In what appears to be a follow-on from Judith Collins’ criticism of the He Puapua document, National’s education spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, is now joining criticism of a proposal to apply the principles of the Treaty to science education in New Zealand.

Goldsmith has waded into a debate that has been going on for some years about how to get more Maori into science and research simultaneously as the scientific space is made more accommodating to Maori.

But his criticism yesterday —- in which he claims the proposals would take our science teaching down a “rabbit hole” — is immediately based on a letter to “The Listener” from a group of University of Auckland academics.

They say that a recent report from a Government NCEA working group on proposed changes to the Maori school curriculum aims “to ensure parity for matauranga Maori with the other bodies of knowledge credentialed by NCEA.”

Their criticism has come at the same time as the University in a ceremony yesterday recommitted itself to respecting Maori knowledge.

The letter was also criticised by a host of Maori academics and by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

The letter was signed by Kendall Clements, Professor, School of Biological Sciences; Garth Cooper, Professor School of Biological Sciences; Michael Corballis, Emeritus Professor, School of Psychology; Douglas Elliffe, Professor, School of Psychology; Robert Nola, Emeritus Professor. Department of Philosophy; Elizabeth Rata, Professor, Critical Studies in Education.

The academics say the report  includes as a description of a new course: “It promotes discussion and analysis of the ways in which science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views (among which, its use as a rationale for colonisation of Maori and the suppression of Maori knowledge); and the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Maori and other indigenous peoples.”

Goldsmith has joined in the criticism.

“The proposals divide science into ‘mātauranga putaiao’ (Māori understanding of the natural world) and ‘western science’,” he said yesterday.

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 “It suggests the curriculum leaders don’t know the first thing about the subject. Science is universal no matter where you come from. Calling it ‘western science’ is an insult to half the world.

“But more importantly, how will these sorts of muddled distractions help turn around our declining achievement in the subject?”

But the proposals in the NCEA document are the culmination of what has been a long debate, particularly within the scientific world, about “Matauranga Maori.”

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Dame Juliet Gerrard, also joined the debate yesterday, and in a tweet, she referred back to an article she had written in 2019 for the NZ Science Review in which she said there was an inadequate understanding of mātauranga within the broader science community.

“The question of whether there is such a thing as ‘Māori science’ pops up from time to time, and the ensuing debate is often less than constructive,” she said.

The academics, in their letter, say that “indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy.”

“ However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself,” they wrote..

But Gerrard in her foreword said science had to learn from Mātauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) and kaupapa Māori  (Maori subject) approaches.

“The latter approach of embedding practice in society and grounding the project in a community of acceptance before it starts is the very model of ensuring impact and connectivity,” she wrote.

“Often those trained in Western traditions, however fine, struggle to grasp this until it is perhaps too late.

“How many technologies will be developed in isolation before we learn that we need to engage our publics sooner, not later, to make sure there is cultural license to proceed?

“To turn the tide on anti-science sentiment, we need to reframe our science as ‘here to serve’ and ‘here to listen’.

“Science in Aotearoa NZ, and indeed the world, has much to learn from Māori ways of doing, as well as ways of knowing, to bridge these divides.” 

Goldsmith asked why the two world views mātauranga putaiao (science knowledge) and so-called western science need to be considered separately. 

“Is the Government telling our children that the collective wisdom of all the cultures of the globe, over millennia and up to today, what we might call modern science, should be given no greater authority in the subject of science than the insights and traditions of one culture?” he said.

“In practical terms, and in terms of limited class time, what does this mean? How will this help us reverse our declining relative performance in the global endeavour that the rest of the world calls science? 

“Our nation’s prosperity depends on Kiwi kids receiving a world-class education in science.

“This Government has lost sight of the basics in education: getting the kids to school, teaching them a world-class curriculum and measuring performance to ensure they’re making progress.”

But Maori academics have come out strongly in support of Matauranga Maori becoming part of the science curriculum.

Morgan Godfery,  Maori Research Partnerships Manager at the University of Otago, tweeted that “this scientism, a base belief that “science” broadly defined is the only objective means by which we can determine normative or epistemological values is one step removed from viewing Māori as savages (asp 19th-century intellectuals) or “dumb Maoris” (asp 20th policymakers).”

Three days ago, the Ministry of Education announced the member sofa new curriculum advisory group who will have oversight over the kind of changes to the curriculum such as the Matauramnga Maori science proposals.

The Ministry’s website says that it is also establishing Te Whakaruruhau, a group that will provide free, frank, and culturally premised advice about mātauranga Māori.

“Their advice will canvas how our development of curriculum should consider cultural authenticity, capital and nuancing in all the work we lead,” it says.

“This group’s role will not limit that of the Curriculum Advisory Group – but it will support and supplement their work when an additional depth of expert knowledge in mātauranga Māori is required.”

Ironically the academics’ letter has been published just as their University, Auckland, has committed itself to a deeper relaitonship with Maori.

The University and Ngati Whatua had a ceremony yesterday to change the University’s Te Reo name to Waipapa Taumata Rau replacing the former more literal translation used in the University’s brand – Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau.

Ihonuku Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori, Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins (Ngāti Hau, Ngāpuhi), said that the new name better connected the University to where it was located and highlighted the significant partnership with Ngāti Whātua iwi.

“The University of Auckland is serious about its developing relationship with mana whenua and that must be demonstrated in our identity and carried through to our actions,” she said.

“This new name underpins a new strategic direction. It is one that champions building respect for Māori knowledge and challenges us to understand that we are part of a whakapapa of historic and current relationships.”

In short, Matauranga Maori is here to stay.