Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Bicultural Education in a Multiethnic Aotearoa New Zealand: Sustaining Te Ao Māori

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posted on 2022-04-28, 21:21 authored by Brian Ristow

Since the 1980s Aotearoa New Zealand has officially positioned itself as a ‘bicultural’ nation. The national narrative is of an equal partnership between Indigenous iwi Māori (Māori tribes) and the British Crown, mediated by the founding document te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi). The centrality of biculturalism and te Tiriti is perhaps nowhere more evident than in education. The provision of a ‘bicultural’ education, one which acknowledges the central place of te ao Māori (the Māori world), has become one of the defining features of schooling in Aotearoa New Zealand. All students are expected to have the opportunity to acquire knowledge of the Māori language and customs, and all teachers are expected to demonstrate a commitment to the ‘bicultural’ partnership. Parallel to the increasing prominence offered to biculturalism and bicultural education, Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced an explosion of ethnic diversity. While demographers previously offered the term ‘hyper-homogenous’ to refer to a population composed near exclusively of Māori and European descendants, the term ‘super-diversity’ is currently employed to describe a general population that is among the most ethnically diverse in the world. This dramatic demographic shift is even more profound in schools, where over 30 percent of students currently identify with an ethnicity other than Māori or European, a number projected to reach nearly 50 percent by 2040. While such a shift is undoubtedly reshaping schools, there remains a growing uncertainty of how a multiethnic student population is engaging with a bicultural education.

Underpinned by theories of Critical Multicultural Education and Kaupapa Māori, this qualitative study explores how three English-medium secondary schools are sustaining the teaching and learning of te ao Māori within their increasingly ethnically diverse communities. Resulting from interviews with students, families, teachers, and principals, findings indicate that schools are the near exclusive gateway to accessing te ao Māori for super-diverse communities. As such, the bicultural education offered within schools holds unique potential to influence dispositions and attitudes towards te ao Māori. However, for ethnically diverse students, engagement in a bicultural education is not automatic. Rather, a range of touchstone school experiences can either centripetally draw students in, or centrifugally push them away, from the richness of te ao Māori. This study argues that as schools in Aotearoa New Zealand are becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, the ways in which students from non-Māori and non-European backgrounds are engaging with te ao Māori holds significant potential to sustain te ao Māori. As such, this thesis makes a salient contribution to better understanding the future shape of ‘bicultural’ education within a super-diverse Aotearoa New Zealand.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

160105 Secondary education; 160203 Inclusive education; 160201 Equity and access to education; 160205 Policies and development; 160301 Assessment, development and evaluation of curriculum; 160302 Pedagogy; 160303 Teacher and instructor development

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

2 Strategic basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language

en; en

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


McRae, Hiria; Rimoni, Fuapepe