Taking Te Whāriki to school - Let's do this NOW
Dr. Helen May provides an overview of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki in relation to the NZ Curriculum for schools, suggesting that in new political times and the demise of national standards, there is an opportunity to take the aspirations of Te Whāriki into the junior school. The 3 R’s enshrined in the principles of Te Whāriki - Responsive Reciprocal Relationships - are the central underpinning of learning and teaching for young children.
May is Emeritus Professor at University of Otago. She has spoken and published widely in the field of early childhood curriculum and the history and policy of early years education. She worked with Margaret Carr on the development of Te Whāriki, the first national curriculum guidelines for New Zealand and more recently with Margaret and Sir Tamati and Lady Tilly Reedy.
This talk was a part of Taking the Lead - Celebrating the Curricula in Wellington on 9, March, 2018
Resources from the presentation
As you watch the presentations, think about these questions:
- How do we get this right for our children?
- How will we enable all children to be ‘confident, connected, actively involved’ lifelong learners?
- How will we uphold the values and principles of a world leading curriculum, in the best interests of our children and our society?
- How will this start, from today?
You can also download these questions as a discussion sheet to use as a group. (Word doc, 0.15MB)
Helen May: Now every few decades or so we have a window of opportunity to take some progressive steps and or make radical shifts in the education paradigm. We potentially have a window now, but opening it is never easy. There are risks in being politically brave and some examples of people who were politically brave I think in the Early Childhood sector, I would acknowledge Russell Marshall who back in the 1980s determined or agreed for three-year equitable qualifications for Early Childhood embracing care and education with Primary. Nobody else agreed with him in the political system, but he got it. And so it was really important.
Another in the 2000s, Trevor Mallard with some steel up his back from one or two people who are in the room here, it required… who introduced free Early Childhood and the possibility of 100% qualified teachers.
It requires Ministry of Education energy and commitment to enact the policy and I’ve seen it happen but I’ve also seen it undermined by that institution.
Professionals too, also have to believe it’s possible and we can make a difference.
Now there’s a continuum of possibilities in this title I’ve provocatively given to you. We could at least redress the mismatch of the transition processes between Early Childhood education and schools. It’s managed well by some but often poorly and national standards have had a destructive impact, not only on the processes of transition but a destructive reach into Early Childhood centres themselves. But at the other end of the continuum – and this is where we need to be brave and take some risks – I’m proposing that the framework of Te Whāriki move into the Junior School.
Cheering from the audience.
There is… perhaps I’ve got the right audience here – there is no mismatch between the school curriculum and Te Whāriki. But it does require a shift in thinking, about children, learning and assessment – appropriate assessment for children. I want to argue that the theoretical work has been done and so has a lot of the research. So as the school sector considers its future without national standards, there is a gap there. It frames up alternative thinking should look no further than Te Whāriki for the Junior School.
Now, we could say later… Now I’m presenting these views, not only from an Early Childhood perspective where I worked for many, many years, but the first decade of my career was as a Junior School teacher – we still called ourselves Infant School teachers - in very different times and the tail end of a progressive era where in fact the classroom you describe I hope was the classroom I used to run. We’ve got a few photos from it.
The video displays a number of photographs of 5 years old children in Brooklyn School in 1974.
I was running an all-day activity play programme and that was in the foreground and that drove the three Rs, not the other way; you’re allowed to play if you finish your work. There was little interference in what we did. What interested us interested the children, we would explore. Now our equipment was minimal, but what cannot be seen here is sand, water, woodwork – out every day. This was an old-fashioned classroom up at Brooklyn School with high windows, but corridor was lined with play things. Note the children are writing their own music with alphabet cards, and performing their pieces on chime bars. This is just sort of a snapshot day. 1974, my life changed with the arrival of the first child and as a young mother I took my children to the Victoria University crèche and haven’t left Early Childhood since.
But the experience as a childcare worker and the politics of child care and my background as a Junior School teacher and some of the issues we faced there and how we were perceived, sparked what became for me a very unlikely academic career in early education.
Now let’s present this presentation in new political times. These were possibly unexpected and in some ways I think, under-planned for education. When we look at the Labour Party’s policy, supported too by Green and New Zealand First, and I’ve just summarised them above, the policy actually I’d have to frankly say, is about reinstating the losses, and that’s fantastic, really great.
The video displays a summary of the Labour Party’s Education Policy in 2017.
There was an amusing incident at the Ministry of Education a couple of months ago when a very significant official presented a PowerPoint presentation of where the Ministry saw things going in terms of Early Childhood and they used an image of the 2002 Labour Government strategic plan for Early Childhood. And also started talking about free Early Childhood again and I just could not resist making a comment: Where did you find it? Because the Ministry withdrew those images and those words from their website literally the day after they won the election in 2008. But anyway, they have been rediscovered again.
But so, I want to move the policy forward from what is in the official where we think we’re going. That’s just you know, bread and butter, we had that fifteen years ago and we want it again. For this presentation I’m putting one proposal on the table concerning curriculum.
Now, Te Whāriki has had a long journey since 1992, and I’ve got all the versions of it there, including the one that Margaret and myself and Tamati and Tiri wrote which is still on my computer.
The video displays the various versions of Te Whāriki from 1992 to 2017.
There have been many pens, political and pedagogical interest in its various reversions and drafts, but what has been consistent which is why Margaret and I and Tiri and Tamati have supported every version publicly, is that the original principles, strands, goals, aspirations and frameworks have remained absolutely word unchanged. And so again, Early Childhood centres are being asked to re-weave, invited to do some new understandings and update their thinking.
Now the idea of a national curriculum for Early Childhood was, we have to remember, from a newly right-elected right-wing government back in 1991, intent on curriculum reform, supporting the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ and taking a more hands-on role to oversee Government investment. The proposal for an Early Childhood curriculum followed the development of the 1991 curriculum framework for school.
Now the story how we four got our hands on that curriculum contract and still in a sense have our hands embraced around it has been told. It was a mix of opportunistic timing, union prodding and can I acknowledge Clare Wells here who at the time was President of CECUA, rang me after a devastating meeting in the Ministry and said: “Helen, would you think about something to do,” and I trotted out down the corridor to Margaret Carr and we decided: “Let’s go for it,” and the next port of call was the Kohanga Reo trust. But this came from the Union. So I want to congratulate NZEI for the lead it is taking today but also for the leadership of CECUA, the Combined Early Childhood Union of Aotearoa that later merged with NZEI.
One of the notable things about Te Whāriki has been the ownership by the profession to the extent that the draft of Te Whāriki was not launched by the Government, it posted it out to centres and that was it. Nothing more. But it was the Union, CECUA that decided to take the lead and launch the curriculum. And so they had a conference back in 1993 celebrating curriculum.
And I want to just read from my keynote address there. I could almost be saying it today:
This occasion is timely coinciding with the release of Te Whāriki to centres this week…In the workshops today we will be suggesting ideas for beginning to use the document. But it is you the teachers, who will decide whether the curriculum can be made to work for children or does it remain a glossy production on the shelf. It is fitting that it is the Union that has taken the lead – and so those words I think are quite symbolic today - that so many people working in early childhood have travelled to this conference in Christchurch, that is not about wages, which were dreadful – grim as those might be – not about bulk funding or the election – which we were in the midst of major issues there. We have come to listen, debate and talk about Early Childhood curriculum, and be thinking about the children we work with.
So for those of you less familiar with the document, it’s framed around the four principles of empowerment and the statement comes from Tiri Reedy’s keynote address on that same day. Along with the principles of holistic development, engaging with the family, and yes, the three Rs are there but they are ‘responsive, reciprocal relationships with people, places and things we want to know about.
The video displays the five paralleled domains of mana for Māori and Pākehā from the Te Whāriki curriculum.
Elaborated here are the five paralleled domains of mana for Māori and Pākehā and not only does this embrace pedagogy for the under-5s, but also the learning areas of the school curriculum are embedded throughout all those domains, they are not absent. You don’t see the words literacy and numeracy in the frames, but they are there.
So the art of weaving the curriculum Te Whāriki is the work of teachers working with children, alongside families, whānau and community. Each community has its own pattern, each centre and each child on a particular day. There are many possible patterns and changing patterns.
Now the Ministry of Education we do have to applaud, has hung in with this document and if we read the statement there in the final version of Te Whāriki, the 1996 version which was launched this time by the Prime Minister who took it over.
The video displays the statement: “Te Whāriki positions children as active participants in their own learning, capable of developing their own ‘working theories about themselves, people and places in their lives’.”
But that statement I think is a very powerful one and it still exists in the latest version, that it is children as active participants capable of developing their own working theories about themselves. This is valued knowledge, and Anne Smith has written some really good statements where they’re ‘valued as active learners’, ‘listening to children even when they cannot speak’, observing their feelings, curiosity and interests’. ‘Te Whāriki focusses on motivational aspects of learning not fragmented skills and knowledge’. So you can see the total mis-alignment with National Standards in Te Whāriki.
This statement from Anne is also in the new curriculum document. I don’t intend you to read this but the slide is a very brief summary of the policy infrastructure around Te Whāriki.
The video displays a timeline of the policies around Te Whāriki from 1991 to 2017.
There are times of plenty and times of famine. The red is Labour and the blue is National and I’ve now got red again. But it has survived political change and I think there’s some lessons in that. How did we get it to survive political change? What you see is a mix of professional development, research, resources, industrial conditions, political investment, funding and qualifications, and the things that we have learnt is that these domains are linked and have to go along together. We have had nine years where these domains have become unaligned and causing us major issues.
The recent refresh of Te Whāriki for which there was considerable nervousness in the sector. We were perhaps fortunate the minister, Hekia Parata was the niece of Tamati and Tiri Reedy and her instructions were that the framework of principles, goals and strands must remain intact. So that was a very clear missive. But we all agreed that it was timely to update the explanations and examples. What we need now is resources to support its implementation and redressing of the quality infrastructures and cuts in the centre.
Cheering from the crowd.
Now Te Whāriki sparked research around its pedagogy and I want to acknowledge Margaret Carr as a leading person in this endeavour. Theorising, trialling new approaches to assessment that are user-friendly of teachers.
The video displays a table of approaches to assessment from ‘Assessment in Early Childhood Settings’ by Margaret Carr, 1998.
Now this framework exists on the Ministry’s website. It has for some years and that is what we call assessment and you can see the strands there, you can see the dispositions which are important. How do you identify them, how do you see them and what this learning environment will be and if a child was asking you a question about it, was evaluating for you, this is what the child would ask:
Is this place fair? Will you let me fly? Do I belong here? Is there a place for me here?
So these are the key things coming back to the question.
So this is what we are talking about in terms of assessment. At the times of developing Te Whāriki we were concerned that if there was to be assessment it had to be challenge deficit models and we got that. It must be based on the principles in Te Whāriki. So any model of assessment would we look at, we go back to those principles: Does it empower children? Does it connect with family and whānau? Does it focus on the relationships not the activities and content? Is it holistic? So it’s very different to National Standards. Margaret initiated a project in the late 1990s asking what’s the important things about young children’s learning. Making visible learning that is valued. So what is the learning that is valued? And this developed into the learning story framework of children’s interests, strengths and dispositions to learn. Which was quite a theoretical shift from paradigms based around developmental measures of competency, skills and content.
The assessment project I think is a useful exemplar of crossing political lines. Rather than introduce a required method of assessment exemplars of assessment, exemplars were provided and there are twenty books and they’ve been round for quite some time now, supported by the Ministry of Education. And both Te Whāriki and Kei Tua o te Pae are premised around principles of reciprocal relationships and power-sharing that include children, families and teachers as joint participants in weaving and documenting a distinctive pattern of a child’s learning through narrative. These approaches have been trialled in Junior Schools very successfully and also internationally, and many countries are using them.
Another strand of the assessment story for us has been the development of a parallel exemplar for children learning in Early Childhood settings where there are significant numbers of Māori children. And so we would see these in parallel which fit the frameworks of the Junior School.
There’s huge potential in these developments probably not fully yet realised and there are many other examples and exemplars of some actually quite interesting times of positive collaboration with the Ministry sometimes in difficult political times, but this is what we were able to do.
I’m going to show you just a few minutes of one of your own films, because I think this is – it’s a film that was made by NZEI to celebrate twenty years of Te Whāriki, and I’ll just show you the first little bit of it…
The video ‘Te Whāriki Turns 20’ is shown.
I want to wind the clock back. In developing Te Whāriki we were required to illustrate the lengths and connections to school. But there was no professional development provided to schools to understand Te Whāriki – they weren’t even sent a copy. There was a mismatch between the Junior School and Early Childhood education. And we’ve already talked about the review of the school curriculum that began in 2002, and for the first time the school curriculum was considered in relation to Te Whāriki, which saw the introduction of the notion of key competencies in the school curriculum. It sat alongside the strands of Te Whāriki. So this wonderful diagram emerged, we have it joined together already - A shared vision for children.
And so thinking about how to take Te Whāriki to schools started in the Early Childhood sector, and some excellent work exploring these borders and rethinking learning within and across contexts. We could mention the leadership of Margaret Carr again, Sally Peters from University of Waikato, Anne Smith, working alongside some amazing schools, despite the fact as we know, that National Standards had been introduced and undermined the potential. But even amidst that some really good work was undertaken and that work still sits there.
The video displays photographs of children with their learning portfolios.
This delightful picture here; they’re all kindergartens, because I’ve recently been writing a book with a colleague, on history of the kindergarten movement. But what we want to hear is, even in an environment of National Standards and children’s being tested on arrival and their parents told what they don’t know - with very little acknowledgement of what they do know - there have been some wonderful exemplars of collaboration between school and Early Childhood. Some of the leading work of Mangere Bridge Kindergarten. Early Childhood involvement in communities of learning. But these are very much the exception.
Now my image here illustrates the potential of learning portfolios, which all children in Early Childhood have, which document for children and their families, their learning, their interests, their challenge, their learning stories from the day they arrive in the centre. And it would be wonderful to see these arrive at school with every new entrant children. Some do take them. More insightful than a test of how many alphabet letters they can recognise which is what happens at present. And there are junior classrooms that have used the learning story framework with children and created learning portfolios. And these little four year olds, it is the favourite book in the centre, to go through their learning portfolios.
I rolled into my four year old grandson’s centre recently and he was out playing and so I asked… I said: “I can’t find his portfolio,” because I always have a bit of a look. And the head teacher just rolled her eyes and she said: “come with me.” And there it was on the floor, in her office in tatters basically, being mended again. And he’s been looking at that. He knows everything that he has done, he can read it all. He will read it to you. And these children are reading their portfolios, reading about themselves as learners, what they can do. What they found hard too.
So, now’s the time – let’s do this!
So I’m suggesting we extend the principles of learning and development in Te Whāriki into the junior school. It sits alongside, embedded within the school curriculum. Let’s start at least with Early Childhood portfolios coming to school, celebrating children’s strengths and interests. Let the school’s children make their portfolios celebrating what they can do.
We need to develop assessment for the junior school framed around holistic goals of Te Whāriki. There has been work but it’s languishing. The Ministry of Education supported a group of us to define Early Childhood learning outcomes, a progression framed – and this had progression in it. The Government wanted progression, ok we will give you progression – framed around the domains of mana and empowerment.
The advisory group to the minister about refreshing Te Whāriki actually made the recommendation which the minister – this is Hekia Parata – accepted, that children at least – we tried for two years – in their first year at school are not assessed around National Standards, but Te Whāriki. So that work is there, we just need to finish it.
The video displays a number of political cartoons and photographs.
So, I’ve frequently shown these cartoons as reflecting different views of National and Labour governments. We see here two ministers of finance, one who is nurturing the baby and the other – Minister English – saying: “It’s not mine, she eats too much, I don’t want to know about it.” But very soon after that cartoon, three ministers held children; these were the vulnerable children, targeted children, this is the only children the state would home.
The Language of Te Whāriki as Joss Nuttall said, is not one of risk, vulnerability or competition, it speaks instead of opportunity, respect and relationships. I’m waiting for the next cartoon, and maybe around June we’ll get it.
So, can we resolve these tensions? Maybe we can.
I want to finish up with two slides. I want to go back to this very famous statement which shaped school policy over different political parties for some years. Decades. Now, it’s a wonderful statement - partly realised, partly not – but it totally excluded Early Childhood.
The video displays a quote from Peter Fraser, Education Minister in 1939: “The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that every child: whatever his level of ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best suited and to the fullest extent of his powers.”
So every school-aged child that is going to be a citizen child. So the other thing I want to put on the table for our new government, for ourselves, is – besides my curriculum one, I’ve added this in. Way back in 2002 there was a conference on that statement and I was asked to present at it, and so this is what I asked for.
Re-phrasing Beeby’s statement:
This child has a right as a citizen – because Early Childhood children are not yet regarded as citizens, they have no right to attend – to a free Early Childhood education that recognises their cultural heritage, meets their family needs, provides a rich learning environment with a community of learners, that empowers adults and children to grow up as equal participants in a democratic society.
So for the thirty year vision I would like to put this back on the table again, that for Early Childhood this is what we want – we want our citizen children.
More from this series
How do we take the opportunity to uphold the values and principles of our world-leading curricula, in the best interests of our children and our society? Curricula experts share their expertise in working with all the New Zealand curricula in Taking the Lead - Celebrating our Curricula.