Concepts: What is whakapapa?

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What is it?

Whakapapa refers to genealogy, history, stages of development, or layers.

Can we dig a little deeper?

Knowledge about who you are (identity) and where you come (background) from are integral to Māori approaches to education

Whakapapa helps connect people to knowledge about the world through stories.

Also, everything has a whakapapa, not just people. Everything comes from somewhere. The story of where something or someone comes from is whakapapa.

How does this help describe a learner-centred teaching environment?

This helps describe a learner-centred teaching environment because for Māori and many others, whakapapa is always the starting place. Whakapapa means that the learners are central to the learning from the beginning.

Whakapapa is also both a noun and a verb. This means that as well as describing someone’s background or genealogy, it’s also something you have to actively do.

Learners’ cultures are important. This extends beyond Māori and Pakeha as well. Learning to whakapapa your own and other histories opens you up as a whole person and helps create relationship and connections. You can use whakapapa as an education tool to help others:

  • Make connections to people, the environment, and things.
  • Understand history and human relationships
  • Explore different viewpoints and ways of understanding.

We often use the “Wh” words (Who, What, When, Where, Why) as a quick way of teaching the basics of an inquiry process for learning. Whakapapa is another “Wh” word that we could add to this set.

In fact, whakapapa sums up all of these words and provides a great tool for framing any learning.

Exploring the whakapapa of something, e.g. a subject, a discipline, an object, a person, a group of people, an organisation, or your own genealogy allows you to actually deal with all of the “Wh” words and to investigate the relationships between the parts and the whole.

What’s your starting point with a new group of learners?

  1. How do you whakapapa with your learners in your teaching context?
  2. What’s something that you teach, that would be interesting to whakapapa?

Author: Graeme Smith

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

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