Learn something!
Good Practice Guide

The term ‘ako’ is a very old word across Polynesian cultures. In the Samoan and Hawaiian languages, the term a’o means to learn. In the Tongan and Cook Island languages, ako can mean teaching and/or learning.  Finally, in the Niuean language ako means learn, fakaako means to teach and akoaga or fakaakoanga means education (Marat, Papoutsaki, Latu, Aumua, Talakai, & Sun, 2011).

In te ao Māori, the concept of ako means both to teach and to learn. It is underpinned by reciprocal relationships and recognises the knowledge that both teachers and learners bring to learning interactions.

Ako acknowledges the way that new knowledge and understandings can grow out of shared learning experiences (Alton-Lee, 2003). These findings echo those of Bishop (2012) in the school sector where he talks about, a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations" (p. 40). Central to this way of thinking is the value of self-determination that sees learning as "reciprocal and interactive ... learners are to be connected to each other and to learn with and from each other" (p. 41). Bishop goes on to say that when teachers create appropriate socio-cultural spaces, learners feel comfortable, safe, and actively learn rather than being passive recipients of the teachers' knowledge.

In her review of 45 research projects on teaching adult Māori learners, Sciascia (2017) concluded that teaching and learning is about a holistic approach.

This is what Māori refer to as ‘ako’. Ako is a holistic concept that incorporates ways of knowing, knowledge systems, beliefs, values and practices that are strongly connected and related to concepts such as whanaungatanga, wairuatanga, manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga (Sciascia, 2017, p. 11).

The importance of relationships and connections to culture are also highlighted in the Pacific literature. Luafutu-Simpson, Noa, Uta'I, and Petelo (2018) have developed five success indicators for Pacific learners.

These include:

  • meaningful connections to families and communities;
  • culturally responsive pedagogy;
  • opportunities to learn and value Pacific languages and cultures;
  • acknowledging Pacific values;
  • and having environments that increase Pacific visibility.

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Bishop, R. (2012). Pretty difficult: Implementing kaupapa Māori theory in English-medium secondary schools. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 47(2), 38-50.

Luafutu-Simpson, P., Noa, A., Uta'I, S., & Petelo, L. (2018).  Pacific success indicators (PSI) tool: Learning designs and teaching strategies, supporting staff, Pacific learner success, supporting learners. Wellington: Ako Aotearoa.

Marat, D., Papoutsaki, E., Latu, S., Aumua, L., Talakai, M., & Sun, K. (2011). Akoaga: Efficacy, agency, achievement and success in the tertiary sector. Auckland: Unitec.

Sciascia, A. (2017). Synthesis of projects focused on supporting Māori learners. Wellington: Ako Aotearoa.