New Zealand (University of Auckland) The power and potential of Mātauranga Māori in education

In a Matariki inaugural lecture, Te Tumu and Professor Melinda Webber is looking to the future where elements of Mātauranga Māori are a normal and natural part of the national curriculum

Te Tumu and Professor Melinda Webber of Faculty of Education and Social Work
Te Tumu and Professor Melinda Webber of Faculty of Education and Social Work

There is profound value in Mātauranga Māori for framing and addressing critical research questions and educational practice in Aotearoa New Zealand, says Professor Melinda Webber (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whakaue).

The Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work is set to deliver her inaugural lecture on 12 July.

In the lecture, Webber will draw together the threads of 25 years of teaching, research and service in education, recognising the power and potential of Mātauranga Māori in the mahi rangatira (chiefly work) of educators.

She says Mātauranga Māori helps to shape the contexts, conditions and content of her research.

“He mana tō te tangata – every person has the power and potential to positively transform the world around them,” she says.

Webber’s work, guided by this key idea, is strengths-based and seeks to shine a light on what is working and how those things might be scaled up or amplified.

“Weaving together ancestral knowledges of hītori, waiata, karakia, whakatauki and whakapapa with contemporary research findings, Webber’s teaching and research show the profound value of Mātauranga for framing and addressing critical research questions and educational practice in Aotearoa.

“Mātauranga concepts related to excellence, persistence, reciprocity and relationship can transform educational approaches and practices, enabling Māori students, their whanau and communities to flourish.”

Webber will explore the breadth and depth of Mātauranga Māori, while going beyond the common conception of Mātauranga and its reference to traditional knowledge or science.

“It’s much bigger than that,” she says.

“Mātauranga is both traditional and contemporary. It’s a constantly evolving body and system of knowledge that is reliant on Māori practising what we already know and pioneering new knowledge to ensure a balance between the natural world, the human and non-human. It’s another way of making sense of the world.”

Mātauranga tuku iho (ancestral knowledge) teaches us that humans are connected to everything in this world and aren’t at the top of the whakapapa hierarchy.

“If we start to think in this way about the world around us, with regard to everyone and everything we interact with, it requires us to be consistently ‘mana-ful’ in our interactions.”

Webber says that while Western-based educational research focuses a lot on identifying and describing the problem, a Mātauranga-Māori approach is focused on finding a solution.

“Both research approaches have a place in the world.”

As a descendant of Te Tai Tokerau, Webber draws on many of the teachings from tūpuna and rangatira, one of which is inscribed at the whare rūnanga of the meeting house at Waitangi.

“It says: ‘ko ahau anō tētahi i reira – I too, once was here’.

“It’s a call to us to never forget we leave an imprint on the world.”

The inaugural lecture will be held at A block A201 / J1 Lecture Theatre, on the Epsom campus from 4.30 –6.30pm.

About Professor Melinda Webber

Webber’s extensive background in education has earned her a Marsden Fast-Start grant to undertake a research project examining the distinctive identity traits of Te Tai Tokerau tupuna. In 2017, she was awarded a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to tackle an important question facing educators: ‘How can we foster cultural pride and academic aspiration among Māori students?’

She also spent six years as a co-principal investigator on the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga-funded project ‘Ka Awatea’ which examined the nature of teaching, learning and home socialisation patterns that support Māori student success in education.

At its core, Melinda’s research focuses on better understanding the effects of Māori student motivation and academic engagement, culturally sustaining teaching, localised curricula and enduring school–family–community partnerships for learning.

Webber is a proud daughter of Te Tai Tokerau and mokopuna of Ngāti Whakaue

“That’ description is more ‘me’. It is how I want to be remembered.”

Mana-ful definition (as described by Professor Melinda Webber)

Placing the maintenance of mana (or manaakitanga) at the centre; to do everything in a manner that leaves the mana of people or community intact.