National MP Paul Goldsmith questions bid to put Māori knowledge on par with 'Western science' in schools

National MP Paul Goldsmith is questioning a bid to put Māori knowledge on par with 'Western science' in schools, joining a heated debate involving several academics. 

It traces back to 2019 when the Government agreed to strengthen NCEA, with a commitment to explicitly reflect and promote mana ōrite mō tē mātauranga Māori, or parity for Māori knowledge, within the main secondary school qualification. 

Jackie Talbot, a group manager of early learning and student achievement at the Ministry of Education, told Newshub it is currently being trialled in schools and the findings are being used to refine them for full school pilots through 2022. 

She said it means "making sure teachers are supported to design courses that include both what has become known as mātauranga pūtaiao and the scientific knowledge, skills and understandings that have traditionally been taught in New Zealand schools - which we have referred to at times using the phrase 'Western science'.

"These working terms are being consulted upon, and will be adapted if feedback suggests they are not useful."

Talbot said once implemented, science students would be encouraged to "compare and contrast a range of scientific methods, including traditional Māori ways of exploring, experimenting, and understanding the natural world". 

"Engaging with these foundational concepts is critical for all young people to build a comprehensive view of what science means in New Zealand today. It will be woven through scientific content relating to the physical, biological, chemical and earth and space worlds, and will promote scientifically literate and capable young people."

Goldsmith, National's education spokesperson, believes there are implications with using the term 'Western science'.

National MP Paul Goldsmith.
National MP Paul Goldsmith. Photo credit: Getty

"It suggests the curriculum leaders don't know the first thing about the subject. Science is universal no matter where you come from. Calling it 'Western science' is an insult to half the world," he says. 

"But more importantly, how will these sorts of muddled distractions help turn around our declining achievement in the subject?"

The latest National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement of Science showed just 20 percent of Year 8 students in New Zealand were achieving at or above expectations. 

"In practical terms, and in terms of limited class time, what does this mean? How will this help us reverse our declining relative performance in the global endeavour that the rest of the world calls science?" Goldsmith asks. 

"Our nation's prosperity depends on Kiwi kids receiving a world-class education in science."

Māori knowledge 'is not science'

Goldsmith is echoing similar concerns raised by a group of seven prominent academics at the University of Auckland, who claimed Māori knowledge "is not science" in a letter published in the Listener magazine. 

The academics, whose areas of expertise include biological sciences, psychology, philosophy and education, said while indigenous knowledge contributes to our understanding of the world, it "falls far short of what we can define as science".

University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater released a statement rebuking the views published in the Listener letter, saying it "caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni".  

"The University has deep respect for mātauranga Māori as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system. We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other."

The academics' views were formed from a Technical Report about the proposal, which contains academic analysis provided to the Ministry of Education. 

Talbot told Newshub the report does not articulate Ministry of Education policy or position, but was proactively released in June to "help inform a public engagement process and as part of the Government's commitment to transparency".

It's not the first time Goldsmith has spoken out against race-related matters in education. Last month he raised concerns about 'white privilege' being taught in schools and Government agencies.  

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti said 'white privilege' is not part of the curriculum, but "injustice, inequality and privilege are themes that are explored in some teaching resources to build cultural competency amongst our teaching workforce".