The Importance of People and Place: Reimagining School Curriculum in Aotearoa New Zealand
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Place can be defined simply as space that matters to humans, exposing their subjective and emotional attachment, transforming space into a site of human significance. This research is located in the Tairāwhiti/Gisborne region on the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The study explores what a ‘notion of place’ means to educators funded through the Ministry of Education Learning Experiences Outside The Classroom (LEOTC) curriculum support project, and how their perspectives and insights could inform school curriculum design. Place-based pedagogy is an interdisciplinary approach that engages with a geographical location focusing on understanding local history, cultures and the ecology of a place. Learning in a contextual setting can imbue in students and teachers an understanding of how events have shaped spaces into places and created a sense of community. It encourages the creation and sharing of stories, challenging prevailing assumptions and the exploration of new or different perspectives, inspiring people to feel a sense of belonging, locally and in the broader world. Engaging in place-based approaches provides for schools an opportunity to interact with community partners outside of its education establishment, potentially broadening the ways schooling can be viewed and perceived. This research study is underpinned by ecofeminism, a theory and movement related to women and the environment, and an ethic of care, a form of relational ethics. The study design involves photo-elicitation and semi-structured interview methods, and is analysed using thematic analysis and aspects of visual narrative analysis. Since the Ministry of Education has announced local curriculum design to be one of its professional learning and development (PLD) priorities in relation to the Leading Local Curriculum Guide series, such an inquiry is timely. This research thus contributes to ideas of developing holistic, meaningful and balanced curriculum – specifically related to a place-based approach. Informed by the perspectives and insights of LEOTC-funded educators, this study develops an understanding of a ‘place’ as a basic human requirement, enabling a reimagination of local curriculum contexts as a challenge to much of what dominant culture and schooling teaches. It is premised on the view that a ‘sense of place’ supports the formalisation of the relationship between humans and their environments as co-habitors.