by Christopher B. Ruthe

Controversy swirls around the proposed new science teaching in our schools. Driving the reforms is the Ministry of Education on the road map of the Ardern Government. The Ministry says the new science curriculum is required to “ensure parity between matauranga Māori and particularly Western (Pakeha) epistemologies”. Six of NZ’s leading scientists wrote a letter to the Listener raising their serious academic concerns. They said (inter-alia) “Indigenous knowledge is critical for the preservation and perpetration of culture…. However, in the discovery of empirical, universal truths it falls far short of what we can define science itself”.

In a revealing NZ Listener article headed “The Meaning of Science” (7-13.8.2021) was noted that The NZ Royal Society (being NZ’s scientific elite) decried their own members saying “The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that matauranga is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by the Royal Society. The Society strongly upholds the value of matauranga and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science” (Listener p.16).

The Ministry of Education fails to define Maori Science. The Royal Society clearly holds that it comes within their definition of science, debunking as narrow and outmoded the conceptual underpinnings of science — the outmoded being the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. Dr Georgina Stewart in a PhD thesis Kaupapa Maori Science succinctly sets out what it is in this table and this is the intellectual underpinning for the new Aotearoan view of science.

Category  Scientific worldview  Māori worldview 
Origins of the universe  The Big Bang bought matter into existence. The universe is still evolving in time and space. 

3 processes bought the world into existence:
Te Āo Korekore,
Te Āo Pō, Te Āo Mārama. 
Origin of Species  Different species evolved through genetic mutations and survival of the fittest  The children of Ngā Atua 
Views on spirituality  Does not take into account the spiritual, mainly because it is not measurable.  Spiritual and physical worlds are not separate, but continuous 
Values which are upheld  Objectivity, Scepticism, Rationale, Truth  Whanaungatanga , Kaitiakitanga, Manaakitanga, Wairuatanga, Kotahitanga, Aroha, Tika, Pōno, 
Behaviours  The scientific method: Systematic measurable
investigation of phenomena 

Rules of tapu Tikanga Māori 

The new curriculum’s Five Pillars 

The case for the new curriculum is predicated on five pillars.  ‘Outdated’ science as claimed by the Royal Society) is: (1) Eurocentric/ Western (2) suppressed Maori knowledge  (3) provided the rationale for colonisation of Māori. (4) Maori science  has parity with ‘colonialist Eurocentric’ science (5) Maori science is from time immemorial – Te Ao Korrekore, Te Ao Po and Te Ao Marama. What facts support the Five Pillars? 

Science is Eurocentric Western?

Students are to be told this is  the new truth, whereas most international scholars consider that the scientific method, though honed in Europe, is an amalgam of inputs from diverse sources. The contribution of the genius of Egyptian engineering the with Pyramids is insulted as being European.  

Bhāskara, an Indian Hindu (c. 600 – c. 680) who introduced a circle for the zero into mathematical formula — a critical development in science — is European. The Golden Age of Islam’s (9th and 10th centuries) contributions to the development of mathematics, astronomy, physics and chemistry: European and Eurocentric.  The students are to be taught this and the denegration of other great cultures will be nourished by this new curriculum. 

Western science a tool of colonial oppression?

The Listener article (above) stated: “The decolonization of science and the education system is underway in earnest as a matter of public policy”. The Ministry of Education loudly asserts: “Western science has been used to support the dominance of Eurocentric views among which is science’s use as a rationale for colonization of Maori and the suppression of Maori knowledge”. This our children will be taught as scientific truth.

Students will be required to believe that “Western science has been used to suppress Maori knowledge.” Conspicuously absent are facts proving scientific methodology deliberately suppressed Maori knowledge.

History is replete with example of societies replacing ideas and concepts when what are considered more insightful analyses — such as Darwin’s origin of the species — is seen as a more useful tool than “The children of Nga Atua”. To demand students believe this is active suppression by science?

Science needs “decolonising” (!)

The new curriculum has a further objective — the “decolonising of science”. Teachers of science will have to teach about the political and culturally subversive nature of eurocentric science and its deliberate suppression of Maori science and knowledge.  Rejected is the historical evidence that there were a multiplicity of factors in British colonisation, including–

(a) economic: access to resources, trade, (b) political: for example the British didn’t like the French sniffing around, (c) sociological: the poor escaping poverty and lack of political rights and freedoms.

Science taught as an epistemology demands parity

The Ministry says the new science curriculum is needed to  “ensure parity between matauranga Māori and “particularly Western (Pakeha) epistemologies”. Epistemologies means “the theory of knowledge — the distinction between justified belief and opinion.” (Oxford English Dictionary). The Ministry, in using “epistemologies” clearly considers the new “science” to be taught is concerned with distinguishing between justified belief and opinion. It is this “truth” that provides the philosophical basis for teaching the equal validity of two opposing world views on what science is.  We await the results of this truly revolutionary experiment. Will our science students become the All Blacks of world science?