Experts clash over integrating mātauranga Māori into education in heated AM interview

  • 27/02/2024

Two experts have clashed over the introduction of the indigenous knowledge of Māori into the school curriculum in a heated AM interview.  

Labour was open to introducing the concept into the classroom - however, an open letter from one of the Government's new advisors is against it entering sciences.   

Advocate for mātauranga Māori, Sir Ian Taylor joined AM on Tuesday morning and told the show he believes there are certainly lessons that can be learned.  

"It was that indigenous knowledge that brought our Polynesian voyages, starting 3500 years out of Asia across the greatest expanse of open water on the planet. Now you do not cross the greatest stead of ocean water on the planet without science, technology, engineering and math," Sir Ian told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.  

Sir Ian said mātauranga falls into the category of science and pointed to a couple of examples.  

"One of the examples we give is the apple always fell from the tree, that's mātauranga, that's indigenous knowledge. It became gravity when it landed on Isaac Newton's head," he said.   

"The other example I'd give for the way kids are learning physics and maths from these stories, [is] the waka holder of the Tahitian sailors who went out and met Captain Cook as he arrived, kept going back because they thought his boat was broken because it was so slow.   

"Well, actually it was Archimedes principle. The boat was slow because it had a big area in the water. It's the displacement of water."  

A group set up to advise the Ministry of Education on the New Zealand curriculum for those Year 8 and under is expected to make their initial recommendations by the end of the week.   

One of the signatories on the public letter, Senior Statistics Lecturer David Lillis, joined AM alongside Sir Ian.   

He hit back at Sir Ian's point and told AM he isn't against indigenous knowledge being added to some subjects, but science should not be one of them.  

"Let's think about indigenous knowledge and its place in a curriculum, does it have a place? Absolutely it does and in any country and in any nation configuring its education system, indigenous knowledge has a treasured and valued place," he told AM.   

"Then there's the question of its pervasiveness, its level of presence in the curriculum, should it saturate a curriculum? Should it be across all learning areas and all subjects that exist there? Or should it have a special place? I'm arguing in New Zealand, mātauranga Māori should have a special place within certain domains and that could include languages, social studies, history and so forth, but not science."  

Chan-Green pointed to a Dunedin school where they're building waka prototypes, using different materials and a 3D printer while investigating bird migration and wind and water currents.   

Chan-Green asked Lillis what's not scientific about that?    

"There are scientific elements in every form of indigenous knowledge, there is mythology, there are all sorts of cultural practices and stories about the creation of the universe and the formation of life on our planet," he replied.   

"But then you think about the knowledge about the physical, the natural world, the world of life that is around us and also knowledge about other people.   

"In indigenous knowledge, what we have is largely observation, careful observation and trial and error and passing down of knowledge by word of mouth, which is necessarily limited, but I hear that there are scientific elements in traditional knowledge, including science."  

Sir Ian was then asked if mātauranga Māori should just be included in social studies and history but not science.   

"I guess what David just described was science. I mean, anybody who says I have the correct answer is not a scientist. Science is always exploring observations and all of that," Sir Ian told AM.   

"The goal is to inspire our young people into the idea that STEM subjects is in their DNA and it is relevant to who they are." 

Watch the full interview above.