,” says Ricky. His class has looked at things like the genesis of Maori TV, and the Maori Party, the work of the Waitangi Tribunal, and the Maori Language Act. This act led to the rise of the kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Maori movements.

“In my experience, when you sit down and look at the text of the Treaty, and students realise ‘oh, ok, this is what Maori were signing up to at the time, and that has consequences today’, they can tend to be a bit shocked, about things like loss of land. I think that has lots of resonance. They start to think, ‘I can understand why many Maori groups throughout the last 175 years have tried to draw us as a nation back to the Treaty and its implications. In other words, I think students realise that the Treaty is still a basis for grievance, and for redress.”

Ricky says that when students come to realise that the Treaty of Waitangi has had far-reaching consequences, that it’s not just a bit of decaying paper covered in floral scrawl, they can be in for a bit of a shock.

Maori History in School Curriculum

Ricky also leads the Wellington regional cluster under the Maori History in the School Curriculum project. This group is tasked with building more Maori history – another aspect of New Zealand history – in to the teaching and learning that happens in schools around the country. The cluster is in the early stages of creating resources that will support teachers to achieve this goal.

The first step in the process, says Ricky, is to strengthen connections with local iwi.

“We can have a think about what we might imagine could be great resources, but really, are we necessarily the people who should be making those decisions? It’s the process that’s important: consulting and learning from iwi – this is their history after all – and accessing that wealth of knowledge, in terms of what’s relevant and appropriate. The first step is to meet and talk about what is possible and achievable.”

A framework for encouraging Maori achievement

The Treaty in modern times is understood to go far beyond an agreement between Maori and the British Crown of the late 19th century, designed to formalise their relationship. The Treaty becomes a framework that challenges us to look at the results the New Zealand education system delivers for Maori New Zealanders, and a basis for focusing on achieving equitable results for all.

Ricky says “I think [the Treaty] helps us to consider ways in which we can engage Maori students, and therefore help them to achieve.

“An example might be that we strive to improve our knowledge of the Maori world view as teachers; this can help us to relate. On the other hand, I think we need to be careful to consider the fact that just because a student identifies as Maori, we shouldn’t assume that they know everything there is to know about their own culture, because sometimes that’s not the case. I think just showing an interest goes a long way, for example by being as open as possible in the use of te reo in class.

“It’s a cliché I guess, but that’s because it’s very true: all good education and achievement occurs when there’s a positive relationship between students and teachers, and I think using the Treaty as a framework for those relationships can help foster great outcomes. This might find expression in the school getting involved in kapa haka, making space for a school marae; just demonstrating that you’re interested and you’re wanting to learn is very powerful, I think, in students’ eyes.”

At the heart of the school

Wellington East Girls’ College has for a long time had plans to construct a wharenui, which will take pride of place at the heart of the school.

Progress on the new whare has recently been given new impetus. Thanks to the 2013 spate of earthquakes in central New Zealand, there was an urgent focus on structural integrity all over Wellington. Subsequently the school was assessed and strengthening work is underway. Ricky says that the whare has become part of this renewal, one of a number of new facilities that will spring up in the near future.

“The architects have recently had meetings with local iwi, parents, and students, to talk about what the interior design could include. It was really cool actually, we had an hour-long presentation from a kaumātua connected to the school, who talked about stories of our region: from the beginnings, all the way through to Wellington today. It was like ‘here are some stories that you could think about including in the fabric of your whare.’

“Part of the vision is that Maori students themselves are heavily involved in planning the whare.

“It’s going to be a fantastic resource for the school. It’ll be really great to be able to have a noho [overnight stay] at our new marae, there will be a kitchen attached so students can develop skills around cooking and hosting perhaps. It’s a representation of Wellington East Girls’ College and its community.

“In terms of the values that the Treaty aspires to, the new whare will help to make those things so much more visible, whereas in the past, that’s maybe been lacking a little bit. This will be right at the heart of our school.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 4:41 pm, 9 February 2015

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