Te Whāriki positions itself as New Zealand’s first ever Early Childhood Curriculum with an unique bicultural feature honouring the Treaty of Waitangi (signed in 1840), and the partnership between tangata whenua (Māori) and the Crown (Government). The Te Whāriki curriculum found its origins in a need to maintain consistency with the New Zealand Curriculum Framework as a result of major changes in the Education Department in the late 1980s.
The establishment of the Te Whāriki involved a long consultative process from 1990 – 1996 with groups and professionals from diverse Early Childhood Education (ECE) backgrounds, with major influence from the two Māori representatives from the Kohanga Reo National Trust (Tamati and Tilly Reedy) and two European writers from Waikato University (Helen May and Margaret Carr) who led the consultation process.
One of Te Whāriki’s special features is embedded in its philosophy of inclusivity represented in a metaphor of a whāriki (woven mat), on which all can stand. This inclusivity broke pedagogical boundaries and established new ‘norms’ of equal opportunity for children, their family/whānau and the ECE community. The whāriki is made strong by the interweaving of four principles, strands and goals through its non-prescriptive nature which some find to be useful, while others see it as a hindrance to the implementation of the curriculum, particularly where there is a lack of proper training on how to put the curriculum into practice. This was found as the biggest challenge facing Samoan teachers in ECE, especially the teachers in Mainstream services with a multicultural background. In addition, the findings highlight how the dominant influence of Western theories in the curriculum caused confusion for teachers, and resulted in a programme developed out of teachers’ understanding rather than the children’s development and dispositions.
It is almost 20 years since the launch of the Te Whāriki curriculum, yet even now, in this study evidence shows that teachers are still struggling to find the balance of how Te Whāriki can support in-depth teaching and learning for different cultures, based on its weaving metaphor. The idea of using the whāriki metaphor for creating appropriate programmes still has not been fully implemented, as the findings from this study appear to show in agreement with some of the prior literature. This would seem to put more weight behind the debate as to whether Te Whāriki is relevant for all cultures and ECE services in Aotearoa, and the extent to which its openness for teachers to weave their own appropriate programmes is working.