Evaluating your adult literacy and numeracy teaching against the concepts of Ako and Tuakana-teina


You may remember from your NCALNE (Voc) that in te ao Maori, the concept of ako means both to teach and to learn. This is a reciprocal relationship where the educator is also learning from the student. Ako refers to traditional Māori thinking about the transfer and absorption of skills, knowledge, wisdom, experience, much of which has traditionally occurred in the course of everyday activities.

A simple way to understand the shifting roles of educator and learner in this sense is to understand that ako means: sometimes learner, sometimes teacher.

This concept works through the tuakana-teina relationship between educator and learner. While these terms have their origin on the Marae in traditional settings, we have come to use them to talk about relationships in our adult education contexts in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Tuakana-teina refers to the relationship between an older (tuakana) person and a younger (teina) person, and is specific to teaching and learning in the context of Māori. Within teaching and learning this can take a variety of forms:

  • Peer-to-peer – teina teaches teina, tuakana teaches tuakana
  • Younger to older – the teina has some skills in an area that the tuakana does not   and is able to teach the tuakana.
  • Older to younger – the tuakana has the knowledge and content to pass on to the  teina.
  • Able to less able – the learner may not be as able in an area, and someone more  skilled can teach what is required.

Tuakana-teina is a mentoring approach where typically the mentors (tuakana) share their experiences, and their knowledge as well as provide information. The tuakana is a support person and adviser for the teina and the teina gives the tuakana a chance to learn new things and meet new people. Think of this as ako in action.

The concept of ako and tuakana-teina allow work well with our ideas of learner-centredness in adult literacy and numeracy teaching. They provide an alternative to traditional Western teaching methods.

Listen to Tamati below as he describes the tuakana-teina.

  1. What do you do in your adult literacy and numeracy teaching to make it more like tuakana-teina…?
  2. Do you think your learners would characterise your training as more like a monologue or more like a conversation?


Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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