Te Whatu Pōkeka (English)

This resource aims to stimulate debate and to encourage people to share their experiences and views on the ideas, suggestions, and practices within it. It is hoped that kaupapa Māori early childhood services will then be able to validate, share, and build on the values, philosophies, and practices related to assessment based on kaupapa Māori.

Kaupapa Māori

The philosophy of this document is based on a well-known tauparapara. A tauparapara is the first utterance by an opening speaker. It is a tribal poetic chant containing traditional or philosophical statements that usually contain genealogical references (Rewi, 2004), or links to whakapapa.

This tauparapara is acknowledged across various iwi and, as with many accounts, it differs in many ways according to local tribal history. While variations are not unusual, different versions have general themes and concepts in common. The concepts identified within this tauparapara continue throughout a person’s life. They are not static or linear but fluid and transformative.

  • The interpretation of the tauparapara
    • This interpretation of the tauparapara was developed specifically for Te Whatu Pōkeka. While it identifies the notion of growth, development, and learning, it includes themes that are common across Māori creation stories: the conception and birth of a child, and the learning child. The tauparapara refers to the creation story as the starting point to highlight the links and connections between the three contexts outlined below. For the purposes of this project, the following contexts emphasise what many Māori believe to be their truths about:

      • the birth of the world;
      • the birth of a child;
      • the birth of ideas and process of learning and teaching.
      The tauparapara
      I te tīmatanga, ko te kore In the beginning there was a void.
      Ko te pō Within the void there was night.
      Nā te pō From within the night, seeds were cultivated
      Ka puta ko te Kukune It was here that movement began – the stretching.
      Ko te Pupuke There the shoots enlarged and swelled.
      Ko te Hihiri Then there was pure energy.
      Ko te Mahara Then there was the sub consciousness.
      Ko te Manako Then the desire to know.
      Ka puta i te whei ao Movement from darkness to light, from conception to birth.
      Ki te ao mārama e From learning to knowing.
      Tihēi Mauri ora I sneeze and there is life.

      This tauparapara is considered appropriate because it refers to, and describes, three generic phases of learning and growing that highlight clear links to what Charles Royal refers to as Mōhiotanga, Mātauranga, and Māramatanga.

      Mōhiotanga – What a child already knows and what they bring with them highlights new beginnings, new knowledge, and new discoveries.

      Te kore, te pō,

      Mātauranga – This is a time of growth for the child. It denotes a phase of increasing potential, negotiation, challenge, and apprehension when dealing with new ideas.

      Te kukune, te pupuke, te hihiri, te mahara, te manako

      Māramatanga – This is when a child comes to understand new knowledge: a phase of enlightenment, realisation, and clarification.

      Te mahara, te Hinengaro, te manako, te wānanga, te whē, te ao mārama.

      The following summarises the commonalities and connectedness across these three contexts.

      The contexts
      Te ōrokohanga o te ao The birth of the world
      Te whānau tangata The conception and birth of a child
      Te āhuatanga o te tamaiti The learning child

      The common threads that weave across all these contexts are those of collective power, potential, possibilities, fertility, energy, apprehension, challenges, new knowledge, new learning, resilience, and aspirations.

      Linking the tauparapara to assessment

      Te Whatu Pōkeka requires that we recognise what the children bring to the context. This includes not only their inherent strengths but also their traditions and history, their whānau, and their whakapapa. Assessment informed by kaupapa Māori does not view the child in isolation. It recognises that the child emerges from rich traditions, surrounded by whānau, both visible and invisible, living and dead. It recognises that the child is linked strongly with his or her whānau, hapū (subtribe), iwi (tribe), history, whakapapa, and identity (Hemara, 2000).

      The representation of a Māori child

      The tauparapara with its interpretations and the links across the three contexts provide a basis for representing the Māori child. The contexts can clearly be seen in an analysis of the Best of Both Worlds Bilingual Preschool’s framework for teaching and learning. This preschool positions Māui Tikitiki as a mentor for centre operations and practice.

      The Māui framework is the understanding that Māui is the product of his whakapapa. He achieved what he did because of who he was and what his tipuna, parents, and grandparents had given him. This can be linked to children in that they bring the talents, understandings, and abilities of their tipuna. They are, therefore, extremely rich with potential.

      Project co-ordinator 2005 

      Ngā āhuatanga o te tamaiti: Ways of being

      The following section summarises connections across contexts. It is followed by a statement offered by a kaumātua working on the project to highlight the uniqueness of the Māori child.

      Connections across contexts

      The creation story

      The creation of the world signalled potential. This context refers to the seedbed of Ranginui and Papatūānuku which is fertile. It is a space for the conception of their many offspring. The children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku are ready to depart from their sanctuary. Contractions begin, and energy builds as the children are released. After the separation there are apprehension and challenges among the children. It is here that the domains of nature were decided. The siblings' existence requires new knowledge and new learning, intuitive wisdom. The transition from the spirit world to the natural world is now possible. The resilience of the offspring is evident as certain domains are established. Settlement of the new worlds is complete. The future has been determined. Guardianship over land, sky, sea, forests, animals, insects, and humans has been negotiated. "Tihēi mauri ora" - we sneeze the breath of life

      The conception and birth of a child

      The mother's womb has the ability to protect and preserve whakapapa. The womb is a seedbed for procreation. It is fertile. A child is conceived. After a period of confinement, the child is ready to be birthed. Contractions begin, which become pure energy. Finally the child is born. The new born child experiences apprehension and challenges as he/she struggles to make sense of their new world. There is no longer the sanctity and protection of the womb. Once in the embrace of the parents, the infant begins to absorb new information, new knowledge, and new learning from his/her environment, adding to the child's resilience. The new born reconciles with his/her new surroundings, the familiar faces, the voices, the smells, the sounds. The future has been determined.

      The learning child

      The child has endless potential and possibilities. The child is a seed that is fertile and open to learning. Learning for the child is like contractions, which come in waves. The child draws on his/her energy to absorb new knowledge. New learning experiences bring discoveries, apprehension, and challenges as the child learns strategies for problem solving. The people, places, things, and time that a child experiences offer new learning and new knowledge. This contributes to the child's resilience. New information is supported by different sounds, new activities, and familiar people. Future aspirations have been determined.

      Ko wai koe? Nā wai koe? I ahu mai koe i hea?
      Who are you? From whom are you? Where have you come from?

      I am Māori, a descendant of people who came to Aotearoa from Rangiātea, a place located in the spiritual world of Hawaiiki. I am a unique person with my own mana, mauri, and wairua inherited through my ancestors from our supreme creator, Io-Matua-Kore. Therefore my very being is treasured. My life-journey began in the womb of my mother, a place of warmth, security, love, nourishment, and contentment, a place that met all my needs – the perfect environment for my growth and development.

      Observe me as a child of my own indigenous culture. Provide me with an environment that accepts, values, and sustains my individuality so that I can truly feel safe as well as nurtured. Allow me to explore and interact with this environment so that I may reach my full potential.

      Puritia ngā taonga a ngā tūpuna mō ngā puāwai o te ora, ā mātou tamariki.

      Hold fast to the cultural treasures of our ancestors for the future benefit of our children.

      He kuru pounamu te tamaiti Māori: The Māori child is a treasured gift from our creator

      Each child is an individual with individual personality traits inherited from their ancestors. The child is surrounded by those that have passed on and by whānau that guides them on a day-to-day basis. From these guardians, they have developed their own unique ways of being and of enhancing the world. Their abilities to grow and learn about their environment and the wider world in their own time and at their own pace are accepted unconditionally. These personal traits enhance a child’s rangatiratanga or distinctive strengths. The project co-ordinator who worked with Ngā Kākano o Te Kaihanga Early Childhood Centre highlighted this concept when she stated:

      We talked about the idea that children do not come by themselves but bring with them an “invisible rōpū” who is always with them. We need to recognise this rōpū in everything we do with children. Furthermore, children have the seeds of greatness within them. They are the culmination of generations of chiefs and rangatira. They therefore cannot be viewed as being needy or from a deficit model. They are full and complete and bring with them their history, their ancestors, and their rōpū.

      Project co-ordinator 2005

      The unique personality traits with which each child is born enhance the richness and diversity of their learning contexts. Each child will know about, and learn from, their environment as they grow towards maturity.

      For many people, Māori children hold a special place in the world. They are considered to be the iwi’s greatest asset (Hemara, 2000). With links to people, places, things, and time, it is important that the Māori child be seen as having the following characteristics:

      Te wairua o te tamaiti: The child is an emotional, spiritual being.

      The concept of wairua is derived from Māori cosmology. Wairua is a concept linked to spirituality, the sanctity of each individual, and the special attributes that a person is born with, which help to define his/her place in time, space, and locality. Hemara (2000) considers that the child is heir to several spiritual attributes that are fundamental to the spiritual, psychological, and social well-being of the self.

      He mana tō te tamaiti: The child is powerful.

      Tapu and mana are inseparable. Where tapu is the potential for power, mana is the power, the realisation of the tapu of the child. The mana of a child is derived from their links with ngā atua. The spiritual powers are their immediate source of mana (mana atua) – they are the source of the child’s tapu; they come from their iwi, hapū, and whānau (mana tangata) and from their land, their tūrangawaewae (mana whenua). The mana of a child needs recognition and must be nurtured.

      He mauri tangata: The child as an active force of life.

      Mauri is a generic life force. People are born with mauri, and it remains with them all their lives. Mauri is an essential and inseparable part of the child. When the body is physically and socially well, the mauri is in a state of balance.

      Mauri is the life force that is bound to an individual and represents the active force of life. This enables the energy to be expended; the mind to think and have some control over how the body behaves. It enables the personality of the person to be vibrant, expressive and impressive

      (Mead, p54, 2003)

      Within this representation of the child, children are viewed as possessing three ira (essences) or links to whakapapa. These are:

      • Ira Atua – the essence of or links to Atua;
      • Ira wairua – the essence of or links to their ancestors;
      • Ira tangata – the essence of or links to both sets of parents.

      Outline of the child's three ira (essences) or links to whakapapa.

      The common themes that emerge from this image of the child are collective power, potential, personal power, challenges, new knowledge, new learning, resilience, and distinctive strengths and aspirations. These concepts then have implications for teaching and learning and for the roles of adults in the life of the child.

      Linking the image of the Māori child to Te Whatu Pōkeka:

      Te Whatu Pōkeka is concerned with enhancing the mana of the Māori child and their whānau. For Māori it is about putting Māori constructs of the child and their whānau in the centre of the assessment frame, ensuring that assessments capture the strengths, abilities, and competencies of children and their whānau rather than focusing on any perceived deficiencies.

      Assessment for Māori must therefore acknowledge, respect, and protect each child’s mana and further promote and encourage its growth and development

      (Rameka, 2007, p. 138) 

      Tikanga whakaako: Ways of doing

      Learning and teaching within a Māori context are based on whanaungatanga and tikanga Māori. The Māori word “ako” means both learning and teaching. It identifies every teacher as a learner and every learner as a teacher (Metge, 1984; Pere, 1997).

      The dimensions of tikanga whakaako include culturally appropriate learning settings, curriculum planning and implementation that reflect te ao Māori, and the importance of the whānau as the foundation for education

  • Contexts for learning that is valued
    • Examples of such contexts are learning situations that are generated by the children and their whānau and by adults who work with the children.

      These contexts are based on the responsiveness and intimacy that underpin whānau relationships or whanaungatanga. In an early childhood context, the strength of these relationships determines children’s learning and development.

      Planning and implementing culturally and socially appropriate programmes for Māori children is another component of tikanga whakaako. Te Kōhanga Reo o Mana Tamariki, utilise Te Aho Matua, a philosophical framework for learning and teaching that draws on concepts and contexts embedded in te ao Māori:

      Te Aho Matua was developed as a theoretical framework to ensure the essence of Kura Kaupapa Māori remained spiritually, culturally, linguistically, and administratively Māori. An important aspect of Te Aho Matua is that there is as much emphasis on feeling as there is on seeing. One does not just observe learning. One should be able to articulate how the child feels and is felt by the people, places, and events and things s/he has relationships with.

      Te Kōhanga Reo o Mana Tamariki, 2005

      The following whakataukī describes adult responsibilities when working with tamariki.

      Kohikohia ngā kākano, whakaritea te pārekereke, kia puāwai ngā hua.

      Gather the seeds, prepare the seedbed carefully, and you will be gifted with abundance of food.

      A pārekereke is a traditional seedbed for growing kūmara seedlings. It is an appropriate analogy for the environment of the child. This environment must be carefully prepared so that it provides well for the growth and development of the child. The importance of planning and preparing this environment cannot be underestimated.

      This whakataukī uses ngā hua as a metaphor for children. It suggests that in order to get the best out of the child, the whānau, kaiako, or kaimahi are responsible for:

      • preparing the environment;
      • laying down the best nutrients to provide a nourishing environment for the child and to ensure growth;
      • providing the best of everything for the child to grow;
      • being the right people – having the appropriate qualifications, expertise, and skills to lay strong foundations for the child’s education;
      • empowering the children, ensuring that they have choices;
      • focusing on the conditions and processes established in the early childhood setting.

      A report by the project co-ordinator identified that Ngā Kākano o Te Kaihanga Early Childhood Centre uses the metaphor of a plant, which highlights links to the pārekereke, in their philosophy:

      Their centre philosophy (sowing of seeds so that children will succeed), their view of children (koru who unfurl as they learn), and their centre whakataukī (E kore e hekeheke te kākano rangatira) combine to provide a strong foundation for assessment practices.

      Project Co-ordinator 2006 

      Linking tikanga whakaako to Te Whatu Pōkeka

      Kaupapa Māori assessment cannot be restricted to the individual child within the early childhood centre context but must be viewed through the lens of whānau, hapū, and iwi. Whānau are intrinsically involved in the child’s learning and therefore must be intimately involved in the assessment process of Te Whatu Pōkeka. Embedded within the notion of whānau are concepts of rights and responsibilities, obligations and commitments, and a sense of identity and belonging. The role of kaiako as the expert, with the power to judge and classify children, must be redefined as that of a contributing whānau member. Teaching and assessment must be perceived and recognised as a collaborative activity where whānau and kaiako both have a valued contribution.

  • Contextual framework for learning and teaching
    • The four Māori principals of Te Whāriki and their related concepts form the basis for the contextual framework for learning and teaching.

      Diagram of the four Māori principals of Te Whāriki and their related concepts.

      Māori principles of Te Whāriki: Ways of doing

      The Māori principles of Te Whāriki encapsulate the diverse ways of knowing, ways of being, and ways of doing which inform quality planning and implementation of programmes to enhance children’s learning. The statements in English are interpretations that summarise what each principle endorses.


      Ko te whakatipu i te mana o te mokopuna te tino taumata hei whainga mā tātou. Me tauawhi te mokopuna i roto i te aroha me te ngākau mārie, ā, me whakatō te kaha ki roto i a ia kia pakari ai te tipu o tōna mana whakahaere … kua mōhio ia ki tōna mana āhua ake.

      To whakamana or empower a child is a major principle for working with children. To uphold a child’s mana, the child must be supported, respected, and given choices so that her/his potential can be reached.


      E rua ngā āhuatanga e pā ana ki tēnei wāhanga. Tuatahi, ko te whakakotahitanga o ngā whakahaere mō te ako i ngā mokopuna … ka taea ngā mahi katoa i te wāhanga kotahi, arā, te waiata, te kōrero, te hīkoi … ko te tuarua, ko te whakakotahitanga o ngā mahi mō te tipu o te tinana, o te Hinengaro, o te wairua, me te whatumanawa. Kāore he wehewehenga. Kāore he aukatitanga … Tukuna tōna Hinengaro kia rere arorangi, ā, āwhinatia ia ki te whakatinana ōna whakaaro, ngā koroingotanga o tōna wairua, me ngā haehaetanga ki tōna whatumanawa.

      Prior planning and identifying suitable strategies to stimulate, encourage, and motivate the physical, intellectual, emotional, and social well-being of the child are the two inseparable processes that illustrate this principle.

      Whānau Tangata:

      Ko tētahi o ngā tino uara o te ao Māori kia mōhio ngā mokopuna ki te whanaungatanga. Ka mōhio ia ko wai ia, ko wai ōna mātua tīpuna, ko wai ōna marae, ko wai ōna tūrangawaewae. Me whiri mai te whānau, te hapū, te iwi o te mokopuna ki te tautoko i ngā akoranga i a ia. Kia tipu te mokopuna i roto i te aroha hei taonga whakahirahira mā tōna whānau, mā tōna iwi, me tōna wāhi noho.

      It is important to consult with the whānau, hapū, and iwi in order to support the child’s understanding of the many relationships they have with their grandparents, their marae, and the places from which they come. These relationships contribute to ways in which the child views their place in the world.

      Ngā Hononga:

      Mā te ngāwari i waenganui i te mokopuna me ngā tāngata ka pā mai ki a ia, ka piki te hiahia o te mokopuna ki te ako. Mā te takoto o te rangimārie i roto i ngā piringa me ngā hononga ki aua tāngata ka pakari anō te hiahia o te mokopuna ki te ako … kua tau tōna mauri … kua piki tō ora, te mana me te ihi o tōna tinana, tōna Hinengaro, tōna wairua, me tōna whatumanawa.

      The ways in which adults interact and behave around children impact on the ways in which children will learn. If the adults display a love of learning and a curiosity about the world, so too will the children.

  • Linking Te Whāriki to Te Whatu Pōkeka
    • Te Whāriki affirms the distinctive role of an identifiable Māori curriculum that protects te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, Māori pedagogy, and the transmission of Māori knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The Māori principles, ngā kaupapa whakahaere of Te Whāriki clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of kaiako when planning and assessing learning experiences that are socially and culturally responsive to Māori children (Rameka, 2007).

      The broad goals of Te Whatu Pōkeka

      What are these?
      • Assessment is about children’s learning within a Māori learning context.
      • Assessment implies that there are aims or goals for children’s learning.
      • Assessment is based on our ways of seeing and knowing the world and on our ways of being and interacting in the world.
      • Assessment involves making visible learning that is valued within te ao Māori.
      • Assessment is a vital aspect of early childhood education in that it is about articulating kaupapa and mātauranga that underpin practice.
      • Assessment is something that happens during everyday practice.
      • Assessment is observation based.
      • Assessment requires an interpretation that may include reflection and discussion (as we strive to understand our observations).
      • Assessment is purposeful (puts our understandings to good use).
      Why do it?

      The purpose of assessment is to give useful information about children’s learning and development to the adults providing the programme and to children and their families (Te Whāriki, page 29).We undertake assessment:

      • to understand children’s learning better;
      • to start discussions about children’s learning;
      • to share information with others;
      • to reflect on practice;
      • to plan for the learning of individuals and groups;
      • to ensure that all children receive attention;
      • to highlight the learning that is valued;
      • to involve children in self-assessment;
      • to discuss the programme with family/whānau;
      • to share experiences with family/whānau.

      Te Whatu Pōkeka: Kaupapa Māori Assessment

      Te Whatu Pōkeka considers the broad goals of assessment while at the same time focusing on the three goals of education for Māori. These are identified by Durie (2003) as being: to live as Māori; to actively participate as citizens of the world; and to enjoy good health and a high standard of living. Therefore this assessment model:

      • is positive;
      • builds on children’s strengths and interests;
      • facilitates ongoing learning for the child;
      • strengthens the place of Māori in the world;
      • reflects the “image of the Māori child” (it encompasses all dimensions of children’s learning, including te taha tinana, hinengaro, wairua, and whatumanawa);
      • empowers kaiako and provides information that will help centres to improve the ways in which their programmes cater for Māori children;
      • involves whānau and illuminates children’s voices;
      • recognises and applies the concepts of whanaungatanga, including awhi, tautoko, aroha, tiaki, and manaaki;
      • recognises experiences that take place beyond the walls of the centre, understanding both the learning that is taking place and the cultural and historical backgrounds of the children;
      • enables kaiako to reflect critically on their own values, beliefs, and assumptions;
      • ensures that the adults involved in the children’s learning are consistent, constant, and constructive.

      The interconnectedness between values and beliefs embedded within the notion of assessment is summarised well by Te Kōhanga Reo o Ngā Kuaka, who state:

      The development of our framework depicts the connections we have identified with whakapapa, to ways of knowing and being Māori. The connection with assessment and whakapapa embedded within Māori epistemology has created a paradigm for assessment of children’s learning. Examining the idea around whakapapa and observing children’s development within our framework, we began to identify that there was a connection to the holistic learning of each child in terms of visualising children’s voices through the connecting lens of whānau, staff, and tamariki.

      Te Kōhanga Reo o Ngā Kuaka

      The Pākōwhai Te Kōhanga Reo assessment philosophy outlines clear links to Durie’s four broad goals and the view of connectedness. This is articulated through the following four principles, where they state:

      The “whānau/community development” model of practice used by the Pākōwhai Te Kōhanga Reo has developed as a direct consequence of the unique circumstances that surround the kōhanga, their whānau and community. It is important to understand that it is firmly founded in:

      • a Māori world view;
      • a Māori understanding of Te Whāriki;
      • a firm commitment to partnership relationships with whānau and community;
      • an absolute commitment to the “paramountcy of the child”.

        Pākōwhai Te Kōhanga Reo

      Analysing the exemplars

      The framework used to analyse the exemplars is drawn from the following areas:

      Ngā hononga ki te tauparapara: Ways of knowing

      Mōhiotanga: what a child already knows and brings with her/him.
      Mātauranga: a time of growth when the child is learning new ideas.
      Māramatanga: when a child comes to understand new knowledge.

      Ngā āhuatanga o te tamaiti: Ways of being

      Te wairua o te tamaiti: the emotional, spiritual being of the child.
      He mana tō te tamaiti: the mana and potential with which the child is born.
      He mauri tangata: the life force and energy of the child.

      Tikanga whakaaro: Ways of doing

      Tīkanga whakaako: Learning and teaching within a Māori context is based on whanaungatanga and the application of tikanga Māori.

      Te Whatu Pōkeka: Kaupapa Māori assessment

      To be Māori and to live as Māori.

      Te hononga ki Te Whāriki

      The principles of Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early Childhood Curriculum are referred to in the following exemplars to support the analysis of the exemplars.