Navigating Tuakana-Teina: A Comprehensive Guide to Peer Learning in Aotearoa’s Educational Landscape

Navigating Tuakana-Teina: A Comprehensive Guide to Peer Learning in Aotearoa's Educational Landscape

Unlocking the Potential of Tuakana-Teina

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Māori principle of Tuakana-teina is more than just a cultural concept; it’s a foundational framework for nurturing holistic growth and interconnectedness within communities.

This principle is deeply ingrained in the fabric of adult education, serving as a catalyst for peer-assisted learning and mentorship.

At the heart of the Tuakana-teina model is the dynamic between the tuakana, the elder or more experienced sibling, and the teina, the younger or less experienced one.

This relationship is reciprocal and built on a basis of mutual respect, trust, and support. It’s not merely a one-way flow of knowledge; both parties stand to gain from the interaction.

The scope of Tuakana-teina relationships in educational settings is diverse. They can be categorised based on various dimensions such as subject matter expertise, specialised skills, cultural or linguistic fluency, and even life experiences.

While some relationships offer targeted, content-specific guidance, others may be more holistic, focusing on emotional well-being or project-based collaboration.

The adoption of this model in adult education has transformative effects. It not only cultivates a collaborative and inclusive learning atmosphere but also elevates the quality of the learner experience.

Learners are empowered to be both givers and receivers of knowledge, which boosts their motivation and engagement levels.

Moreover, the Tuakana-teina model fosters a strong sense of community and belonging among learners. It creates a supportive environment where learners feel at ease to seek feedback, pose questions, and share their own perspectives.

This is crucial for adult education, where learners come from diverse backgrounds and may have varying levels of confidence and expertise.

The beauty of the Tuakana-teina model lies in its roots in Māori culture, which imbues it with values that go beyond the academic realm. It encourages a sense of communal responsibility and emphasises the importance of collective well-being.

By integrating this model into adult education, educators not only enrich the learning landscape but also contribute to building more resilient and cohesive communities.

Different Dimensions of Tuakana-Teina: Versatile Applications in Vocational, Community, and Academic Education

Here are some of the different ways in which tuakana-teina relationships can manifest in the context of adult tertiary education:

Content Mastery: Tuakana as Subject Matter Experts

In this scenario, the tuakana possesses deep expertise in a specific subject area. They guide the teina, who may have limited or no knowledge in that domain. For example:

  • Vocational: A master carpenter (tuakana) might teach an apprentice (teina) the nuances of joinery techniques.
  • Community: An experienced gardener (tuakana) could impart knowledge about soil quality and plant care to beginners (teina).
  • Academic: A senior researcher (tuakana) may mentor a Masters, PhD student or junior academic staff member (teina) in the complexities of publishing academic papers.

Action Step for Educators: Identify subject matter experts within your educational setting who can serve as tuakana. Facilitate opportunities for them to share their specialised knowledge with those who stand to benefit.

Skill-Based Pairing: Specialisation Meets Curiosity

In this model, the tuakana has specific skills that the teina wishes to acquire or improve upon. The relationship is particularly beneficial when the skill is specialised.


  • Vocational: A seasoned welder (tuakana) helps a new apprentice (teina) understand the nuances of different welding techniques.
  • Community: In a community garden, a master gardener (tuakana) shows a novice (teina) how to properly compost.
  • Academic: A researcher (tuakana) in machine learning mentors a student (teina) on the latest algorithms.

Action Step for Educators: The key here is to identify subject matter experts who can act as tuakana within your educational setting. Once identified, set up situations—workshops, mentorship programmes, collaborative projects—where they can share their specialised knowledge and skills with those eager to learn. This not only builds the skill set of the teina but also reinforces the expertise of the tuakana.

Cultural or Linguistic Understanding: Bridging Cultural Gaps

In this approach, the tuakana possesses significant understanding of cultural or linguistic nuances that the teina lacks but wants to understand. This form of tuakana-teina relationship enhances cultural sensitivity and inclusivity.


  • Vocational: An employee (tuakana) who understands workplace culture in Aotearoa could mentor a recently-arrived overseas worker (teina).
  • Community: In a multicultural neighbourhood, a tuakana fluent in both English and te reo Māori can help a teina who is keen on learning the language and local customs.
  • Academic: A tuakana well-versed in indigenous knowledge systems can assist an academic teina in incorporating these perspectives into their research.

Action Step for Educators: To facilitate this type of tuakana-teina relationship, consider creating cultural exchange sessions or linguistic workshops. Here, tuakana can offer their expertise in cultural or linguistic matters, helping teina integrate these perspectives into their learning journey. These sessions could range from casual discussions to structured lessons, depending on the needs and preferences of the participants.

Contextual Guidance: Navigating Unfamiliar Territories

This model emphasises the tuakana’s familiarity with a particular context—be it a job role, community setting, or academic environment—that the teina is new to. The guidance provided is context-specific, offering insights and strategies for successful navigation.


  • Vocational: In the healthcare sector, a tuakana who is an experienced nurse could guide a teina who has just entered the profession.
  • Community: Within a local sporting club, a tuakana who has long been a member could introduce a teina to the club’s culture, norms, and expectations.
  • Academic: In a university setting, a tuakana familiar with academic research could guide a teina new to the rigours and requirements of scholarly work.

Action Step for Educators: To make the most of contextual guidance, consider organising mentorship programmes that align tuakana with teina based on their experiences and needs. This could be formalised through structured mentorship sessions or could occur informally through networking events. The goal is to help the teina navigate specific settings more comfortably and effectively, enriching their overall learning experience.

Emotional Support or Specific Projects: Beyond Skill-Building

Description: In some instances, the focus of the tuakana-teina relationship is not on skill development but rather on providing emotional or psychological support. This model is especially beneficial in settings where emotional resilience and well-being are as critical as technical competence.


  • Vocational: In high-stress professions like emergency services, a tuakana could offer stress-management strategies to a teina new to the job.
  • Community: Within a support group for new parents, a tuakana who has older children could provide emotional reassurance and practical advice to a teina with a newborn.
  • Academic: As per your example, a doctoral student could assist a master’s student in navigating the emotional landscape and logistical hurdles of thesis writing.

Action Step for Educators: Given the value of emotional support in the learning process, you could set up peer support groups that zero in on the emotional and psychological aspects of the educational experience. These groups can serve as a safe space where tuakana can share coping mechanisms, resilience-building strategies, and tips for emotional well-being with teina.

Peer-to-Peer: The Symbiotic Exchange of Knowledge

In a peer-to-peer setup, the roles of tuakana and teina are fluid and interchangeable. This offers a dynamic environment where peers can learn from each other, capitalising on each other’s unique skill sets or areas of expertise.


  • Vocational: In a workshop setting for tradespeople, one person might be the tuakana when discussing carpentry and become the teina when the topic switches to electrical work.
  • Community: In community courses on sustainable living, learners could switch roles of tuakana and teina based on different expertise like composting or water conservation. sustainability practices like composting, water conservation, or renewable energy.
  • Academic: In a study group for a multi-disciplinary course, students might switch roles depending on the subject at hand; a maths whiz becomes a tuakana during a calculus session but shifts to teina when the focus turns to literature.

Action Step for Educators: Plan and implement specific sessions dedicated to reciprocal teaching. These should be opportunities where learners can fluidly switch between the roles of tuakana and teina, sharing and absorbing knowledge in turn. Such an approach not only enriches the learning experience but also fosters a culture of collaborative knowledge-sharing.

Younger to Older: Challenging the Traditional Dynamic

In some cases, the traditional tuakana-teina roles may be reversed. A younger individual (teina) with specific skills or expertise may actually guide an older individual (tuakana) who lacks those particular skills.


  • Vocational: A junior mechanic with training in electric vehicle repair could serve as the tuakana to a senior mechanic unfamiliar with this emerging field.
  • Community: In a local computer literacy programme, teenagers might teach seniors how to use social media or new software.
  • Academic: In an academic setting, a younger student proficient in modern programming languages helps an older student who is skilled in older languages.

Action Step for Educators: Establish a culture where role-reversals are not only accepted but encouraged. Create safe spaces or specific sessions that enable younger learners to share their expertise with older learners without stigma. This fosters a more holistic, bi-directional learning environment.

Older to Younger: The Classic Mentorship Approach

This is the more traditional tuakana-teina relationship, where an older or more experienced individual (tuakana) imparts wisdom, skills, or knowledge to a younger or less experienced individual (teina).


  • Vocational: In a vocational workshop, a senior carpenter teaches a young apprentice the basics of woodworking. The senior becomes the tuakana, guiding the apprentice through the intricacies of woodworking.
  • Community: In a gardening club, experienced gardeners can offer tips and techniques to those who are just getting started.
  • Academic: In a university setting, an upper-level student might help a first-year with study strategies or navigating campus resources.

Action Step for Educators: Create and formalise mentorship programmes that enable older or more experienced learners to guide younger or less experienced ones in structured settings. Ensure these programmes have clear objectives and offer resources for both tuakana and teina to make the most of the relationship.

Able to Less Able: Leveraging Skill Differentials for Growth

In this relationship, the tuakana has greater expertise or ability in a specific area and offers guidance to the teina, who is less skilled or experienced in that domain.


  • Vocational: In a coding bootcamp, a participant with prior experience in programming can help novices understand complex algorithms.
  • Community: Your example of a fitness-oriented community education setting is spot-on. Someone adept in yoga could guide newcomers through their first sequences.
  • Academic: In a college-level maths course, students who excel in the subject could help those struggling with basic concepts during study sessions.

Action Step for Educators: Establish a framework or support system that actively identifies and pairs more skilled learners (tuakana) with those who are less able (teina). This encourages skill sharing and can accelerate the learning process for all involved.

Harnessing the Power of Tuakana-Teina: Creating Dynamic Learning Ecosystems

Understanding the different kinds of tuakana-teina relationships is not merely an academic exercise; it’s a strategic move that can drastically improve the quality of education. Each type serves a unique learning need, enhancing both the individual and collective educational experience.

Whether it’s peer-to-peer learning, younger students teaching older ones, or experts guiding novices, the tuakana-teina model’s versatility allows for a flexible, responsive educational setting.

Action Step for Educators: Conduct a needs assessment within your educational environment to identify what types of tuakana-teina relationships could be most beneficial. Once identified, create structured opportunities for these relationships to flourish. Whether through mentorship programmes, peer teaching sessions, or cultural exchange events, the goal is to cultivate a rich tapestry of learning interactions.

Interested in reading more about Tuakana-teina?

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Author: Graeme Smith

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

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