Story: Māori education – mātauranga

Page 5. Kaupapa Māori education

All images & media in this story

The most significant development in Māori education since the later 20th century has been the explosive growth in Māori-driven initiatives. Kōhanga reo (preschool language ‘nests’) led the way in the 1980s, followed by kura kaupapa Māori (Māori-language immersion schools).

Kōhanga reo establishment

The kōhanga reo movement was a response to the dire state of te reo Māori (the Māori language). In 1913 over 90% of Māori schoolchildren could speak the language; by 1975 this figure had fallen to less than 5%. The kōhanga reo movement was driven by Māori, with an emphasis on a total Māori-language immersion setting and involvement by whānau. The first kōhanga reo opened at Wainuiomata in 1982, and in the following year 100 new kōhanga were established.

Growth of kōhanga

Although there was little financial assistance from government until 1990, growth continued through the 1980s, peaking in 1993, when there were more kōhanga reo (819) than kindergartens or playcentres. With over 14,000 enrolments, kōhanga reo were responsible for close to half of all Māori enrolments in early childhood services at this time. By 2009 kōhanga reo numbers had dropped to 464. The decline has been attributed to increased compliance requirements and economic circumstances. However, having now produced 60,000 ‘graduates’, kōhanga have played, and continue to play, a crucial role in the revival of te reo Māori.

Kura kaupapa Māori

Kura kaupapa Māori are state schools that operate within a whānau-based Māori philosophy and deliver the curriculum in te reo Māori. The first kura kaupapa Māori, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Hoani Waititi, was established in West Auckland in 1985. As with kōhanga, in the early stages parents were forced to fundraise to run kura until they received government recognition and funding. Kura kaupapa Māori gained recognition in the Education Act 1989 and from 1990 the Ministry of Education supported the establishment of new kura.

Kura growth

Kura numbers grew rapidly through the 1990s, and more slowly in the 2000s. In 2009 there were 73 kura kaupapa Māori with just over 6,000 students. Many kura are composite schools (years 1–13), having started as full primary schools and then adding wharekura (secondary departments) in order to retain students within a Māori-medium environment. In 2001 the Ministry of Education recognised kura teina status as a stepping stone for schools that have applied to become a full stand-alone primary school. Kura teina are mentored by an established kura, designated the kura tuakana (older sibling).


Wānanga are Māori tertiary institutions developed by Māori to revitalise te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), and to raise the achievement of Māori in tertiary education. The majority of the wānanga student body are ‘second chance’ learners, rather than students going straight from high school.

The first wānanga

Te Wānanga o Raukawa in Ōtaki was established in 1981 by Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toarangatira. The wānanga grew out of the Whakatupuranga Rua Mano (Generation 2000) tribal plan that had been devised by the three iwi in 1975 in response to the decline of te reo Māori within their rohe (tribal areas).

Subsequent wānanga

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa started as the Waipā Kōkiri Arts Centre, established in Te Awamutu in 1984, and now has a presence throughout the country. In 2009 it had 21,000 full-time equivalent students, making it the second-largest tertiary education provider in New Zealand.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi opened in Whakatāne in 1992. In 2004 it was accredited to teach courses to PhD level, a world first for an indigenous tertiary education institution.

Te Wānanga o Raukawa and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa were recognised by the government in 1993 and Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in 1997. Following a 1998 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, the three wānanga were compensated by the government to address the lack of funding in the early stages of their development.

How to cite this page:

Ross Calman, 'Māori education – mātauranga - Kaupapa Māori education', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 May 2024)

Story by Ross Calman, published 20 Jun 2012