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Integrating Te Tiriti o Waitangi with the superdiversity of ECE in Aotearoa New Zealand

By Dr Vicki Hargraves

In our webinar with Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie and Dr Angel Chan, the concept of superdiversity is explored within a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-framed context for early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand. This article explores the key insights into superdiversity and how it can be integrated with Te Tiriti

Superdiversity has a specific meaning related to migration-related issues 

The term ‘superdiversity’ was coined by Stephen Vertovec in 2007. It is not just a word to replace diversity (normally understood as language, cultural and ethnic diversity) but focuses on migrants, and the different social issues that have emerged from the phenomenon of global migration. In the ECE setting in New Zealand it is particularly relevant as many of the diverse families and groups attending ECE settings have a migrant background. The phenomenon of superdiversity helps us to look at the diversity of immigrants not only in terms of language and cultural practices, but in terms of their migration pattern (being highly mobile, for example) and their migration status (refugee, voluntary migrant or skills-based migrant). 

Meeting obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi while responding to the superdiversity of Aotearoa New Zealand 

Recognising and responding to superdiversity and upholding the obligations of the Treaty are both important – it is not one or the other, biculturalism or multiculturalism, but both. Te Tiriti o Waitangi encourages us to stop functioning in a monocultural way and to be more open-minded and oriented towards diverse ways of being, bringing the different cultural aspirations of Māori families to bear on our work in ECE. Teachers can be responsive to Māori as a fundamental priority under Te Tiriti and use that same approach with other families in their centres.  

Building deep relationships with families to understand and be responsive to their needs 

Teachers need to take the initiative to understand and build a trusting relationship with each of the families in their setting. Building relationships will require teachers to work around language barriers by advocating for and finding language speakers in the setting, paid or unpaid, in order to find out each family’s stories and their aspirations for their child. Migrant families may not have a large social network, so teachers should try to create open and welcoming environments so that families feel comfortable to spend time in the setting, interacting with the teachers and other families.  

Demonstrating respect for different views and aspirations  

There can sometimes be conflicts between families’ beliefs, practices and aspirations and those of the early childhood setting. These conflicts can happen with any family, whether they have a migrant background or not. For example, teachers might find it hard to disrupt children’s free play in order to have a karakia, but at the same time want to respect the priorities of Māori elders. Acknowledging and conceding to the priorities of others can help teachers to reflect upon and rethink some of the ideas in their teaching philosophy. One way to be more responsive is to put yourself in the position of not being the expert and be open to other ways of being.  

Some families may not want early childhood settings to be inclusive of their home culture, preferring that their children learn the English language and the dominant cultural practices. It is better to first build relationships with families, and then, as the relationship builds, address their concerns and share some information about the benefits of embracing diverse cultures, or the ways in which young children are capable of mastering multiple languages at the same time.  

Creating inclusive environments by normalising differences 

Using a range of languages and cultural practices in an early childhood setting helps to normalise differences. Being inclusive also means becoming more sensitive to the the language that we use with families, and assumptions and expectations that we have, such as the concept of a ‘teddy bears’ picnic’ or even the idea that every child possesses a teddy bear. Celebrating cultural festivals can be a first step towards recognising diverse cultures and languages, but doing it once a year can be tokenistic. Inviting families to share songs or traditional recipes is important and valuable, and can be incorporated into the setting’s practices throughout the year. If an early childhood setting does celebrate cultural festivals, it should be done well rather than in a superficial or piecemeal way, involving members of staff, families and elders from that cultural group. In the same way, early childhood settings should ensure that speaking te reo or home languages is valued, with each staff member taking responsibility for growing their capacity to speak multiple languages.