Māori science education model developed

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has developed a model of practice that may assist secondary schools and Māori tribes to increase the level of participation of Māori secondary school students in science education.

Dr Hiria McRae

Dr Hiria McRae from Victoria’s Faculty of Education developed the model as part of her doctoral research on science education in Rotorua that focused on the experience of Māori students, their teachers and local elders located in one of her tribal areas—Ngāti Whakaue.

She says she developed a love of science as a child, which she later taught at primary school level and now teaches pre-service and in-service teachers.

“When I became a lecturer and advisor, I was introduced to the areas of environmental education and education for sustainability. This aligned with my interest in education outside the classroom.

“I came across research that suggested that Māori student achievement in science education could be improved through school science programmes that made connections between Māori students and their communities. I also found examples of school science programmes overseas that worked in partnership with indigenous communities.”

Dr McRae found that students connected their sense of belonging and engagement to a place with being with loved ones.

“Where science education involves or acknowledges important relationships in the students’ lives, this may improve their engagement. Where there is a disconnect between students and teachers, between teachers and local Māori elders, or between teachers and the local environment, this may reduce science education engagement.

“Learning science outside of the classroom was favoured by teachers and local elders, but not particularly by students. However, all participants viewed marae as important locations for Māori cultural activities and knowledge. Marae could be sites to deliver collaborative science programmes. Topics need to be practical.”

Dr McRae used the Ngāti Whakaue ancestor Pukaki as the focus of her science topic for her model. The topic considered Pukaki’s life of leadership and how he was immortalised as a carved figure which now sits at Rotorua Museum. The topic looked at Māori carving practices, the science of examining and preserving carvings as museum artefacts, and the image-making process of imprinting that carving’s image. The image became iconic with the Te Māori exhibition in 1984.

Dr McRae is still refining her model and hopes there will be interest from other communities—outside of Ngāti Whakaue and Rotorua—in testing it.

“I believe a complementary balance can be achieved in science teaching between Māori and western science.”