New Zealand starting a curriculum that gives indigenous knowledge equal weight to the “traditional world view” in all subjects

December 13, 2022 • 9:15 am

This article in Stuff, which I’m told by Kiwis is an important New Zealand news agency that’s “politically very neutral and independent”, reports a decline in academic achievement in New Zealand (this has been going on for some time), but at the same time reports that the planned incursion of the indigenous “way of knowing” into secondary-school teaching with is beginning. These changes will only reduce the academic achievement of students, at least in the sciences, but the NZ government would rather valorize indigenous lore than raise the quality of education. The new curriculum changes will be mandatory in all government-approved schools by 2024.

The “indigenous way of knowing” is, as I’ve described here many times, Mātauranga Māori (MM) a mixture of ideology, superstition, religion, tradition, and yes, even some empirical knowledge gleaned by trial and error—things like when and how to harvest local food. 

Click on the screenshot to read the short article:

For some time, the NZ government, and many secondary school teachers (and university professors) have decreed that MM should not only become much more a part of secondary-school education, but should be taught as coequal with modern science (what’s called “Western science”) in science class. That is, there should be as much teaching of MM in these classes as there is modern science. Since the scientific content of MM is thin, and restricted to “practical knowledge”, and because MM lacks the methodology of modern science, this “equality” is a recipe for disaster.

And on some level I thought it wouldn’t really happen. New Zealand happens to be a great country full of lovely people, and I didn’t believe they’d ruin science education this way. But I didn’t reckon how woke the country has become, largely because the government, under the uber-woke Jacinda Ardern, has decided to cater full-on to the demands of the indigenous Māori people and their many “colonialist” European supporters.

Of course MM, as an important part of New Zealand history and culture, should be taught as part of national history, anthropology, and sociology (Māori comprise 16.5% of the total population). But only in one’s wildest dreams can you see MM as coequal to modern science. Teaching it as such will do a disservice to all the inhabitants of NZ, including the Māori, who will not only learn very much science, but will be confused by the very notion of what “science” includes. Many Kiwis object vehemently to these educational plans, but the wokeness of the country is such that they dare not question the policy. Teachers and objectors are demonized, called “racists” and “colonialists” and some faculty have even been punished for speaking up. In fact, even the spineless Royal Society of New Zealand has taken the position that MM is in no way inferior to modern science, with the latter having its “limits”. 

But the juggernaut rolls on. I’ve put below, indented, some excerpts from the article. Bolding is mine.  The NCEA, by the way is the The National Certificate of Educational Achievement, a record of student achievement based on exams taken during each of the last three years of secondary school. (You can see the subjects on which students are tested here.) Your grade on the tests determines whether you can go to college, and also affects your ability to get some jobs.  The NCEA will henceforth include items taken from MM.


Many high school students can expect significantly different lessons in 2023 as sweeping changes to learning and assessment bed in, the head of the biggest school in the top of the south says.

Scott Haines, principal at Nelson’s Waimea College, said the reforms, being rolled out at secondary schools through the government’s National Curriculum Refresh and NCEA Change Programme, represented “the most significant change” to the curriculum in 20 years.

The college was among 285 schools, kura and tertiary providers nationwide that trialled new standards in the NCEA qualification for some subjects this year, including controversial literacy and numeracy tests.

New standards would be introduced in all subjects at NCEA level 1 next year at the college, and other Government-approved schools choosing to implement the changes before they became mandatory in 2024.

“Wildly varying” NCEA credit ratings across subjects would be replaced with fewer and larger standards in each subject, Haines said.

Māturanga Māori/Māori knowledge would have equal weighting to “the traditional world view” in all subjects, he said.

That meant “the nature of what teachers will be teaching will look quite different”, he said.

“If we’re doing astronomy, we would teach for example the Eurocentric view, the traditional view of how astronomy works, and we would also examine that through the Māori world view.”

Many teachers across the country needed to upskill to “a significant degree”, having not learnt the Māturanga Māori content in teacher training, Haines said.

Some of the school’s teachers had visited Māori specialists around the country who were equipped to support teachers in learning the new material, he said.

Note: equal weighting IN ALL SUBJECTS.

The worst part is that they cannot teach teach that any bit of MM is less comprehensive or complete than is modern science, though I suspect “astronomy through the Maori world view” would not be a significant addition to what modern astronomy has achieved. Yet there will be questions on it on the NCEA exams!

Further, as I reported a year ago, “performance of New Zealand students in math, science, and reading falls dramatically over the last two decades”:

Why should we care about the performance of New Zealand’s primary- and secondary-school students, and what’s happening with it over time? For me, it’s the science that’s important, but science, reading, and math show the same trend over the last fifteen years. Despite a rise in spending per pupil over the last 25 years, performance in these three areas in New Zealand has declined, both absolutely and in comparison to the countries like England, Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Singapore—countries regarded as educational competitors with (and comparable to) New Zealand.

My post gives data that document this decline, data produced by a “leading think tank” in New Zealand. Here’s a bit more from the Stuff article:

A literature review in March, describing declining literacy levels in New Zealand as “deeply worrying, recommended changing the NCEA system so credits couldn’t be gained more easily by offering students “narrow curricular experiences” and overly-simplistic texts.

. . .Waimea College was among 191 schools and kura that piloted the new level 1 standards in literacy and numeracy – open to students from year 9 instead of year 11 currently.

Forty per cent of students who sat the tests at the school passed the standards in writing, 69% in numeracy, and 73% reading.

Respective nationwide pass rates of 35%, 56% and 64% sparked concerns from some principals that some students would be left behind.

35% national pass rates in writing, and 56% in numeracy, are not, to my mind, fantastic. (I don’t have any data on science.)  Regardless, valuable as indigenous knowledge is for teaching a country’s history and sociology, making “ways of knowing” coequal to the only modern “way of knowing we have”—science—is going to suck New Zealand down the drain. But this is what happens when you decide that showing your virtue—and making your virtue into national educational policy—depends on elevating “indigenous ways of knowing” to the status of modern science.

Ceiling Cat help New Zealand!

45 thoughts on “New Zealand starting a curriculum that gives indigenous knowledge equal weight to the “traditional world view” in all subjects

  1. I saw something about Jacinda Ardern’s party looking likely to lose the upcoming election and hoped that that might bring this nonsense to an end, but it’s clearly too late. Poor NZ.

    (In other news, Ardern just had to apologise for calling an MP an “arrogant prick” in parliament.)

    1. I read two articles on her 2023 election prospects (and that of the Labour Party), one from Bloomberg, and one from The Guardian. The discussions concerned inflation, the threat of recession, and crime.

      Not one word about education, let alone Māturanga Māori. So apparently the issue isn’t really concerning to voters.

          1. Historically, education has never been a concern with NZ voters. But there is a major silver lining in the cloud. It is true that the PISA tests etc all show a relative and absolute decline in educational achievement, especially for the younger age groups whose brains will washed in the new Matauranga detergent.

            The good part is that the harder-to-access breakdowns of educational achievement by ethnicity and social class show that achievement is approximately preserved in the White and Asian categories, and craps out with PI and Maori. [ Unless ‘Maori’ = people like artist Peter ‘I am 3.125% Maori’ Robinson, whereby privileged Whites ransack their family tree to find some token Maori such that their progeny can now register as Maori and receive affirmative action benefits.] These are especially lower socioeconomic Pacific and Maori.

            The Maori and PI median age in NZ is 10 years younger than Asian and White. What this means is that the decline in educational achievement in NZ tracks with the increasing percentage of schoolchildren who happen to be Maori or PI.

            My hypothesis is that the Matauranga crap will confuse PI and Maori children the most, especially in poorer schools, while the Asian kids will shrug this off as local elite propaganda the way Mainland Chinese kids and Hong Kong have to cope with compulsory Xi Jinping thought classes.

            I truly want to see the children in Labour-voting electorates have worse outcomes in educational attainment, because of intellectual confusion over Matauranga-washing. Why? Because the more dumb the NZ school-leaving population becomes, the less employable they will be. This means there will be a greater demand for the immigration of educated Asians through points-based migration schemes. Asians will eventually benefit from full Mataurangisation, though this may take 2 generations.

        1. The lack of any interest in this intellectual suicide from the media and the general public here drives me to absolute despair. But, thanks Professor, for continuing to draw attention to it. And thanks to all of the people who’ve stuck their heads above the parapets to disagree – especially the Listener Seven, and David Lillis, Prof Schwerdtfeger, Nick Matzke, and all.

          1. And, speaking of the Listener Seven, this is a lovely obituary for Robert Nola from the site that our host pointed us to the other day (btw, ST stands for science teaching, something we don’t do in NZ any more) It’s a disgrace that not a single obituary has appeared in print here. I know he resigned from the RSNZ, and with good cause, but they could at least have had the grace to acknowledge his passing.

  2. OK, here goes – back to basics, to see if I have this right :

    The reason any country should be concerned with its own indigenous population, at least, is that they are descendants of a population that lived on the land up to and likely prior to the founding of the extant country.

    I agree with that (noting the “at least”).

    But what explains how this indigenous population was lucky enough to leave descendants?

    Are the Maori unique in that they materialized, without competition _from_co-existing_indigenous_peoples_, until Europeans showed up?

    Are Maori the original “indigenous” people of New Zealand? What about indigenous people that for some reason did not leave descendants?

    1. There’s no evidence that there were people in NZ before the Maori arrived. And there should have been evidence. The very existence of the large, tasty, an stupid moa birds, who were killed off the Maori soon after they arrived, shows that humans weren’t around beforehand.

      1. Since the Moa birds predate human settlement, it would be appropriate for all public events in New Zealand to begin with a land acknowledgment to the Moa, formerly the faithful stewards of the land. In fact, if we could reconstruct the world-view of these large birds, we could include that Matauranga Moa in the teaching of all subjects to the children of their human successors. Perhaps we can expect proposals of this sort from educrats in Canada, focusing on the Way of Knowing amongs other First Birds, such as the passenger pigeon.

        1. For best irony, Canada should stick to animals known to have been hunted to extinction by pre-Contact Indigenous peoples, whoever they were. Modern-day Indigenous are caught in a bind here. Since their traditional knowledge doesn’t cover those long-extinct animals, they would like to say it wasn’t them what done it. But that would mean there were other, less harmonious people here before them, who did do it, which undermines their claim that they were put here by the Creator at the beginning of time to prevent pipelines ever being built. So perhaps we should just stop teaching about palaeontology at all and pretend those animals never the first place.

              1. In Canada the only species that has gone extinct are the people who believe that the Leafs will one day win the Stanley Cup again. 🙂

  3. ‘Stuff, which I’m told by Kiwis is an important New Zealand news agency’
    True: represents the daily (or quasi-daily) newspapers covering about half of New Zealand’s population;
    ‘that’s “politically very neutral and independent”‘
    False: quite left-leaning, and receives substantial funding from the Ardern government’s “Public Interest Journalism Fund”, which essentially requires it (by the terms & conditions of the fund) to support the government’s approach to things Maori. Its financial status is reckoned by some commentators to be shaky, so the government funding is no trivial matter.

    1. You joke. A weird mix of semi-woke mixed with right wing political commentary. And lots of articles about whether to fart on aeroplanes and the like.

    2. Just to add to Andrewwp, here are some of the findings of Massey University’s Worlds of Journalism survey from October, as summarised in KiwiBlog, a centre-right blog just yesterday. Journalists are:

      Left of centre 81%
      Right of centre 15%
      Of the 81% who said they were left of centre, a quarter (or 20% of all journalists) said they were hard or extreme left.

      If you compare those who say they range from left to extreme left (42%) to those who range from right to extreme right (1%) it shows how the worldview of most journalists is so far out of sync with the population.

      Here’s the study:

      As for stuff being neutral and independent, ha ha.

  4. Well, it *is* useful to refresh the curriculum once in a while, you know, to bring it up to a modern standard.

    But seriously, policies sometimes need to fail spectacularly before being rescinded. The continued decline in academic achievement is a sad trend in the right direction. Changing the measurement scale will be a predictable interim response, but when the standard of living declines far enough, change will happen. The need to respond to an existential threat is another possible motivator—a Sputnik moment. One has to hope it does not come down to that.

    In the long run, science works. The alternative does not. That reality will play out over time but, most likely, only after New Zealanders first experience a slow decline in the quality of life. They are digging a deep hole for themselves.

  5. I wonder if they will allow bridges designed by MM engineers, doctors who employ MM treatments and politics that employ chieftains rather than elected officials.

    1. The actual goal in NZ co-governance explicitly is to replace elected representative government with tribal family rule. They would need to keep some non-Maori serfs around to do the doctoring and bridge-building. Ancient Athens had large castes of professionals and artisans who were slaves, with no vote or land ownership but got paid pretty well to keep them productive and docile. It could work in Aoroteoa. They’re not necessarily going to push them all into the sea.

  6. I recently found a question to ask myself – ( I think what Grania Spingies made this point here regarding women, but perhaps really anything ) – when these arguments over the results of centuries of generational/ancestral population change :

    Where is the _empowerment_?

    How do the proposed rules _empower_ the group in question?

    And a distinction between empowerment as liberation or self-realization, and not merely a legal handing over of power, is perhaps important.

  7. I remember cringing when reading excerpts from material used by some Christian homeschooling groups which had inserted Jesus and/or God into everything . Whether the topic was English, math, science, cooking or frontier skills a mandatory religious reference, prayer, analogy, or explanation was routinely infused directly into the lesson. Jesus was on every page because there is no knowledge without the knowledge of God, of course. We atheists trembled for the state of their everlasting competency.

    One difference to MM in NZ was that at least these blood-of-the-lamb soaked lessons were aimed at children who lived with Christian parents or caretakers who deliberately chose them in good faith. A secular school system dragging in a marginalized Spirituality like MM to basically taunt the majority of children into forced respect and revenge marginalization is another whole level of cringe.

  8. In one way, it’s a “reassuring” case supporting that this kind of regressive and truth-shelving inclination isn’t specifically American, but universally human. It seems almost like society is missing, and has uncovered the need for, standard messages offering early lessons that humans are susceptible to “wokeness” in the same way they’re susceptible to logical fallacies, optical illusions, and other misestimations.

    Perhaps New Zealand requires a few of its own James Randis, Dawkinses, Eugenie Scotts or Sagans whose natures are to artfully, joyfully, and carefully untangle the differences between working out what’s true and obscuring it, and showing by example that such an endeavour is one of good-naturedness, kindness and prosperousness in the longer term.

    I would say all of those figures’ works, when I think over them, came as responses to what they saw as pressures or threats of a similar kind to New Zealand’s current shift. Once time has passed, will New Zealand’s academic designers have unwittingly summoned its undoers?

  9. Were I part of the 85% of the population who isn’t Maori I’d be dispirited by the “biculturalism” I’ve seen promoted there since (I did live there in) the 1980s – which I thought far inferior to the “multiculturalism” we had next door in Australia. Which worked well.
    And WHO IS Maori? Miscegenation since first contact has diluted “pure” Maori incredibly such that one can’t tell with a glance often. Talking about %es of blood always sticks in my craw anyway.

    I suppose you’re as Maori as whoever is paying. The whole movement is a con-job for what Leslie has described earlier here (in Canadian context) as “the aboriginal industry”, given more power by the psychopaths and narcissists who come to the fore of ANY pollical movement after awhile (there’s data on this now), such as metoo, BLM, and even ISIS. It is tolerated by emotional blackmail working on non-Maori liberal kiwis.
    Just my take,

  10. Yes – that article is frightening. It is reassuring for myself and others in New Zealand to know that Professor Coyne and others are prepared to go into print on the issue and tell it like it is. Your moral support is appreciated.

    We are at a very difficult time in New Zealand history and many of us here are deeply troubled about developments across several aspects of our society, especially education. We must summon the courage to speak out and articulate our concerns in our own media and we do so with good intent – not to promote ourselves.

    Am I breaking Professor Coyne’s Roolz if I point you to an article published this morning?


    1. Yes, agreed David. I hate to see a country, which for its size has a wonderful tradition in science – Rutherford of course, but also Roy Kerr, a prophet without honour – and a fine history in Logic – Arthur Prior, George Hughes, and Malcolm Cresswell amongst others – prepared to flush its intellectual history down the drain. And nobody seems to care. I really despair to hear people dismiss the wonderful story of humanity’s quest to understand the world as “Western Science”. It breaks my heart that young people here are being taught this rubbish.

    1. Thanks for this link, which reveals how far things have gone in New Zealand. To wit: ““In terms, not just of data sovereignty, but in terms of data integrity and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, we argue any research that significantly impacts or involves Māori should have senior Māori researchers, leading, or at least on the team with significant control over how data is collected and what’s done with it,” Kidd said.”
      This outlook, if adopted worldwide, would abolish the field of cultural anthropology, and would also interfere with much of human and medical genetics. These fields of research will continue to exist, but not, it appears, in Aotearoa. Oh well. After the Soviet Union abolished genetics for a ~20-year period, genetics continued to advance— in spectacular manner—but only in other places.

  11. Even if our government changes next year, the MM and all things Maori are so embedded it will take a very long time to remove its tentacles.
    We attended our granddaughters prize giving recently and every speech was preceded by a maori language one. Every song was of the kapahaka variety.
    This was a school of 300 – 400 children and I would have been hard pressed to see more than 5 maori pupils.
    New Zealanders are sleepwalking.
    It was many years since I had been to a school function and I came away depressed and alarmed at what our country has become.

  12. The new educational policy results directly from one of the doctrines of wokeism (socialist postmodernism/postmodern socialism): The dominant discourse of science as taught in schools and universities is an intolerable case of “epistemic injustice” toward and “epistemic oppression” of other, non-scientific “knowledges” such as Matauranga Maori; so epistemic equality/equity must be enforced in the educational system by “deconstructing” the epistemic authority and monopoly of science.

  13. Here’s how woke theorists see things:

    “If science were just one among many equally influential ways of knowing in society, the epistemic injustices perpetrated through them would be far less serious. This is because there would be other ways in which to exercise one’s epistemic agency (and have that agency recognized by others); so, although the epistemic injustices perpetrated through science would still interfere with one’s capacities as a knower, whether that be through direct participation in it or through one’s trust in it, the significance of these interferences to one’s overall capacities as a knower would be less. However, the sheer dominance of scientific ways of knowing, and the cultural and cognitive authority that they carry, have worrisome effects (…). Among them, the epistemic injustices experienced through science and its dominance result in serious losses in epistemic agency for those who are subjected to them. This applies both to those who struggle against structural barriers and implicit biases within scientific communities to participate fully in the practices, as well as those who are in positions of simply trying to acquire knowledge through trust in those institutions that have produced scientific knowledge.”

    (Grasswick, Heidi. “Epistemic Injustice in Science.” In The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice, edited by Ian James Kidd, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus Jr., 313-323. New York: Routledge, 2017. p. 321)

    1. Oliver S.
      Many years ago I took advanced courses in theoretical physics and general relativity. I thought that they were hard and I got over the line because of my deep fascination and by bashing my head off those texts, night after night – Quantum Physics – by Gaziorowicz and – A Short Course in General Relativity – by Foster and Nightingale.

      I found the latter to stretch me to my outer limits. Of course, some gifted people sail through that stuff with ease. But not me.

      But the world according to Heidi Grasswick is way over my head. Can you make sense of it?

      1. Epistemic relativism, particularly relativism about scientific knowledge, is part of the postmodern worldview of the Woke:

        From their perspective, the “epistemic oppression” of Mātauranga Māori by “Western”, “white” science must be ended and “epistemic justice” must be done to MM by treating and teaching scientific knowledge and MM “knowledge” (i.e. folk myths and legends) as epistemic equals. The new educational policy in NZ is the practical consequence of this way of thinking.

        “[N]ot only is any knowledge socially constructed, but it is by definition biased and can’t be an accurate representation of reality. This, together with the fact that different cultures have different understandings of the nature of the world, implies that no worldview is more authoritative than any other. As such, all worldviews are (epistemically) equivalent in terms of their ability to know anything about reality, and amount simply to different “stories” about reality. So, for example, the scientific worldview has no greater claim to understanding reality than any other “story.” That is, a scientific worldview is no truer than a religious worldview, or even than a superstitious worldview. Moreover the scientific worldview (developed by white, European males) constructs knowledge about reality in such a way as to perpetuate systems of oppression that benefit oppressor white, European males. As such, even the tools used to understand the world according to the scientific worldview such as logic, argument, evidence, hypotheses, controlled experiments, etc. serve to perpetuate oppression.”

        (Pincourt, Charles, and James Lindsay. Counter Wokecraft: A Field Manual for Combatting the Woke in the University and Beyond. Orlando, FL: New Discourses, 2021. p. 5)

      2. Interesting David. In the 1970s I studied physics at Cambridge, and GR was not taught as part of the undergraduate syllabus at all, except as part of an optional course taught by the wonderful and inspiring Malcolm Longair. The course became a book, “Theoretical Concepts in Physics”, now in its third edition, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It was nice to hear Jan Eldridge, who has just been made a full professor of physics at Auckland, also mention Malcolm as an inspiring figure in her career many years later.

        In my dotage, I have taken to trying to understand GR properly. I really liked Sean Carroll’s latest, “The Biggest Ideas in the Universe” as a starter. And David Gray’s “A Student’s Guide to General Relativity” is a very good short guide which clarifies some of the baffling parts of Schutz’s also excellent book. “The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension” by Lillian Lieber deserves an honourable mention. It’s a strange, quirky book, published in 1945, which succeeds in explaining tensor analysis, the Christoffel symbols, all the way to the field equations, starting from things Every Schoolchild Used to Know. Ray D’Inverno, author of a standard textbook on the subject, first learnt it from Lillian Lieber.

        But it’s still comforting to have the mighty MTW on the shelves, even if there’s little chance I’ll even make it through Track 1.

        1. Hi Jumbo.
          In the 1980s, General Relativity was available at Victoria University’s Mathematics department, rather than the Physics department. It still is, taught these days by Matt Visser, who I see sometimes around Wellington and to whom I spoke briefly at the Royal Society te Aparangi a few weeks ago.

          At Auckland University, General Relativity was taught by Ron Keam.

  14. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of Wokethought (insofar as it is understandable) in the form of postmodern postcolonialism, I recommend the following book written by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato New Zealand) from the point of view of this particular “critical theory” (as founded and represented by Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Homi K. Bhabha), whose political objective is the “decolonization” of white, Western culture in general and white, Western academia in particular. Postcolonial theorists and activists are planning to “decolonize” the entire education system by “decentering” white, Western science (and the knowledge produced by it) and “centering” instead other, non-white, non-Western “ways of knowing”.

    “Knowledge and the power to define what counts as real knowledge lie at the epistemic core of colonialism. The challenge for researchers of decolonizing methodologies as a set of knowledge-related critical practices is to simultaneously work with colonial and Indigenous concepts of knowledge, decentring one while centring the other. While this sounds straightforward, it is not. This third edition of Decolonizing Methodologies continues to conceptualize the challenges for engaging in both decolonizing practices while reimagining and bringing forward Indigenous epistemic approaches, philosophies and methodologies. These challenges are not simply about Western academic concepts of disciplinary-based ideas of social science or humanities research. Decolonizing methodologies are about forcing us to confront the Western academic canon in its entirety, in its philosophy, pedagogy, ethics, organizational practices, paradigms, methodologies and discourses and, importantly, its self-generating arrogance, its origin mythologies and the stories that it tells to reinforce its hegemony.”

    (Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 3rd ed. London: Bloomsbury, 2021. p. xii)

    1. Yes, that book is a total shocker, and yet people here will say that it is a fine example of New Zealand’s, oops, Aoteroa’s world leading position in the study of Indigenous Knowledge (IK for the initiates into the cult)

    2. Thanks for this collection / synopsis of the philosophies – I’ll be keeping it handy.

      Is it just me, or (here it comes – I edited it down)…

      is it a characteristic of this modern philosophical approach, that it _detests_ some thing, is _angry_ with it, and seeks to deconstruct it (Derrida) with a clinical, anodyne poetry – an attempt to _sound_ modern? An infiltration of personal opinion into the ideas, contrasted with the honest definition and solution of real problems?

      … or is it physics envy (cf. the Sokal hoax)?

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