Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness
Unpacking the term ‘indigenous knowledge’ helps to position the two not as competitors but as possible complementaries. The former Director General of UNESCO, Frederico Mayor described traditional wisdom by stating, “The indigenous people of the world possess an immense knowledge of their environments, based on centuries of living close to nature. Living in and from the richness and variety of complex ecosystems, they have an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of ecosystems and the techniques for using and managing them that is particular and often detailed” (UNESCO, 2010).
In the report, Enhancing Matauranga Māori and Global Indigenous Knowledge, Mead (2012) reflects on the continuing evolution of indigenous knowledge, “mātauranga Māori is not just traditional knowledge, nor a static and unchanging thing—it is dynamic and includes the uptake of scientific tools”. This more practical understanding follows how cultures have adapted over the centuries. But in recent decades globalisation has caused many nuances in culture to be subsumed. Homogenization of cultures keeps questions around maintaining traditions relevant. The report raised questions relating in nature: “Is mātauranga Māori fundamentally part of a living culture in the sense that it is meant to continue to grow and adapt to the 21st century, or is it a taonga that should remain in the traditions and constructs of the past pre-European colonisation days?” Beyond that, “Is it appropriate to merge indigenous and western science-based knowledge?”
In my experience, many Māori students are unaware of the plethora of traditional practices that formed Māori indigenous knowledge. I consider this a great loss both in terms of a preserved taonga that can be reflected on as historically important, and the possibilities lost for my students to combine traditional knowledge systems with scientific understanding in the future. The knowledge system my Māori students do operate within, however, still varies significantly to my own. As a Pakeha, the majority of my life I have operated inside of familiar knowledge systems, without having to “shift the paradigm through which [I] view the world in order to make sense of things” (Theory of Knowledge, n.d.). It is the understanding that one belongs a particular culture, particularly if it is the dominant culture, where cultural responsiveness plays an important role.
Gays (2001, p.106) definition of cultural responsiveness, “using the cultural characteristics, experiences and perspectives as conduits for effective teaching” resonates with me as it doesn’t place emphasis on the tangible or definitive aspects of a culture. Earl et al (2008) elaborates on this point by stating, “cultural responsiveness is much more than introducing myths or metaphors into class. It means interacting with their families to truly understand their reality; it means understanding the socio-political history and how it impacts on classroom life” (p. 12). I believe the reasoning behind ‘the achievement gap’ between Māori and Pakeha could be resolved through true cultural responsiveness.
Reflection on my practice
Curriculum, planning and resources
The MindPlus curriculum and resources are focused on the gifted learner. The curriculum aims to increase the breadth, depth, sophistication and complexity of learners’ knowledge and abilities in these areas and to increase the self-directedness of their learning. The holistic approach of the curriculum fits well with how Durie (2004) describes the outward and holistic way of Maori learning. There are resources available relating to the identification of Maori gifted learners, and a small selection of tailored Māori resources relating to being a gifted Maori learner, or what would be considered ‘gifted’ from a Maori perspective, and a handful of readings on Māori giftedness. As a new teacher to the programme, I tended to follow the year overview of the regional MindPlus lead teacher (who is from the United States) and hadn’t introduced or even considered cultural responsiveness in my class programme other than greetings. When teaching in a regular class I make a concerted effort not only around language and pronunciation, waiata and design, but also historical injustices and the importance of cultural difference. It wasn’t until my supervisor brought it up in conversation that I began to utilise a the few cultural resources on offer with MindPlus students. Like many of the resources available, most of the benefit is discussing with other teachers how they have used them with students, and the discussion that has come from it. On becoming more familiar with the MindPlus curriculum, I can now see how cultural aspects and responsiveness can be significantly more integrated into my programme. The overarching themes in our conceptual development (such as patterns, systems, change and discovery) lend themselves to many areas of Māoridom, tikanga, and other cultural perspectives, as do various units on personal development and identity.
Ajibade, L.T., 2003: A methodology for the collection and evaluation of farmers’ indigenous environmental knowledge in developing countries. Indilinga: African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, 2, 99-113.
Durie, M. (2004). Mauri Ora. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press
Earl, L. M. with Timperley, H., and Stewart, G. (2008). Learning from QTR&D Programme: Findings of the External Evaluation
Mead, H. M. (2012). Understanding Mātauranga Māori. In Haemata Ltd, T. Black, D. Bean, W. Collings, W. Nuku (Eds.), Conversations on Mātauranga Māori (pp. 9—14). Wellington: New Zealand Qualifications Authority
Te Toi Tupu. (n.d.). Pasifika: Participation, Engagement, Achievement tool. Retrieved from http://www.tetoitupu.org/pasifika-participation-engagement-achievement-tool
Theory of Knowledge (n.d.). Introduction to indigenous knowledge systems. Access date: 11 October 2017. Retrieved from http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/areas-of-knowledge/indigenous-knowledge-systems/
UNESCO (2010) The wisdom of elders. Access date: 11 October 2017. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/tlsf/mods/theme_c/mod11.html?panel=1#top