Learning from a Māori worldview

Issue: Volume 100, Number 5

Posted: 28 April 2021
Reference #: 1HAK4o

Education Gazette looks at the importance of kapa haka as a vehicle for many students to engage with te ao Māori.

For tamariki at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Rima, the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition was an opportunity to persevere through Covid-19.

For tamariki at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Rima, the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition was an opportunity to persevere through Covid-19.

In a normal year, there would be a series of national kapa haka competitions, allowing tamariki from primary and secondary schools to take to the stage all over the country. But 2020 was not a normal year.

When Covid-19 hit New Zealand in March 2020, schools and kura closed and face-to-face learning ceased. For many Māori students and learners in kura

Māori, this meant an even larger disruption to their education.

“When our tamariki came back from Covid, we found it difficult, like a lot of other schools, because of the anxiety and the apprehension,” says Tony Walker, the principal at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Ara Rima in Hamilton and chair of the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka organising committee.

“But what we found is that in our ancient songs and in our haka, there were sayings and things that really supported people inside. Their spirituality, their sense about themselves, their mental wellbeing, their physical wellbeing, it’s all in haka.”

On 14 November 2020, the Tainui Waka School Kapa Haka Competition was held in Tokoroa, thanks to a dedicated organising committee, communities and schools that advocated for it to be held, and funding received through the Ministry of Education’s Urgent Response Fund.

It drew a crowd – something which no one would have thought possible just months before – of whānau, kaumatua and ākonga in 15 groups from 12 schools around the region.

The power of kapa haka and its importance to Māori education was clear to those in the audience.

Brad Totorewa, a kapa haka tutor and composer himself, is a Limited Statutory Manager (LSM) for the Ministry of Education and a parent to one of the student competitors.

He sums it up: “This – kapa haka – this is where your curriculum lies.”

He taonga tuku iho | It is a treasure and an inheritance

For many students, kapa haka is an access point to engaging with te ao Māori. To engage with Māori Performing Arts, students must engage with tikanga, reo, and Māori culture and identity. It’s rooted in, and elevates, Māori culture and language.

“Our children are extraordinary,” says Brad. “They’re doing genealogy, mathematics, social studies, performance arts – all on stage.

“One young man on stage said: ‘My mana did not come from yesterday. My mana stems from a long line of chiefs from past generations, all the way beyond my understanding, and I’m proud of that.’ The power of kapa haka is important to ensure that the tapestry of our culture is strong and unbreakable.”
Tony agrees. “In schools, kapa haka is seen as an extracurricular activity, or it sits under a wider curriculum of arts. It’s a really under-appreciated area,” he says.

“But in the process, they learn their language, they learn their identity, they learn protocols, they learn histories, and it really feeds into their sense of self.”
“If we can mirror the passion, the understanding, the depth of connectivity, the tapestry that we call kapa haka and embed them into our classes – imagine if you apply that,” says Brad.

“Not the solution of one teacher, one subject, one way of delivering. Imagine if you could box this up – kapa haka – and place it into schools.”

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Te Ao Haka

This year, more than 30 secondary schools and kura across the country will be piloting Te Ao Haka, the new Māori Performing Arts subject at all NCEA levels.
After the 2018 review of NCEA, recommendations were made to ensure that te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, and mātauranga Māori were better supported in the curriculum and in NCEA.

Māori Performing Arts embodies several dispositions, giving ākonga the capability to grow proud, confident, disciplined, resilient, accountable, hardworking, committed, humble leaders who are able to work collaboratively.

The skills of manaaki, tiaki, aroha, whakapono, aumangea, time-management and commitment provide lifelong learning for ākonga.

But kapa haka advocates are quick to draw a distinction between kapa haka being seen as just a method of performing arts. Kapa haka is also a means through which a Māori worldview can be applied to education.

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Expanding learning through a Māori lens

In recent years, there has been a shift, albeit a slow one, in expanding curriculum to incorporate learning from a Māori worldview.

“We want to contextualise our curriculum,” says Tony, speaking from his experience as a former teacher and current principal. “Our curriculum doesn’t belong in silos.”

What sets learning through a Māori worldview apart, Walker says, is the kaupapa.

“The kaupapa and the language go together. The kaupapa looks after the holistic child, every single part of the child, every single part of their family. That’s what it provides. I’m not saying that other schools don’t, but they don’t do it like this.”

Kapa haka is one visible example.

“The way we deliver our curriculum is important,” says Brad.

“These kids spend hours and hours practising and practising and reciting. They sleep together, they eat together, they live together for two to three days per week. Some kids go to school and it’s ‘I’m going to learn maths for 45 minutes. Here’s your textbook’.”

“But what if we turned that and looked at how we deliver. The methodology of teaching our kids is important. Kapa haka is underrated in terms of its ability to transform the lives of our people.”

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Tamariki at Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha rehearse hard for the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Tony’s preference is that learning mirrors kapa haka – it becomes a part of who we are and what we do. Eventually, it will take a standard place alongside literacy and numeracy, and eventually, even change the way these subjects are taught. To Tony, incorporating a Māori lens is important to teaching students in a way they can more deeply understand.

“When we engage in a traditional practice of eeling, when we measure the eels to gauge their health, that’s our maths,” says Walker.

“Rather than sitting in a classroom with mathematical strategies – our kids just can’t hook it on to anything.”

Despite decades of strategies designed to engage and integrate a Māori worldview into education, the reality is that before now, learning hasn’t been seen through a Māori lens.

With racism and inequity having been embedded in New Zealand education since the 1800s, for generations it was unthinkable to have a Māori worldview present in mainstream education.

‘Covid-19 will not diminish my culture’

In recent decades, there has been a concerted effort to address the inequity present for Māori learners and in Māori medium education. Kura and schools in competition for resources saw opportunities and funding slip past in a system that was designed around non-Māori priorities and education.

Covid-19 only further amplified this vast inequality, with Māori learners being disproportionately affected.

To combat the effects of Covid-19, the Ministry launched the Urgent Response Fund (URF) to quickly allocate funding where it was needed the most. The

Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka organising committee saw their opportunity and applied for nearly $30,000 of funding from the URF to support the annual competition.

The funding was approved. Three months later, the competition was held in Tokoroa, bringing together a community, students and educators at a time when it was deeply needed.

“One of the groups stood today and said, ‘Covid-19 will not diminish my culture’,” says Brad.

“So what does that mean in the educational context? You have seven-year-olds singing about this virus called Covid-19. They understand that it won’t diminish their mana.

“I think this is a great day today. Covid-19 hasn’t stopped us from expressing ourselves as Māori through song and dance.”

Tamariki from Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha on stage at the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Tamariki from Te Wharekura o Te Rau Aroha on stage at the Tainui Waka Primary School Kapa Haka Competition.

Everything is everything

The URF helping to fund the Tainui Waka Primary Kapa Haka competition is just one example of where mainstream systems can merge with a Māori lens and improve education outcomes for students.

With kapa haka, children are being measured on an indigenous scale, where success depends on how much heart they give, not just the standard scale of assessment found in most schools.

“The more they are themselves, the more they learn and the better they become,” says Tony.

Kapa haka also enables educators to engage more deeply with children, their whānau and their communities.

“If you take that moment in time where that grumpy little child, who may have home problems or be hungry, if we just understand them a bit more and understand their potential, we can grow extraordinary leaders in New Zealand,” says Brad.

“In terms of who we are as a people, everything is everything, and we have to look at our education system as the same,” says Tony.

“We need to see the child in their entirety and then provide an education system that provides for that.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 6:15 PM, 28 April 2021

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