History of Education in New Zealand

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Māori ran schools to pass on tradition knowledge including songs, chants, tribal history, spiritual understanding and knowledge of medicinal plants. These wānanga were usually run by elders called tohunga, respected for their tribal knowledge and teaching was confined to the rangatira (chiefly) class. Reading and writing were unknown, but wood carving was well developed.

Formal European-style schooling was first introduced in 1815 and was well established in 1832 by the London Missionary Society missionaries, who learnt Māori and built the first schools in the Bay of Islands. Both children and adults were taught. The main resources were the Christian New Testament and slates, and teaching was in Māori. For many years the bible was the only literature used in teaching, and this became a major factor in how Māori viewed the European world. In the 1850s a Māori trade school was established at Te Awamutu by John Gorst to teach Māori practical skills associated with European-style farming, but in 1863 was burnt down by Rewi Maniapoto in the early stages of New Zealand Wars.

In 1853 missionaries Mr and Mrs Ashwell had been running a school for 50 Māori girls for 3 years at Taupiri in the Waikato, teaching arithmetic and reading.

By 1860, 75% of Māori could read in Māori and 33% could write in Māori.

Teaching by missionaries and in Native schools was in Māori between 1815 and 1900. The Young Māori Party MPs, especially Sir Maui Pomare and Ngata, advocated the teaching of Māori children using English, as well as teaching hygiene to lower the Māori sickness and death rates. Pomare was knighted after WW1 for his work in improving Māori learning and integration into New Zealand society.

New Zealand did not establish a state education system until 1877. The absence of a national education system meant that the first sizable secondary education providers were Grammar Schools and other private institutions. The first Grammar School in New Zealand, Auckland Grammar School, was established in 1850 and formally recognised as an educational establishment in 1868 through the Auckland Grammar School Appropriation Act.