Ngā Kura ki Hawai'iki

A pilot project is researching the potential for new education models based on building and sailing waka hourua.

Te Pūtea Whakatupu Trust commissioned the two-year project to trial and research the potential for new kura models that integrate waka hourua experiences and learning. The project, Rangatahi Kura Waka, is investigating ways of using the knowledge, experience and cultural foundations associated with voyaging vessels to improve education outcomes for Māori youth.

TPWT director Rikirangi Gage said the aim was to address longstanding and persistent Māori underachievement in mainstream education. As part of this, the potential for new schooling models for Māori needed to be explored.

“As trustees of a significant fund that is expressly for the purpose of Māori education and training, we need to find innovative solutions that broaden the range of schooling pathways available to Māori and lift their achievement in education,” Mr Gage said.












The foundation concept is Ngā Kura ki Hawai’iki – a network of kura across Polynesia that would integrate whakapapa, tikanga and migration traditions to build cultural strength and identity and re-build tribal connections.

“This concept is in the developmental stage and is only one of a range of niche projects being considered – but it has clear potential to make a difference for Māori,” Mr Gage said.

Waka hourua expert Hoturoa Kerr leads the Rangatahi Kura Waka pilot project through Te Toki Voyaging Trust, which has broad experience in working with Māori youth. Mr Kerr said Te Toki was excited that this pilot will generate detailed data about achievement and will provide for multiple pathways and varied school settings.

The Rangatahi Kura Waka pilot project will see Māori students from 10 mainstream high schools, wharekura and small rural Māori schools participate in a programme of learning and sailing aboard the waka hourua Haunui. Under Mr Kerr’s leadership, Haunui uses traditional navigation methods with the mission of revitalising waka culture and knowledge in the Pacific, protecting the environment, promoting awareness of the oceans, pollution and climate change.

The project has worked with students of all ages but its priority focus is Year 10 through to Year 13.

“These are the years in which large numbers of rangatahi Māori drop out of schooling, often due to lack of motivation from their schooling experience,” Mr Kerr said. “This programme is designed to change that attitude during this vulnerable period by changing the learning mix, allowing the powerful experience with waka hourua to impact identity and self esteem, and to empower leadership and personal growth.”

The pilot project aims:

  • To pilot and research the use of waka as a vehicle to lift Māori educational outcomes and the development of leadership skills;
  • To compare and contrast the application of the model in both rural and urban settings;
  • To develop a sustainable kura model (or models) that utilises mātauranga Māori as the core to a wide range of curricula; and
  • To improve the NCEA and other pathways for educational development in fields associated with waka mātauranga.

A diverse range of week-long sailing programmes has been trialled, including initiatives that re-engage disaffected students, focus on environmental science, and develop leadership. Participating schools include Ngā Taiatea Wharekura in Hamilton, Northcote College in Auckland, Otago Boys High School, Otago Girls High School and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tupoho in Whanganui.

During one programme, in collaboration with the NZ Marine Studies Centre, Māori students spent a week aboard Haunui in Otago habour collecting scientific data, including organism counts and water clarity testing. This was a useful exercise in trialling how the waka hourua programme could be utilised as an effective education engagement and delivery system for Māori in a wide range of curricula.

“Through the waka hourua experience, students are contextualising the knowledge of their tūpuna and aligning it to western concepts of what comprises knowledge,” Mr Kerr said. “Sailing a waka requires precise and detailed knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, physics, marine science – all the sciences and knowledge systems. For many of our students, discovering the validity of the knowledge of our seafaring ancestors ignites a new interest in learning.

“Suddenly our disaffected rangatahi are re-engaging, because, for example, to navigate a waka without modern instrumentation you must understand the relationship between time and distance, and be able to work the equations. Suddenly, maths and science have a practical purpose, and students have a reason to learn.

“It is about making sure our rangatahi enjoy the learning experience, creating an environment in which they’re not afraid to learn. After a week at sea, there’s a dramatic improvement for many rangatahi in social skills, confidence, discipline, sense of responsibility, initiative-taking, self-belief. They have engaged in education, and had a great time doing it.”

Outcomes sought by the pilot programme for students involved include:

  • a lift in the number of participants staying on at school and completing qualifications;
  • improved achievement by students in curriculum unit and achievement standards;
  • increased self esteem, confidence and vibrancy;
  • deeper understanding of tikanga Māori and Pacific knowledge; and
  • enhanced focus on completing formal schooling.

Another key outcome is the establishment of a viable delivery model that can continue in schools utilising existing funding streams and NCEA and tertiary curricula.

“This will enable rangatahi and encourage them to pursue other opportunities in their lives. They will have acquired the beginnings of a sound cultural and educational base that will assist them in becoming effective and influential contributors to New Zealand society,” Mr Kerr said.

“If the waka hourua project proves successful as a platform for learning, the next step is to work out how to create pathways in which waka mātauranga becomes an effective delivery system for Māori within mainstream curriculum.”

Depending on the results of the pilot project, the Trust may facilitate establishing a network of tribal schools in Polynesia that would connect through ancestral and origin traditions. Curricula would include activities associated with waka hourua.

Mr Gage said: “The potential is for such kura to emphasise tribal knowledge and help re-build the traditional knowledge base and connections across the Pacific. Senior students would work toward the construction and sailing of waka hourua between kura in Aotearoa and across the Pacific. Learning such as this integrates whakapapa, tikanga and migration traditions and builds cultural strength and identity as well as tribal connections – all of which lays an important foundation for Māori achievement.”

Ngā Kura ki Hawaiiki

Networking Kura through Waka Haurua


Governance Training

Implementing a Māori Governance Training Framework


“We can support projects WE believe will make a difference to Māori - and do it our way. It’s important to have organisations like Te Pūtea Whakatupu Trust who are bold and game enough to employ innovative ideas and challenge the status quo.”

John Tamihere, Te Pūtea Whakatupu Trust