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Multicultural Perspectives in Early Childhood Education

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The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the multicultural perspectives of Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education [MOE], 1996), the early childhood education curriculum of Aotearoa. In order to accomplish this, I will examine the term ‘multiculturalism’, its place in early childhood education and its historical context, and the concepts of individualistic and collectivist approaches to childrearing practices. I will explore the diverse cultural values and beliefs of Te Ao Māori, Pasifika people, and Indigenous people of Australia, and endeavour to unpack such cultural practices in regards to Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996). Helder Cāmara (1971) once stated “Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages” (p.61). Not only is Aotearoa babbling with a number of different languages, but it consists of a myriad of cultures, and Ramsay (2004) perceives the term ‘culture’ to be that which “profoundly affects how we perceive the world and relate to people, objects and nature” (p.104).

Multiculturalism is defined by languages, religions, diverse cultures, and also in the forming of reciprocal relationships in order to comprehend, and acknowledge, each other’s beliefs and values (Pluto, 2010). It is suggested in Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) that multiculturalism is evident in Aotearoa, through its “diversity of beliefs about childrearing practices, kinship roles, obligations, (and) codes of behaviour” (p. 18). A sense of such cultural relationships surely would have been in place in Aotearoa by the estimated first migration of Polynesians and Te Āo Māori in the mid 1200’s (Irwin & Walrond, 2012). The diverse cultures in society tend to either bat for the individualistic team – where self expression and independence is nurtured and promoted (Gonzalez-Mena, 2005), or for the collectivism team, where a vision is upheld that people “see themselves… as a member of the group rather than a separate self” (Gonzalez-Mena, 2002, p. 14). More often than not human beings will stick like glue to their cultural heritage and according to Chan (2006), “peoples perspectives of the world are influenced by their culture, values and beliefs about themselves and others” (p.35).

In terms of migration, the concept of ‘cultural hegemony’ is always in danger of taking place among society – in that the beliefs and values of one culture are overwhelmed by those of another (Jackson Lears, 1985). Early childhood kaiako/teachers of Aotearoa need to be aware of this concept as it can not only influence cultural beliefs and values, but diminish the roots of a tamaiti/child’s belief in their uniqueness and where they fit, as a culture, in this immense universe (Gomez, 1991). Ramsey (2004) suggests that “the relationships within and among cultural groups evolve” (p.105), and that we, as kaiako, need to acknowledge such changes and not just from our own cultural perspective (Ramsay, 2004, p. 110).

People hold a myriad of views in regards to the diverse cultures of our world, and Maybury-Lewis’s study (cited in Nativeweb, 2011) defines Indigenous people as those whom “claim their lands because they were there first or have occupied them since time immemorial.. (and).. groups that have been conquered by peoples racially, ethnically or culturally different from themselves”. An indigenous culture of Aotearoa, Te Āo Māori, places huge importance on maintaining their identity from that of other cultures, and Hoyt (2013) believes that “although some of the beliefs and traditions have been diluted due to outside influence over the last 150 to 200 years, many are still revered and commonly practiced”.

The cultural values and beliefs of Te Āo Māori generally revolve around ‘wairua/the spirit world’, and the concepts of ‘kotahitanga/unity’, ‘manaakitanga/hospitality and kindness’, ‘whakawhanaunga/relationships’, and ‘whānau/family group’ (Moorfield, 2005) – “everything and everyone are connected” (Hoyts, 2013). There is an underlying sense of collectivism amidst Te Āo Māori, in that people are part of a social community, and tamariki/children are raised within that community – Gonzalez-Mena (2002) suggests that a collectivist culture raises tamariki with a mutual goal of ensuring “vital connections last a lifetime, not just until adulthood” (p 14). Te Āo Māori is indeed acknowledged within Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) in that there is, first and foremost, provision “specifically for Màori immersion services” (MOE, 1996, p.7). The four founding principles of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996); ‘Whakamana/Empowerment’, ‘Kotahitanga/Unity and Holistic Development’, ‘Whānau tangata/Family and Community’, and ‘Ngā Hononga/Relationships’, create strong links between early childhood education and the beliefs and values of Te Āo Māori.

Such links appear to inspire, and maintain, a socio-cultural approach towards a journey of learning and development in regards to “the interconnecting social and cultural worlds of children” (MOE, 2010). According to Ritchie (2008) “Māori language is even more inaccessible, and largely invisible, to the non-Māori population” (p.203), and in the ‘Communication/Mana Reo’ strand of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) it states that “one of the major cultural tasks for children is to develop competence in and understanding of language” (p.72). Kaiako have an imperative role to play in ensuring various forms of language learning are maintained, nurtured and encouraged, and it is obvious that Te Reo Māori/Māori language will not become extinct due to the commitment that is in place in the ‘Belonging/Mana whenua’ strand of the early childhood education curriculum – “staff should support tikanga Màori and the use of the Màori language” (MOE, 1996, p.55).

Bell (2005) believes that Aotearoa offers a sense of nurturing and freedom “from traditional communal life.. (and more) work and educational opportunities” (p.15) for people from different nations of the Pacific. Immigrants to Aotearoa from the Cook Islands, Sāmoa, Niue, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and smaller Pacific nations, are formerly identified as people of Pasifika (Pasifika in New Zealand, 2013). The word ‘Pasifika’ derives from the Latin phrase “Mare Pacificum… peaceful sea” (Perrot, 2004), and each nation of Pasifika peacefully embraces strength in its identity (Glasgow, 2010). McKenzie (2011) suggests there are many layers that make up the cultural values and beliefs of Pasifika people – layers that are strongly based around traditional protocols and “family environments, village, church and the wider community context” (McKenzie, 2011).

Such values and beliefs are soaked in the virtue of respect and are an imperative part of everyday occurrences – for example, religious traditions around meetings and mealtimes, and the passing on of traditional knowledge and language of Pasifika in an oral manner (Glasgow, 2010). There is also the communication concept of ‘Le tautala’ (a sense of respect in being silent) (McKenzie, 2011). Gonzalez-Mena (2002) suggests that the collectivism approach to raising tamariki focuses on instilling “respect for authority, harmony, and group consensus” (p.14). For Pasifika people respect is of utmost importance, and the Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) strand of ‘Belonging/Mana whenua’ encompasses the sense of respect in acknowledging the “achievements and aspirations of the child’s family and community” (p.54) and in offering opportunities for the formation of reciprocal relationships between tamariki, whānau and kaiako. Relationship building acknowledges the tamariki(s) right to develop and learn in a multicultural, and social, environment – the ‘Relationships/Ngā hononga’ principle of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) advocates for reciprocal relationships in the provision of “encouragement, warmth, and acceptance” (p.43) by kaiako and adults. Whānau and community are an essential part of the Pasifika culture, and also in early childhood environment, and Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) recognises such importance by weaving the ‘Family and Community/Whānau Tangata’ principle throughout the curriculum (p.42).

The grandness of whānau involvement is reflected well within the ‘Contribution/Mana Tangata’ and ‘Communication/Mana Reo’ goals of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996). In Pasifika culture the sharing of knowledge is passed on orally, and Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) nurtures this practice in that tamariki “experience the stories and symbols of their own and other cultures” (p.72). Such sharing can occur with the invitation of whānau, and community participation which enhances tamariki(s) ability to “make sense of, and participate in, the wider cultural and social world.. (and enhances) their recognition of their spiritual dimension and the contribution of their heritage and environment to their own lives” (MOE, 1996, p.72) and that of their peers. This in turn ensures that “learning and development are fostered if the wellbeing of their (tamariki) family and community is supported; if their family, culture, knowledge and community are respected” (MOE, 1996, p.42).

According to Townsend-Cross (2004), a cultural value that the Indigenous people of Australia hold tight to is “everything and everyone is connected and balanced through relationships” (p.2). This is underpinned by that of ‘The Dreaming’ – a law-based belief in which stories derived from ancestral beings, innately “pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations” (Australian Government, 2008). Childrearing practices are based upon the principles of ‘The Dreaming’, whānau (including extended whānau and animals), the home, the land, and the country of Australia, and the relationships and connections between all of these principles and the people (Townsend-Cross, 2004, p.4).

For the tamariki, knowledge of their culture is essential in their learning and development (Townsend-Cross, 2004), and such knowledge is centred on the deep-rootedness of traditional stories, dances and history within the community (p.5) – “traditions connect us to the past” (Ramsay, 2004, p.105). This Indigenous culture is governed by a mix of collectivism, where “learning does not occur in isolation from family, community or environment” (Townsend-Cross, 2004, p.5), and that of individualism which is evident in “the notion that the need-satisfying, egocentric, self-centredness of infancy and early childhood is natural; young children freely express their needs and emotions” (Townsend-Cross, 2004, p.3).

Townsend-Cross (2004) suggests that “Indigenous pedagogies have articulated learning as being a process of experiencing, of absorbing: a sharing of knowing” (p.3) and this belief is reflected in the socio-cultural approach of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996). Such approaches create “communities of learners” (MOE, 2010), and the Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) principle of ‘Holistic Development/Kotahitanga’ advocates for communal learning, yet supporting tamariki in their “ whole context, the physical surroundings, the emotional context, relationships with others, and the child’s immediate needs at any moment” (p. 41).

The goal of ‘Communication/Mana Reo’ within Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) points out that “Language does not consist only of words, sentences, and stories: it includes the language of images, art, dance, drama, mathematics, movement, rhythm, and music” (MOE, 1996, p.72). This concept reflects positively for the Indigenous people as they utilise dance and art, in a non-verbal sense, to express oneself on a spiritual level (Australian Government, 2008), and Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) suggests that early childhood education needs to “encompass all dimensions of children’s learning and development and should see the child as a whole” (MOE, 1996, p.30).

In regards to nurturing the cultural beliefs and values of tamariki, the word ‘Education’, a derivative of the Latin word ‘Educare’, means “to bring out that which is within. Human values are latent in every human being; one cannot acquire them from outside” (Sai, 2012). In order to live up to such a meaning, we as kaiako need to “recognise the important place of spirituality (and cultural practices) in the development of the whole child” (MOE, 1996, p.47), and know that teaching in a multicultural society “promotes the child’s sense of the uniqueness of his own culture as a positive characteristic and enables the child to accept the uniqueness of the cultures of others” (Gomez, 1991).

In conclusion, it is imperative that early childhood educational services throughout Aotearoa uphold the expectation of meeting the diverse cultural needs within our multicultural society in order to ensure the continuation of cultural identities. Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) is a living document of Aotearoa, and also a document in which multicultural perspectives are catered for on a multitude of levels. Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996) is an early childhood curriculum to be proud of.


Australian Government. (2008). The Dreaming. Retrieved January 26th, 2013, from http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/dreaming Bell, D. (Ed.). (2005). New to New Zealand: A guide to ethnic groups in New Zealand (new edition, pp. 13-16). Auckland: Reed Publishing. Cāmara, H. (1971). Spiral of violence. London: Sheed & Ward Ltd. Chan, A. (2006). “The teachers said my child is different.” The First Years/Ngā Tau Tuatahi. New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 8(1), 34-38. Glasgow, A. (2010). Cultural literacy. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from http://educate.ece.govt.nz/learning/exploringPractice/Literacy/CulturalL iteracy.aspx Gomez, R. (1991). ERIC digests: Teaching with a multicultural perspective. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from http://ericdigests.org/19925/perspective.htm Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2002). Working with cultural differences: Individualism and collectivism. The First Years/Ngā Tau Tuatahi. New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 4(2), 13-15. Hoyt, A. (n.d.). How stuff works. Retrieved January 20, 2013, from http://history.howstuffworks.com/australia-and-new-zealandhistory/maori3.htm Irwin, G., & Walrond, C. (2012). When was New Zealand first settled? Retrieved January, 9, 2013, from http://TeAra.govt.nz/en/when-wasnew-zealand-first-settled

Jackson Lears, J. (1985). The concept of cultural hegemony: Problems and possibilities. The American Historical Review, 90(3), 567-593. McKenzie, R. (2011). Challenges to educators of Pasifika children: Teachers telling and silence of children is cultural. [Web log comment]. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from
http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2011/08/challengesto-educators-of-pasifika-children.html Ministry of Education (2010). Early Childhood Care and Education in New Zealand. Retrieved January 26, 2013, from http://www.educate.ece.govt.nz/learning/curriculumAndLearning/Asses smentforlearning/KeiTuaotePae/Book2/FamilyAndCommunity.aspx Ministry of Education. (1996). Te whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media. Moorefield, J. (2005). Te aka: Māori-English, English-Māori dictionary and index. Auckland: Pearson Education. NativeWeb. (2011). Defining ‘Indigenous Peoples’. Retrieved January 9, 2013, from http://nativeweb.org/info/indigenousdefined.html Pasifika in New Zealand. (n.d.). Te Kete Ipurangi: Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika. Retrieved January 21, 2013 from http://leap.tki.org.nz/Pasifika-in-New-Zealand Perrot, A. (2004, August 4). Pasifika – Identity or illusion. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from http://nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10455 473

Pluto, B. (2010). Including multiculturalism in a preschool. Retrieved January 11, 2013, from http://children.ezinemark.com/includingmulticulturalism-in-a-preschool-1711013fc70.html Ramsey, P. (2004). Teaching and learning in a diverse world: Multicultural education for young children (3rd ed.). New York: Teacher’s College Press. Ritchie, J. (2008). Honouring Māori subjectivities within early childhood education in Aotearoa. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 9(3), 202-210. Sai, S. (n.d.). Sacred and secular education in human values. Retrieved January 15, 2013, from http://sathyasaiehv.org.uk/educare.html Townsend-Cross, M. (2004). Indigenous Australian perspectives in early childhood education. Australian

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