Te Mātaiaho – how the whakapapa puts ākonga at the centre

By Diana Wilkes

In this article we explore how Te Mātaiaho, the refreshed curriculum, deliberately keeps our students at the centre of learning and aspires to include their voice.

Image by: Copyright: MOE 2022 (Screenshot from Te Mātaiaho draft)

Te Mātaiaho is the working title of the refreshed New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). The curriculum refresh is intended to strengthen what we do to achieve equity and ensure all ākonga experience success in their learning at school.

The refresh is an outcome of Kōrero Mātauranga, the National Education Conversation, that involved tens of thousands of people. New Zealanders expressed their desire that the New Zealand Curriculum:

  • gives effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi

  • is inclusive

  • is clear about the curriculum learning that matters, and

  • is easy to use.

For me, Te Mātaiaho exemplifies a profound commitment to placing learners (ākonga) at the heart of education. By embracing a holistic and culturally responsive approach, with Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the foundation, Te Mātaiaho recognizes the unique identities, languages and cultures of all students, fostering an inclusive and empowering approach to teaching and learning. This curriculum acknowledges that learners are diverse and possess varied strengths and interests, promoting personalized learning pathways to cater to individual needs. Moreover, it encourages the development of critical thinking, problem solving skills, and a love for lifelong learning, equipping ākonga with the tools to thrive in an ever changing world.

Through Te Mātaiaho, Aotearoa New Zealand reaffirms its dedication to nurturing well-rounded, confident, and engaged citizens, who will contribute positively to society, ensuring a brighter and more promising future for all. It does so by intentionally focussing on what can’t be left to chance.

See this video where Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Mera Penehira and Vaughan Bidois (members of Rōpū Kaitiaki) explain ‘Why we need Te Mātaiaho’.

The whakapapa

Te Mātaiaho means ‘to observe and examine the strands of learning’. The whakapapa of Te Mātaiaho is a taonga gifted to us by the very knowledgeable Dr Wayne Ngata and members of Rōpū Kaitiaki, and builds on the word ‘mātai’ which means to observe, focus on or examine.

Watch this introductory video where Dr Ngata explains the meaning and thinking behind the whakapapa.

The whakapapa intentionally interweaves all of the curriculum components and takes us away from thinking about the NZC as having a ‘front end’ and ‘back end’. This deliberate design supports us all to keep learners at the fore of our curriculum decision making and planning. I see each component building on the previous and connecting with the next, with the framework itself acting as a progression.  

Image by: Screenshot from Te Mātaiaho -March 2023 draft

It has also been useful for me to think about the whakapapa as having why, what and how parts. Let’s unpack this a bit…


Mātairangi | The guiding kaupapa

How does Mātairangi centre ākonga?

“The curriculum takes its direction from Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles, particularly its provision for the active protection of taonga, including te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, and mātauranga Māori, and for fair and equitable educational processes and outcomes for Māori and for all ākonga.” (p.8)   Watch this video: Our shared kaupapa

Mātainuku | Creating a foundation

How does Mātainuku centre ākonga?

“The curriculum broadens the view of success by recognising the close relationship between achievement and wellbeing, and it underlines the importance of setting and supporting high expectations for ākonga, enabling all to learn and excel.” (p.12).  Read p. 12-15 in Te Mātaiaho to learn more about the principles and calls to action for leaders. The three principles of Mātainuku are:

  • give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi

  • hold a broad view of ākonga success, and

  • hold high expectations for all ākonga.

Mātaitipu | Vision for young people

How does Mātaitipu centre ākonga? 

Mātaitipu hei papa whenuakura. | Grow and nourish a thriving community.

“Because ākonga are at the centre of education, their aspirations for themselves as learners matter. Ākonga need to feel the curriculum is relevant and to see themselves reflected in what they are learning.” (p.16). Watch this video where young people discuss the visioning process: Vision for young people


Mātairea | Supporting progress

How Mātairea centres ākonga? 

“The curriculum starts from the premise that all ākonga are taonga who can achieve their potential and excel. Their progress through the phases of learning is cumulative and strengths-based. Meaningful pace and progress are supported by teachers using responsive pedagogy.” (p.17).  Complete the online module about the progressions here.

Mātaiaho | Learning areas

How does Mātaiaho centre ākonga?

“The curriculum helps ākonga build and navigate knowledge in ways that support their positive contribution to the world. Through the Understand, Know, Do (UKD) structure and progress outcomes of the eight learning areas, it ensures they have access to a breadth of knowledge.” (p.22). This link will take you to the Te ao tangata | social sciences learning area and implementation supports:   https://curriculumrefresh.education.govt.nz/te-ao-tangata-social-sciences 

Tip: Click on ‘Refreshed NZC’ in the top right for links to the other learning areas support, as they are released they will show here.


Mātaioho | School curriculum design and review

How does Mātaioho centre ākonga? 

“Schools engage in an ongoing process using the national curriculum to design a rich and meaningful school curriculum with progress and pace at the heart of the design and in local partnerships with tangata whenua, ākonga, whānau, and the wider community.” (p.38). The Readiness Tool (p.3) in the Implementation Support Pack is a great support for your school curriculum design and review.

Mātaiahikā | Connecting with place and community

How does Mātaiahikā centre ākonga? 

Mutually beneficial partnerships with tangata whenua as kaitiaki of the local area (rohe), with whānau, and with the wider community foster connections to place and develop understandings about the world that ākonga can act on in their own rohe to support their learning.” (p.40). Check out the resources on the Treaty People website to support you with engaging with mana whenua.

**Note the excerpts above are taken from the ‘In a nutshell’ statements from the March 2023 draft of Te Mātaiaho.

Now what?

At this time, there is ample opportunity for leaders and kaiako to take stock and review the opportunities and aspirations presented by these ‘mātai’ – to evolve our national curriculum, and to localise it into their school  curriculum. Where will you start?

Consider these questions:

  • To what extent do the perspectives of your ākonga inform the design of your local curriculum and school planning and policy?

  • How does the school access and build upon diverse student voice – for what is working and what needs to change?

  • How ongoing are mechanisms for student feedback and review?

  • How does the school implement new and sustaining ways of engaging students in future initiatives?

  • How do you support ākonga to lead their own learning?

Take care of our children.Take care of what they hear: take care of what they feel.For how the children grow, will be the shape of Aotearoa“. 

                                                                                    ~ Dame Whina Cooper

Additional useful Links: