A superdiverse Tiriti o Waitangi based Aotearoa New Zealand?

Dr Angel Chan (University of Auckland) and Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie (Victoria University of Wellington)

Over recent decades, mass global migration has brought a large number of migrants to Aotearoa New Zealand. For example, the 2013 census revealed that 25% nationally, and 39% of Aucklanders, were born outside of Aotearoa, which is now home to more than 200 ethnicities and 160 languages. Accordingly, the Royal Society of New Zealand has used the term ‘superdiverse’ to describe the country’s current demographic landscape.

This superdiversity phenomenon is similarly present in New Zealand’s early childhood care and education (ECCE) settings. In 2018, European/Pākehā children only accounted for 48% of the enrolments in ECCE, with a diverse range of ethnic groups making up the remaining 52%.

Māori, the tangata whenua or people of this land, remain at around 15% of the general population but are 24% of current early childhood enrolment. In a recent paper, we suggested that a

‘superdiversity lens needs to apply critical pedagogies of place that recognise the particular histories of local Indigenous peoples, which are founded in a sense of inter-relatedness to land, mountains, rivers, oceans and other components of the more-than-human world. At the same time, the respective cultures, values, histories, stories, songs and meanings of other ethnic groups present in the ECCE settings also require respectful inclusion’.

Responding to superdiversity has implications for curriculum and pedagogy, and consideration of these matters within the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations in Aotearoa New Zealand presents an additional layer of challenge. Below, we further unpack the notion of superdiversity, address some of teachers’ common concerns regarding working with diverse families, and suggest using a Tiriti-based superdiversity model to inform pedagogies in ECCE.

Is ‘superdiversity’ just fancy jargon? How is it different from ‘diversity’?

A brief overview:

  • Conventional diversity studies usually examine issues regarding diverse ethnicities, languages, and cultures.
  • The notion of ‘superdiversity’, coined by Steven Vertovec in 2007, focuses on additional migration-related variables and social inequality issues.
  • Such variables include differing migration patterns (e.g. permanent residence, temporary settlement, and transnational migration which involves frequent commuting between the host and home countries) as well as differing migration statuses (e.g. voluntary skill-based or investment migrants, involuntary migrants with refugee backgrounds).
  • Such complex variables imply the uneven availability of social, cultural and financial capital, as well as unequal access to entitlements and social resources.
  • Enacting a superdiversity approach is more than displaying greetings in different languages and celebrating ethnic festivals in a ‘tourist approach’.
  • Children with migrant and refugee backgrounds are one group of priority learners specified in He Pou Tātaki: How ERO reviews early childhood services.
  • A superdiversity lens alone, however, is insufficient to underpin ECCE pedagogies in New Zealand because of the country’s commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which means te ao Māori and te reo Māori need to be foregrounded in our work as educators.

Challenges and concerns of ECCE teachers  

During a recent Education Hub webinar, we shared our perspectives regarding the current superdiversity situation in New Zealand’s ECCE settings. Participants in the webinar raised some interesting challenges.

One participant said migrant parents often tell teachers that they want their children to become ‘Kiwi’ and hence to focus on learning English. While these are common aspirations of migrant families, research shows that prioritising the learning of English over a heritage language at a very young age can lead to home language loss. Furthermore, research indicates that it is cognitively and socially beneficial for young children to learn more than one language.  It is the teachers’ responsibility to share their professional knowledge with families and assure them that there is no need to put pressure on young children to become English-speakers.

Participants were interested in ways that teachers might move beyond tokenistic celebrations of diverse cultures to provide an ongoing sense of belonging to migrant families, suggesting the use of books in families’ home languages as one possible resource. Another had discussed with refugee families the ways in which the centre’s assessment might be more meaningful for them and had learned that photographs were really important as the families could not read English at this point. Seeking the support of a community or family member who does speak English can be useful also.

Another teacher was concerned that reo speaking Māori teachers tend to respectfully defer to other languages and wondered how she might encourage these teachers to speak te reo more often.  These teachers are demonstrating manaakitanga, whereby Māori are inclusive of others. However, it is important that te reo is prioritised as the language of the tangata whenua, as per our early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki and our Teaching Council Code and Standards.

Pedagogical implications

In light of common concerns from ECCE teachers, we suggest using a Tiriti based superdiversity model to address the complex and heterogeneous backgrounds of and inequalities experienced by migrant families, and to support them develop a sense of place and belonging in a Te Tiriti o Waitangi legislated environment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Have a strong grounding in understanding the articles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, histories of Aotearoa and local iwi contexts, and of how this knowledge informs current education in Aotearoa.
  • Recognise the existence of complex inequalities.
  • Reflect upon personal (may be unintentional) bias and exclusive practices.
  • Listen, learn, experience and embrace diverse cultural beliefs and practices.
  • Explain the importance of tangata whenua status, te reo me ōna tikanga and te ao Māori and that diverse migrants are welcomed in this ‘bicultural’ nation.
  • Promote te reo me te ao Māori, and the genealogical and geographical connections of Māori children and whānau heritage, and support migrant families to understand these worldviews, as well as to develop a sense of inter-relatedness to the human and more-than-human environment.
  • Develop reciprocal and trusting relationships with families, and work closely and responsively with them.
  • Create an inclusive environment by embracing families’ diverse funds of knowledge, assuring all that we can share this ‘place’ with the tangata whenua.
  • Provide resources that promote diverse epistemologies and languages, and normalise diversities and differences.

Angel Chan (1).JPGDr Angel Chan is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland. Her teaching and research aim at promoting social justice and cohesion by supporting teachers to develop equitable and inclusive pedagogies to work with diverse families. Her research areas include: early childhood education, culture and identity, sociology of childhood, transnational parenting, critical multicultural education, and superdiversity in education settings.

Jenny squareDr Jenny Ritchie is an Associate Professor in Te Puna Akopai, the School of Education, at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her research and teaching focus on social, cultural, and ecological justice in early childhood care and education.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s