Tahi Brown (Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Maniapoto), TEU Te Waananga o Aotearoa branch president, and Kaiako, Bachelor of Education – Primary, reflects on the importance of our Waananga, their historical significance, and their role in shaping better futures for tauira Maaori and all New Zealanders.

What differentiates Waananga and sets us apart are the uara Maaori and the Maaori frameworks we have that guide our approach to teaching and learning. Waananga are designed by Maaori, and they operate under the fact that if we lift the success of tauira Maaori, we lift the success of all tauira. Through this framework, we are able to create all the factors that education providers and communities want – quality education, inclusivity, diversity, and safe spaces to be and learn.

For Waananga to continue to succeed, we need Waananga to be viewed as a primary choice for tertiary education. Traditionally, Whare Waananga were a place of higher learning and located in our villages, within our communities, they were in a sense elitist. One could not randomly choose to attend, rather you were chosen because of some specialty knowledge or ability you possessed. There was of course general education with mothers and fathers alike teaching their children, along with kaumaatua, but to be granted access to that higher echelon of learning – the Whare Waananga – you had to be selected.

Much of the knowledge that was taught in our Whare Waananga was esoteric and was taught to a very high level of excellence. That’s our history and it’s where our current system of Waananga has stemmed from. We now use the term Waananga for our Maaori-led tertiary education institutions, as do our Universities, but often the true meaning is missed of what it was, and how hard it was to enter into that realm of higher learning in Maaori society.

Tauira Maaori should be proud that they are entering into this history through learning at our Waananga. They should be proud to be learning through that tradition, and to have benefited from the success of our Waananga throughout history.

There are many ways to measure success. One way is to look at numbers of tauira entering the workforce upon completion of their studies. Last year all our year three students studying a Bachelor of Education – Primary at Te Waananga o Aotearoa found employment in their chosen career. Similarly, within social work, many tauira are either picked up in their third year by organisations and they continue to study and work, or they get employed at the end of their fourth year. These employers have excellent things to say about the way we deliver education, and of the tauira who learn through our Waananga.

As educators we often have the opportunity to speak directly with employers, and they tell us they don’t know what it is, but there is something about our Waananga graduates that sets them apart. They tell me there is something different, and I can only put it down to our uara and framework of teaching, learning and being. This can be summed up through the following: creating safe spaces; building respectful relationships; acknowledging contributions from both kaiako and tauira; and a focus on well-being and mauri ora.

These uara and principles are all encapsulated in the framework we operate within. I think what employers see in our graduates is how our framework and worldview manifests in how they contribute and work with others.

Through our bicultural lens, our Kaiako add value to education, and our tauira add value to their chosen career. I hope the reform of vocational education and training, through the creation of NZIST, we are given even more opportunities to do so, as more and more industries, sectors, communities and employers recognise the value of our framework, of te ao Maaori and of Maatauranga Maaori.