New Marsden research on Māori flexible learning spaces (FLS)

Dr Georgina Stewart, Te Ara Poutama, Auckland University of Technology

New Marsden Project

Included in the recent announcement of research funded by the 2021 round of Marsden projects is an inter-faculty AUT  project for supporting Māori aims in education. Flexible Learning Spaces (FLS) in kura Māori (schools with Māori identities) make a productive context for exploring how te reo and Mātauranga Māori can be better integrated into the lives of staff and students in schools and classrooms. This research fits under the umbrella of a Māori-centred form of biculturalism in education, which includes bilingualism and is consistent with Kaupapa Māori research principles.

The term ‘spatial justice’ recognizes that social power relations are reflected in all aspects of inhabited spaces, including schools. Māori identities have been distorted or deleted from school curricula and environments and this is also tends to be the case in learning spaces. Combining FLS, school-based marae, and a ‘wide’ concept of curriculum, we will explore a new concept of ‘Māori FLS’ as agents of teaching and learning within te ao Māori (Māori worldview) frameworks. This new Marsden project is all set to start in 2022.

What is the deeper significance of Maori FLS?

Kura Māori that have FLS make a productive context for exploring the integration of te reo and Mātauranga Māori integration because these curricular aims require pedagogical change, which FLS aim for – FLS can be considered ‘agents of change’.  Our study will examine how FLS can be used for Māori educational purposes, rather than viewing Māori schools/classrooms as data sources for mainstream FLS studies. A ‘Māori FLS’ is a FLS in a kura Māori, but is also a novel concept and/or category that yokes the pedagogical potential of FLS to the educational interests of Māori in schooling. FLS are pedagogical ‘agents of change’ and Māori FLS hold out hope for changing pedagogy in ways that advance the interests of bilingualism and biculturalism in schools in this country.

At a literal level a Māori FLS is simply a FLS in a kura, or Māori school setting, but the notion of a ‘Māori FLS’ is also a novel concept or category. The prior research on school-based marae is relevant to this project, despite not using the ‘FLS’ terminology. The educational aims of school-based marae are similar to those of Māori FLS, which have not yet been delineated in research. Marae-a-kura could be seen as a Māori type of FLS. Kura Māori are schools operating within a national education system that is not designed with Māori interests in mind, and on a statistical level, Māori students achieve at lower rates than non-Māori; therefore kura stand to gain potentially more than non-Māori schools from FLS.

What is involved in this research, and who is doing it?

The various strands of empirical and non-empirical data to be collected across the three years of the project timeline are as follows:

  • Surveys in Year 1 of a statistically significant national sample of ‘kura Māori’ (50+)
  • Interviews in Year 2 within a purposive sample of 10-15 kura
  • Participant observation ethnography (Year 1-3) with 2-3 kura for richer data collection, based on ‘embedded’ relationships between the kura whānau and researchers
  • A fourth strand of empirical data collection will comprise a set of expert informant interviews with recognised experts in the FLS field, e.g. architects and Ministry of Education officials with significant experience of building FLS in kura Māori and generally
  • Literature review and theoretical work: Alongside and supporting these empirical phases of data collection, we will write critical reviews and synopses of relevant (diverse) literatures, to be synthesised with the results of the empirical strands in producing the written research outputs of this project.

The research team is led by and dominated by Māori researchers, all of whom engage in research growing out of Mātauranga Māori. The PI, Georgina Tuari Stewart, has 84 peer reviewed publications on education, and decades of experience as a researcher, teacher, and academic. Leon Benade is a national expert on flexible learning spaces and a strong researcher. Amanda Yates brings the disciplinary knowledge of architecture that is key to this project and a PhD on Māori ontology. Alastair Wells brings a background in design and education, space and learning. Valance Smith is a cultural expert on all things Māori. The disciplinary breadth is a strength of the team, as is previous collaboration. Our team works biculturally on Māori research and views internal differences in perspective as useful in research for Māori.

How does this research align with the aims of Vision Mātauranga policy for research?

The aims of this research are consistent with those of Vision Mātauranga in that the underlying aim is to support and develop the expression of biculturalism and Mātauranga Māori in schooling. This project is led by Māori researchers, and the empirical strands of the research will collect data in Māori-medium schools and English-medium schools in predominantly Māori communities, where most interview participants will be Māori. Kaupapa Māori principles will guide all aspects of the study and its methods and methodologies, centring the interests of Māori people, language and culture throughout. We hope to be able to share emerging updates from this project later in 2022, including at the NZARE conference.


Dr Georgina Tuari Stewart (ko Whakarārā te maunga, ko Matauri te moana, ko Te Tāpui te marae, ko Ngāti Kura te hapū, ko Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu te iwi) is co-editor of New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies and associate editor of Educational Philosophy and Theory and the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. She is the author of the 2020 book Māori Philosophy: Indigenous thinking from Aotearoa published by Bloomsbury, UK. She recently took up an inaugural role as Kaiurungi or navigator of the AUT Eke Tangaroa programme for Māori and Pacific Early Career Academics.


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