Recently the government announced its commitment to school infrastructure and is investing an initial sum of $1.2 billion to repair and rebuild school classrooms. This money will be used to develop new schools, hubs and environments for the predicted growth of 100,000 learners in the education system. This is the largest investment in school property and follows the National Education Growth Plan to 2030 which clearly outlines the motivations and areas for consideration as the system accommodates growth.

School and kura will be given the opportunity to reimagine the physical structure of classrooms, some with whom will develop modern learning environments and innovative learning environments (ILEs) appropriate to their context. Throughout Aotearoa New Zealand ILEs are a solution that has aligned with contemporary pedagogy and the spaces created are: innovative, open, creative, flexible, noisy and quiet, to which authentic learning is experienced. Examples of these recently developed ILEs can be seen here, here and here.

This unprecedented opportunity for physical transformation allows communities to consider pedagogy, curriculum and inherently invites a range of discussions with multiple stakeholders. This investment is timely and welcomed and although the immediate need is to react and accommodate the increasing numbers of students, there is much evidence that demonstrates we still have a long way to go in supporting Māori in English-Medium and bilingual schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. School property can be a further part of this discussion.

In July 2018, Aotearoa New Zealand had 2531 state, state-integrated, private and partnership schools yet, the literature shows we only have 99 marae-ā-kura within school property, which is less than 4% of schools. Simply put, marae-ā-kura, is a pan-tribal teaching and learning space on school property (more information on marae-ā-kura here.) 15% of Aotearoa New Zealand identify as Māori and as we develop future-oriented / future proofed classrooms, it is time to think deeply about referencing Māori architecture or if appropriate consider the addition of marae-ā-kura in the physical school environment in Aotearoa New Zealand. Whakawhanaungatanga refers to the establishing of culturally appropriate links and strengthening relationships through sharing and valuing heritage and if the environments ākonga are surrounded in each and every day respect this diversity of culture, positive outcomes can be seen. With other initiatives that iwi and the government have deeply invested in such as Te Reo initiatives, and Te Hurihanganui this is a further way in which to have sustainable impact.

It is important to recognise that every school in Aotearoa New Zealand is situated on the grounds that once belonged to iwi and hapū, each with unique stories the rivers, the mountains, the land and the migration of its people from Hawaiki. As schools are tasked with rebuilding classrooms, it is appropriate to open up this conversation, and listen to strengthen local curriculum as mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is valued. Simply asking the question of ‘what is the history of this land – pre-colonisation?’ and then translating this into a contemporary classroom context. Similarly, ‘how can school buildings reflect this story?’ Furthermore, ‘what stories can be told and echoed within school buildings that demonstrate Māori as successful, innovative and creative to which it is a culture that survives?’ Doing this, inherently promotes and value the ideologies that are encapsulated with mātauranga Māori and traditional arts such as weaving, knots and whakairo (carving) can also be used to demonstrate linkages to the past and can be used as a legitimate way to reinforce important and valuable ways of communicating. Although marae-ā-kura is opportune to develop an authentic space for te reo Māori me ngā tikanga Māori, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking of it as just for that purpose alone.

Think further. With a contemporary flavour to school architecture, it can be seen as an honest commitment to connecting to the past as well as is the epicentre of thought, creativity, innovation, curiosity and inquiry. This living learning space is social, yet culturally sacred. Although a prefab school classroom may feel like a straightforward solution, consider the impact developing a piece of school architecture to be a marker that keeps this important conversation at the forefront of education. Tennent and Brown reimagined a place and space for Te Wānanga O Raukawa at Ōtaki to which we can see an exemplary ILE, that clearly references its heritage here.

It may take time to get to a solution, but perhaps a slower approach is critical for sustainability and for a mutually beneficial future. As the education sector is tasked with developing school property, there is an opportunity to deepen its offering and embed the rich knowledge of Māori so we can echo the unique tapestry that makes up the past, present and future of Aotearoa New Zealand. Schools can anchor us in a world of constant instability and the spaces which we inhabit should reflect and share our foundational stories, not be seen as a place to forget them.

Here we are presented with an opportunity to transform school property to which we can rebuild with cultural intelligence at the forefront. Architecture impacts behaviour and this opportunity should not be missed, not just for the benefit of Māori, but each and every person and community with whom can learn and gain confidence through this experience to understand the uniqueness of Aotearoa New Zealand.

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