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Ngā Toi – The Māori Arts in Education by Rawiri Hindle

Updated: May 13, 2020

I want to start with a story, from 2003, when I was working with a class of five and six-year-olds in a Māori immersion school, developing a performing arts exemplar.

In one of the activities we encouraged the students to move with the quality of flying ‘as if they were a leaf in the wind’. One boy started to move, and his imagination was so alive and in the moment that it was as if he was a leaf in the wind. The quality of his being was evident to all those watching.

This performance led me to question what it was that the boy was doing that had such a heightened impact on the experience of the performer and his audience. The interesting thing is that, if we were to assess this performance according to skill-based performance criteria of the Ngā Toi curriculum, we would perhaps look at: the child can rotate; the child can use levels; the child can move through space; and so on. But to me it was evident that what was missing in the performance criteria was the ability to assess the quality of his actions, the state of his being, the aliveness of his imagination, and the impact of the performance on the audience; in other words, the intangible aspects, the elements that are not easy to describe but made this performance stand out from the others.

This analysis of the ‘leaf in the wind’ exemplar illustrates the need in arts education to acknowledge being, and to develop ways and processes to allow students and teachers to express being in and through Māori art.

From a Māori viewpoint an holistic mind, body and soul perspective is referred to as true knowing or true knowledge. Marsden poses that:

“When the illumination of the spirit arrives in the minds of a person that is when knowing occurs… When a person understands both in the mind and the spirit then it is said that the person truly “knows”.

Marsden refers to this sense of a heightened way of knowing as being ‘in flow’ with the universal process, a sense of oneness - experienced through being and as presence.

Ngā Toi: Some History

The three pou from Ngā Toi: toi puoro (music), toi ataata (visual arts), and

ngā mahi a te rehia (dance, drama and games)

In the year 2001 the Ministry of Education established a training programme to ensure that the Māori arts curriculum, Ngā Toi i Roto i te Marautanga o Aotearoa, was implemented in Māori immersion schools throughout New Zealand. I had the role of National Coordinator and over a six year period facilitated the training of approximately 90 Ngā Toi resource teachers.

The professional development covered the three pou (discipline) within the Ngā Toi curriculum: toi puoro (music), toi ataata (visual arts), and ngā mahi a te rehia (dance, drama and games), and also the marau (planning) implementation. Over the training period we had some amazing expert presenters such as Tanemahuta Gray, Ruia Aperehama, Jim Moriarty, Whirimako Black and Bert van Dijk. We also drew on teachers from kura who were viewed as experts  in one or more of the disciplines.

These workshops were inspirational. What stood out was that the facilitators moved, from the beginning of their training, from people who were quite fearful, unsure and totally curriculum focused to people who were out there giving all their energy and passion to and for Ngā Toi. In short the PLD implementation was a buzz!! The numerous workshops I presented over that extraordinary time were mana enhancing. The term manaaki has a meaning which translates to ‘uplift one mana’ and in doing this your own mana is uplifted. This meaning befits the feeling of passion and expression that was part of the Ngā Toi and Arts in education movement of that glorious era.

Supporting the training was the development and implementation of Ngā Toi resources, the Ngā Toi national exemplars and  Ngā Toi online. It was an honour to be leading many of these developments. In comparison to how Ngā Toi in education has looked over the last decade, those years were a buzz with the energy and vitality of Ngā Toi. During this time the arts were also a substantial part of student learning at Victoria University Teachers College and there was wonderful collaboration between the lecturers in the arts, including myself.

During this time I worked alongside the four national co-ordinators for Dance, Drama, Visual Arts and Music. We ran workshops, presented at conferences and spoke on panels about Ngā Toi throughout the country. There was a sense of collaboration and being on a journey together (He waka eke noa). The Teacher Refresher Course Committee (TRCC) were amazing advocates for the arts in education and for a period of time I was designing and running Ngā Toi based 3 to 4 day workshops for Māori and English medium teachers at least once a year. These training workshops were extraordinary. The level of participation was infectious and without a doubt people were engaging and participating through their beings/wairua/souls. 

If we are to move forward and not only invigorate Ngā Toi and The Arts in education but also create greater synergises between these two distinct curricula then the period between 2007 - 2012 can be seen as a depository of rich examples. What was remarkable about that period was that the time and space was created for collaborations which, in my opinion, mostly happened in authentic and organic ways. 

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