Liam Rutherford

Asking the big questions

Kia ora koutou.

It is great to have the opportunity to contribute to Ako. I am really pleased that this issue is focussed on language, as it is top of mind for me.

As I write, I am transitioning into the role of President after being a teacher at Ross Intermediate. During 2019, I helped lead the development of our local curriculum, and the downside to my new role is that I won’t be there to help with the implementation of it – but I back our team at school.

Language became a central concept as we went through our process. We asked all the big questions – what is a curriculum, what should tamariki be learning, what is the role of parents, what is our role in preparing ākonga for high school? – and after all that, we agreed that a local curriculum needs to put ākonga at the centre.

By this, we didn’t mean generic ākonga – I’m not sure if those even exist.  What we meant is that we had to develop a curriculum to meet the needs of every ākonga we are lucky enough to have come through our door. This required us to start from where they were and, just as importantly, where their whānau was. Language made up a big part of this, but should not be seen as separate from culture and identity. We also made sure to work from the passions and interests of ākonga. This point is well made in the New Zealand Curriculum: “Every language has its own ways of expressing meanings; each has intrinsic value and special significance for its users.”

It is this approach that has seen us go firmly down a pathway of  personalising learning, putting the onus on us – as education professionals – to make sure that our school is ready to cater for the unique and special character that each and every ākonga brings. 

This issue of Ako explores, in a range of ways, the importance of language for kaiako and ākonga. Central to the issue of language in Aotearoa is the exploration of Māori immersion schooling and the important role this has played in the survival of te reo. Other areas of language are also explored throughout this issue, ranging from oral language in early childhood, to ensuring schools are ready to meet the needs of deaf students.


Liam Rutherford is the NZEI Te Riu Roa National President/Te Manukura from 2020.

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