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Environmental Education/Education for Sustainability informed by Māori Culture

Learning for Survival, Resilience, Well-being and Continuance : An Epistemology and Pedagogy for Environmental Education/Education for Sustainability informed by Māori Culture

PhD Candidate

David McKay


Project dates


Central question

How is 'environmental education' or 'education for sustainability' conceptualised, understood, and practiced among New Zealand Māori?   

Brief abstract

The literature suggests that philosophies, worldviews and approaches of indigenous cultures may be key to an urgent shift in paradigm towards holistic ethics, attitudes, values and behaviours essential for an ecologically sustainable future, if not humanity’s survival.

David's study investigated how ‘environmental education’ (EE) or ‘education for sustainability’ (EfS) or its equivalent, is conceptualised, understood and practiced within Māori culture. His research sought to identify ways in which understandings and approaches informed by Māori culture might help address epistemological and pedagogical gaps in mainstream EE and/or EfS.

The findings of David's research indicate that the ultimate goals of Western perspectives of EE/EfS underpin Māori cultural perspectives of learning, attitudes, values and behaviours. An intrinsic, holistic epistemology and pedagogy for EE/EfS informed by Māori culture has emerged in the context of Aotearoa-New Zealand, which addresses key epistemological and pedagogical gaps identified in mainstream Western EE/EfS literature.

The epistemology for EE/EfS informed by Māori culture that has emerged from this research is fundamentally different from mainstream Western models. Rather than EE/EfS ‘in’, ‘about’ and/or ‘for’ the environment, all living and learning informed by Māori culture is understood to occur ‘as’ or ‘as part of the environment’. A clear, engaging and relevant purpose for holistic education and learning is identified arising from the epistemology, with pedagogy focused upon equipping individuals and communities with knowledge, values and skills for life: for survival, resilience, well-being, and continuance. The key objectives for learning are individual and community well-being and resilience, survival and continuance. A flexible curriculum informed by Māori cultural values, as articulated by participants in this research, arises from a base or framework of core life-skills embodying EE/EfS. Synergies are identified with the National Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007), Action Competence theory (Jensen & Schnack, 1997), and the Enviroschools Programme (Enviroschools, 2012). A conceptual model illustrating the epistemology and pedagogical framework is presented and explained. The nature, purpose and objectives of the emergent epistemology and pedagogy embody community resilience and socio-ecological sustainability.

A further finding of David's research was that meaningful integration of principles and values informed by Māori culture in EE/EfS guidelines and policy (e.g. Chapman and Eames, 2008) is not workable so long as such guidelines and policy are founded upon mainstream Western perspectives and assumptions, whereas meaningful integration of mainstream Western perspectives upon holistic frameworks would be workable – particularly in a progressive transitional process.