Maori Insights in Science

As part of my research into Māori and Science (etc.), I came across this publication by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, titled,  Te Ara Pūtaiao: Māori Insights in Science. It brings together research by four Māori scientists and offers a number of relevant and interesting points.

Maori identities and Scientist identities: seeing them together

In the first chapter, Dr James Ātaria (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) describes a project he was involved in and on which they invited a local Māori high school student to join in. They found that this had a profound impact on her perception of Māori in Science: “Her teacher …got back to us and said that the experience had had quite a profound influence on [her…] because her idea of what scientists do had been completely turned round. ‘Māori scientists as well,’ she said. Before that she had found it difficult to find a link between Māori and science. In talking with us she told us she now saw the link. It was awesome to hear that.” (p.24)

With regards to Māori insights in Science, Ātaria observes that: “…a criticism that scientists face sometimes, particularly when doing applied research, is that you are there one day and gone the next. So we tried to get things going that may become self-fulfilling in the future; and, again, that is where the relationships come in.” (p.24, James Ātaria ‘Environmental Research’ pp.7-25 in Eds. J S Te Rito and S M Healy – see ref below)

Maori in Science and Mathematics Education

Elizabeth McKinley’s (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāi Tahu) work forms chapter two,  ‘Maori in Science and Mathematics Education’, in which she describes two research projects into “what is happening for Māori in science education and the issues there for Māori.” (p.27)

Importantly, McKinley notes that: “When we spoke to the teachers about their learning with Māori students in their classrooms they focused on pedagogy. While they talked a little about relationships they focused more on pedagogy, learning styles, context and what they try to do in their classrooms. They also focused on student under-achievement and student backgrounds – so the deficit issue is still evident…. The students know how their teachers see them; they pick it up really easily.” (p.28)

We have really no research on whether teachers can combine their pedagogical knowledge and their subject knowledge in culturally relevant ways. While we have research on pedagogical knowledge in science we have not got any research into subject pedagogy or subject content knowledge in science in terms of cultural understandings. So the projects I am talking about today are like diving into a policy vacuum in terms of pedagogy. I want to talk about the two projects carried out for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. The first one, funded for the 2003–2004 period, has been completed and there is still quite a bit of publishing to come from it. I then thought about exploring an area that looked at contemporary contexts for science, so we did a side project which was a development from the first one.” (p.28)

“The types of projects we are doing fit into a general aim that keeps in mind Mason Durie’s ideas. That aim is to find answers to the question of what it means: to live as Māori, to participate as citizens of the world, to enjoy good health and a high standard of living? Within that context this is what we are looking at:
What constitutes effective mathematics and science curricula (including knowledge, language and pedagogy) for improving the educational achievement of Māori students at secondary school?” (p.29, bold emphasis in original)

Science and mathematics appear to be a-cultural. In many ways we have come to believe that. Our teachers believe it. Because there are laws of physics, et cetera, which we regard as being trans-national and trans-cultural we tend to see the whole field of science like that. The students are well aware of how science and maths travel with them and that they can take these things further afield and speak the same language somewhere else. In our research project we found good recognition, especially from our Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori total immersion schools) students, about the notion of going out as global citizens.” (p.29)

McKinley and her fellow researchers found that, with regards to ‘Factors in Science and Mathematics Education for Māori’:

• Teachers struggle with curriculum suggestions regarding Māori language, knowledge and culture and pedagogy
• Strong belief Māori students take longer to be ‘ready’ for mathematics and science study
• Most Māori students in lower ability classes
• Relationships and expectations are important to younger students and parents” (p.31)

Science, Mātauranga Māori and Schools

The second project she describes, “was called ‘Science, Mātauranga Māori and Schools’ and was based on two questions:

• Can collaborative partnerships between science and iwi /hapū inform school science?
• If so, in what ways?” (p.33)

We could see caricatures of Māori culture turning up in classrooms,” she explains, “and I was saying: Where can we find a way forward to change this? That was the thinking behind this project. It was through a conversation with a friend who was working for Manaaki Whenua (Landcare Research) at the Waikato campus that I was inspired about what we could look at in our research. This friend is a scientist and while talking about some of the projects they were doing she said they had quite a few projects that involved working with iwi and mana whenua (the people with authority over the land). In listening to her several questions came to mind. I asked: Where are the schools in these projects? If this is a whānau (extended family group), hapū, iwi project, are the schools being brought in? [-p.34] Isn’t this an ideal site for teachers and our students to learn from? I could see possibilities for professional development (PD) for teachers or even actual classes; these projects were cases of science organisations working with local communities and this is where contemporary subjects for the curriculum could come from.” (pp.33-34)

Towards this end, they:

• Gathered projects from Manaaki Whenua
• Spoke with scientists and Māori organisations involved and visited projects
• Discussed appropriateness for school science (PD, curriculum application, resources, et cetera)
We employed someone to go out and start looking at these projects. We did not go in and try to get schools involved. That would be the next step: trying to get a school involved in one of these programmes with a view to getting changes in the curriculum. We looked to see if the projects would be appropriate for school involvement because not every science project is appropriate for schools. There are a lot of criteria in terms of a science project fitting in. We found that there are huge amounts of information available and some of it in two languages. Sometimes Manaaki Whenua projects put up bilingual information on a website that our teachers could easily access. In fact all teachers could access the information but it would be particularly useful for Māori language teachers or those in kura. However, teachers were not being made aware that they could access such resources.” (p.34, bold emphasis in original)

As a result of this research, McKinley asserts that: “I am convinced that we have to look at research priorities if things are going to change. If we are going to change science education in this country for Māori students we have to make research a priority.” (p.34) The research priorities she identifies are:

“• Classroom/school projects based on bringing together pedagogical knowledge and Māori knowledge
• Issues of cultural stereotypes in mathematics and science education and the extent of their effect on Māori achievement in these subject areas
• Second language acquisition and conceptual development in science and mathematics
• Initial teacher education and our ability to make changes” (p.35)

“There are a number of projects we can look at to get things moving with regard to school-based projects that bring together pedagogical knowledge and Māori knowledge. One of them is to change the science curriculum in schools for all students and for Māori students in particular. Getting these contemporary, culturally relevant pedagogies and content/knowledge going in classrooms is something that has to happen. …The issue of bringing together pedagogical and Māori knowledge in school-based programmes is a really difficult one but we have to work out how to do this. We need more classroom and school-based projects reported on. There is very little in the international literature and it is so hard to find anything in terms of research in this area.” (p.35) She also makes a number of other recommendations.

Perhaps also worth noting here is that McKinley’s “doctoral thesis entitled ‘Brown Bodies White Coats’ [was…] about the identity of Māori women scientists” (p.27) and “investigated how stereotypical ideas regarding Māori and science have persisted across time – particularly the notions that Māori cannot do science and do not do science – and how these ideas become internalised for Māori. The research shows that the Māori women who have become research scientists have struggled to do so while still maintaining a sense of Māori identity. This research informs schools because many of these ideas continue to influence the teaching of Māori students in science and to affect their achievement.” (p.27)

McKinley also points to programmes like STEAM and STEAM AHEAD (

(Elizabeth McKinley ‘Maori in Science and Mathematics Education’ pp.27- in Eds. J S Te Rito and S M Healy – see ref below)

Research and identity

Michael Walker presents chapter three and his introduction is particularly relevant:
The title of this presentation He whāinga māramatanga, He kimihanga tūrangawaewae (A search for understanding, A search for a place to stand) is deliberate because it reflects where we are as Māori who are also scientists. Not only must we pursue understanding just as our colleagues do we also have to create a space in which to operate, by which I mean an intellectual space that reflects our difference and uniqueness. That is, we have to be aware we are coming from a very, very different set of operating assumptions and recognise that our identity is important in our research. We need to persuade others that our identity is important and that it drives our research. We also have to grow our successes and grow them rapidly both in time and in numbers. As a consequence of our research and the people we train we need to change the attitude of the dominant society so that our contributions can be received in an appropriate environment and expand the intellectual scope of the nation.” (p.37, Michael Walker ‘He whāinga māramatanga, He kimihanga tūrangawaewae‘ pp.37-46 in Eds. J S Te Rito and S M Healy – see ref below)

Walker insists that “identity helps drive us in our research,” but also points out that “the intellectual flexibility which comes with the dual identity of Māori scientists helps….” (p.40)

If we as Māori are going to get ourselves better represented amongst scientists, we need to grow people (that is, the number of Māori involved in science).” (p.40)

“We are building up the Tuakana model discussed below and applying it across all transitions and the development of academic careers. Because historically science has been one of the more hostile academic environments for Māori it has not done a good job in producing Māori (or Pacific Island) graduates. The strategy for response to this challenge was to take advantage of the concepts of tuakana and teina (elder and younger sibling) in Māori society. Briefly, the tuakana has a responsibility for ensuring the success of the teina, the teina has a responsibility to learn from the tuakana and both have a responsibility to contribute to the success of the wider group. The programme then sought to multiply off the successes achieved by the Tuakana students by ensuring they assisted those following them to succeed.” (p.41)

In science in New Zealand there is a dominant set of operating assumptions rooted in culture, history and language; and there is another set which is seen as different and, therefore, potentially a threat. What we have to try and demonstrate is that difference is not a threat but an opportunity…. If we consider the ‘Māori knowledge system’ through the ways scientists operate in the dominant mode we are faced with the following. The foundational belief that Tāne-nui-ā-Rangi brought three baskets of knowledge back from Te Rangi-Tūhāhā implies that knowledge is sacred because it is derived from the gods. Gods, as a result of the political history of science, are excluded from scientific discussion and are not verifiable from a scientific perspective. Ergo, Māori knowledge systems are not verifiable or rational. That is a minimally exaggerated position.” (p.44)

“For those of us who are scientists being accepted into science involves various forms of cultural surrender and retaining confidence in your identity under those circumstances is very difficult.For scientists who are not Māori the issue of identity is not normally a problem as such scientists usually operate under the cultural assumptions of the dominant society.
Another factor to be dealt with is the long time-frames for training. It takes 13 years in the school system, 10–12 years minimum to PhD, at least another 5, 10 or even 15 years to get international recognition, meaning your research will find its way into textbooks, and another 5–10 years to get information into undergraduate and school textbooks. This is a very long time-frame. What we need to do actively in order to grow our population and our uniqueness in the scientific community is to short-cut training.” (p.45)

Ref: above papers TO Te Ara Pūtaiao Maori scientists Coverin Eds. J S Te Rito and S M Healy (2008)  Te Ara Pūtaiao: Māori Insights in Science. A Monograph produced in the Tihei Oreore Series. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence. Auckland


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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