Na ta rourou, na taku rourou

ka ora ai te iwi

With your food basket and my food basket
the people will thrive

On a sunny west coast beach, tiny preschoolers and their kaiako are down by the waves chatting excitedly in te reo Maori about erosion. If it’s not so sunny they picnic in the trees and talk about Tane-mahuta and the forest.

In the past, at this kohanga, it was more likely the children would have been lined up inside doing a planned activity. The year’s programme was mapped out ahead, and projects could last a whole term, sometimes being repeated the following year.

So what’s changed? Here, kaiako (teachers) have been upskilling through Ki Taiao” an online early childhood teaching degree at Waikato University, tailored especially for kohanga reo teachers. The students also do practicums at mainstream early childhood education centres.

“At kohanga once you’ve planned, that’s it,” says one Ki Taiao graduate. “What they’ve taught us in mainstream is you don’t have to stick to that” you can go off on a tangent quite easily.”

[g1_quote author_name=”Ripeka Menehira” align=”left” size=”m” style=”solid” template=”01″]

At kohanga once you’ve planned, that’s it,” says one Ki Taiao graduate. “What they’ve taught us in mainstream is you don’t have to stick to that you can go off on a tangent quite easily.


At Waikato the teachers learn about child development and how children learn through play and engaging with each other and with adults. It’s transformed the way kaiako organise the day and areas of work.

The current qualification for kohanga reo teachers is Tohu Whakapakari, a level 7 diploma focusing on Maori knowledge and pedagogy, delivered in te reo. The course is demanding and rigorously assessed, but not recognised by the Teachers Council.

Often, kaiako have little professional development once they have Whakapakari. Some felt they were stagnating and wanted to study more, but that meant going against the wishes of the kohanga reo national body. One kaiako says it’s frowned on by the National Trust if they go to a Pakeha place, and pressure from the trust forced some to drop out of the programme.

But kohanga reo kaiako Gaylene Collier says completing Ki Taiao doesn’t mean replacing what they do in kohanga with a Pakeha system. “They based the course mostly on whakaaro Maori, our thoughts and ideas. Having compared Maori ways of teaching children to the Pakeha system, kaiako can choose from the best of both worlds.

She says the older students could relate to some of the Pakeha korero because it was describing practice they grew up knowing. “There’s a lot in kohanga that we are doing that mainstream is doing, however we didn’t know that there’s a name for it.”

Having compared Maori ways of teaching to the Pakeha system, kaiako can choose from the best of both worlds.


Peggy King of Raglan’s Whaingaroa Kohanga Reo says it was easy to put Ki Taiao ideas into practice at her kohanga because three of them did the course together. And although some in the kohanga were unsure about Ki Taiao, parents and children love the way teaching and learning has developed.

King enjoyed all her practicums so much she worked an extra week at each one. “I wanted to stay there all the time (at a kindergarten).” Kaiako like King who can operate in both worlds will be snapped up by early childhood centres that need fluent te reo speakers, and support for Maori children in the mainstream.

Ripeka Menehira is starting work at Te Kopae reo o Tupoho” a new Maori immersion centre in Whanganui” in 2014. She had a lot of job offers when she graduated from Ki Taiao. “I think being Maori” I know a lot of the early childhood centres want to implement more Maori language, so that’s a big tick for me.”

She says Ki Taiao opened up her mind to teaching and gave her an insight of how to teach children, such as how children much they absorb through play. Menehira acknowledges the tremendous awhi and support she received from kohanga re, which she says laid the foundation for her career. “That’s where I first discovered my passion for teaching.”

Change needed

It would be helpful if more kohanga reo were as open to new ideas as the one Menehira was working in during her study.

Once a month she and her fellow Ki Taiao students went to seminars at Waikato University and they’d slowly bring in small changes to kohanga. She says some people didn’t like the changes, but only because they didn’t understand.

Ripeka Menehira

Ripeka Menehira

“So then we had to stop implementing things and have hui and wananga with whanau and colleagues and talk about what we’d learned at the weekend. And they were like oh that sounds awesome we’d like to see that. So then we started implementing it, because they could see how happy the children were and how happy our colleagues were. It was really good and they’re still doing it today.”

Ripeka says Ki Taiao helped her become a better teacher and parent. She learned to approach children with respect and help guide them through their problems. “I was used to giving them a growling”˜you shouldn’t be doing that’ – and they’d just carry on.”

But Louise Rogers of Huntly’s Te Kohanga Reo Te Whaanui says it’s not always easy to put Ki Taiao ideas into practice. “It’s a little bit tricky – a lot of the things we learned on the course we can’t do in kohanga, because it’s whanau based and led. You’re always going back to whanau, to action things.”

Rogers says on the course they learned about management and how early childhood funding works, including how to do a budget. “You learned how to do the whole thing” so pretty much how to open your own centre.”

But back at kohanga they have to just stay there on the floor: “You teach the kids and that’s it.”


She and her colleagues with an ECE background share similar ideas, but “we still come up with that big wall at the end – the whanau-led thing – and it just depends who your whanau are at the time.” Rogers says kohanga should be run by someone with a teaching background who’s there all the time. The kaupapa would be the same, just the management would change. “But we don’t want a fight with that, we just want to do it” change it over and it’ll work so nicely, you won’t have all the hiccups that are coming with what’s happening in kohanga reo.”


Most kohanga are funded as parent-led centres much like playcentres, which means they’re covered for expenses, but not for qualified teachers. A key driver for upskilling through Ki Taiao is funding” qualified kaiako will attract a higher rate.

One kaiako says and she had been looking forward to higher pay after doing Ki Taiao, but once she was on the course it was learning that was the motivator.

NZEI Te Riu Roa’s Tere Gilbert of Te Kohanga Reo o Nga Kuaka says her kohanga is one of only three teacher-led kohanga. Other kohanga have moved out from under the trust and operate as Maori immersion early childhood education centres.

She says things have evolved in the 30 years since the trust was set up and very few parents now stay with their children at kohanga, and prefer teacher-led early childhood education. She says it’s possible to have both” qualified teachers during the day and the governance role fulfilled by whanau.