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Our early years


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Te Wāhanga was established in the 1970s

NZCER was established in 1934, but it was not until the 1970s that a dedicated Māori research unit was created.

The unit was initially called Te Wāhanga Māori or NZCER’s Māori Unit. For a time it became Te Wāhanga Kaupapa Māori.  Since 2011, it has been known as Te Wāhanga.

Dr Richard Benton was the founder and lead of the unit. From 1973, he led a small team of permanent staff and partnered with fieldworkers and research interns.

Te Wāhanga did a linguistic census of Māori households in the 1970s

In 1973 Dr Benton began ‘a comprehensive general survey of language use’, which became known as a the Benton Report.  Over the next five years, the team visited 6,450 Māori households in the North Island.

The five aims of the census were to:

  • find out how far the Māori language is maintained among persons who identify themselves as Māori
  • locate the areas where Māori is still the main language of the community
  • obtain information about the situations in which English and Māori respectively are used by bilingual individuals
  • identify the demographic and other factors which are influential in supporting or discouraging the maintenance of the Māori language within the household
  • find out how many people of various ages could speak, understand, read and write Māori in each locality and among each major iwi, and how many of these people had learned Māori as their first language

The findings of the linguistic census were written up in to 143 booklets for participants in each region.  The reports have been digitised and you can view or download them from the Survey of language use in Māori households and communities 1973-1978 project page.

Te Wāhanga trained young Māori researchers

Te Wāhanga recruited young Māori researchers as fieldworkers for the 1970s census project.  A programme of research internships was established, with 17 awarded between 1978 and 1986.  The internship programme evolved into a post-graduate programme which gave students research experience and expertise their universities were not able to provide.

Te Wāhanga established a network of bilingual schools

The unit established a network of bilingual schools, and schools interested in developing bilingual programmes. It planned a series on teaching methods to be called ngā toemi, little hand nets, that supported te reo teaching.

In 1982 John Moorfield, senior lecturer in Māori at the University of Waikato, became a  consultant on curriculum development for bilingual schools in English-speaking communities. He completed a draft Māori language syllabus for bilingual education programmes.

Te Wāhanga built international connections

Te Wāhanga balanced its focus on Māori education with an international perspective.  It established contacts with other research institutions in Aotearoa and around the world to understand how other researchers approached the indigenous education issues it was concerned with.