It is a sunny morning in Gisborne’s Poverty Bay, and while local schools in the area are starting with their normal classroom routines, a group of students and their teachers from Awapuni Primary School are wearing lifejackets and starting their day with an orientation in the harbour.

The orientation is part of a ‘floating classroom’, the waka hourua Tairāwhiti, that’s open to students across all schools in the region.

“It is a floating classroom and with all classrooms students need to respect the waka, so we teach them how to come onto the waka in the way you would respect the marae,” says kōkā Gerry Smith, one of the kaiako on the waka.

During the actual class, students are taught about the health and safety features of the waka and how to operate it, the local history of settlement, and listen to the voyaging stories and how their ancestors navigated the ocean using the stars.

“It’s not maths, it’s not English. It’s all maths, it’s all English. It’s all the curriculum. If they know two or three stars, they can go out with a group at night; they can tell people where these two or three stars are to help guide their journey. It’s knowledge, which is so powerful,” says Gerry.

At the end of the class, the students sit down with the kaiako to discuss what they’ve learnt and conclude the day with a closing ceremony before getting out of the waka.

Relevance to the region

Tairāwhiti Voyaging Trust CEO Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp says they’re focused on engaging every student in the region – around 7,000 of them – so that they’ll learn about their region’s history and how it was settled by their ancestors.

“This is how our Polynesian and Māori ancestors originally arrived here – in waka hourua double-hull voyaging canoes. They started building these canoes 7,000 years ago using stone tools and timber and making them watertight to be able to sail in the great oceans of the world,” says Te Aturangi.

“They were amazingly creative and very skilled in canoe-building and navigating using the stars. They followed the signs of nature such as migrating birds and whales, and lived in harmony with the environment to an extent where they can carry out these wonderful voyages of exploration, discovery and settlement.”

A personalised local curriculum for Tairāwhiti schools

Tamia Takarangi-Chan learning the ropes.

Awapuni Principal David Langford says this type of learning resonates with the students as it connects them to their whakapapa, the heritage in the place where first arrivals happened.

Tamia Takarangi-Chan learning the ropes.

“The students hear stories about the waka that came here – Te Tairāwhiti, Horouta, Tākitimu and other waka. Out at sea they look at the maunga, the beaches, the landscape and learn about the cultural and historical significance of these land features,” says David.

He says all schools have worked together to develop a curriculum framework and provided staffing to support the employment of kaiako on the waka.

“Schools can personalise the curriculum framework to incorporate their own stories within their own iwi, within their own geographical location.”

A sense of pride and belonging

Te Aturangi says a lot of the students’ ancestors did amazing things. “They sailed the oceans and discovered this land and settled here. The DNA that runs through their ancestors also runs through their veins. It gives them a sense of pride and identity, a sense of belonging.”

Another kaiako matua Richard Katipa says they notice a special connection with the students when they board the waka.

“When we talk about the wairua, the mauri of this waka, we just notice the effect that it has on the students. Often in some of the groups that come on, they tell us they can be difficult students but there seems to be some connection that we notice happens really quickly and it’s just a wonderful place to be teaching,” says Richard.

Matua Richard Katipa with students Joelle Ruru and Te Ohomauri Hinake-Ngerengere.

Matua Richard Katipa with students Joelle Ruru and Te Ohomauri Hinake-Ngerengere.

Gerry agrees. “The connection happens as soon as the students get on board. We have a whakatau [greeting as you would on a marae]. If we don’t have a whakatau, the students treat the waka differently.”

“Another connection is with the stories we share. The mauri stone was a koha from Mount Hikurangi. The maunga and stories connect us as Ngāti Porou/Tairāwhiti.”

Richard says students are more likely to succeed in education when they have a sense of their identity, language and culture.

“A lot of our kids can get disconnected from who they are, where they come from and it’s understood now that those are important things that our young Māori students need,” says Richard.

“This to me, gives them an opportunity to help strengthen and understand their own identity – feel proud about how amazing their ancestors were and to be able to develop their own parallel navigation system and basically find just about every island in the Pacific Ocean, three to five thousand years ago.”

Source: Education Gazette

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