Christchurch students teach Japanese kids about Māori culture

We chat with Cobham Intermediate deputy principal Peter Fowler about the Christchurch school connecting with a school in Japan to develop cultural awareness among students. Peter is a Foundation Champion - a programme supporting leading educators to raise Asia awareness in New Zealand schools.
A classroom of students sitting at their desks looking at a screen

Peter: "It was very clear that both sets of students enjoyed the exchange and were proud of their efforts."

How did you get in touch with Jinzai School?

 In 2021 we made a connection with Yoshimi Fujikawa, a Japanese New Zealander who has an academic interest in the strengthening of cultural relationships between Japan and New Zealand with a focus on Māori culture.

She has an established relationship with Jinzai Elementary School in Sōja city. Her visit to Cobham coincided with my recent involvement with the Asia New Zealand Foundation and we both saw the opportunity to get a cultural exchange started.

The writing and presenting of a personal pepeha is a component of all Cobham students developing cultural awareness, so we thought this would be a good opportunity for Cobham students to share with a wider audience and for Jinzai students to gain an understanding of the cultural significance of pepeha for Māori.

What sorts of things did the students talk about? 

The students from Cobham have now had two virtual interactions. The first was a general Q&A session where students introduced themselves. The second session was more structured with set times for each class to present.

Cobham students began this exchange by explaining what a pepeha is and the cultural significance for New Zealanders. They explained why mountains/mauanga and rivers/awa are important for Māori as it helps listeners to understand Māori connection to the land and their iwi/hapu.

The students from Jinzai then followed up by asking Cobham students questions about their interests and pastimes. 

What were the students most interested in learning about?

Cobham students were interested in responding to the questions asked by Jinzia students and the presentation of a cultural song.

The Japanese students seemed interested in listening to te reo and were enthusiastic about having the opportunity to ask Cobham students about themselves. Feedback from the Japanese classroom teachers was very positive.

A screenshot of a Zoom call with three participants - a man, a girl and students holding a sign saying what do you see in the moon

The students asked each other questions about culture and school life

Why do you think connections like this are important for your students?

These connections are valuable from an academic and cultural perspective. Both sets of students had to go through the process of preparing for the afternoon.

In the case of Cobham students, they had to review and practice their pepeha in Māori and English. The Jinzai students had to prepare questions to ask in English. Both exercises placed students outside of their academic comfort zone.

It was very clear that both sets of students enjoyed the exchange and were proud of their efforts.

Cobham students noted the differences and challenges involved in communicating using three different languages, and all students learnt something about the other’s culture

What’s the plan for future connections?

We are currently working on a online cultural exchange day in August. This will involve students from Cobham sharing kapa haka and Pasifika performances and Sōja city schools sharing Japanese cultural performances.

We are currently in the process of seeing whether other schools in Cobham’s Kāhui Ako [Communities of Learning] can be involved. We are confident that we can arrange other schools to participate.  

Longer term, we would like the developing relationship between the two clusters of schools to expand and strengthen through planned virtual meetings and, in the future, student exchanges.

What tips would you give other schools thinking about doing something similar?

  • Find someone in your local area who may have a connection with a school/schools in Asia.
  • It is very helpful to have someone who can communicate with the exchange school in the home language. In our situation, Yoshimi was able to manage the communication with the Jinzai school and we arranged the video links and other set up elements from our end.
  • Start with something simple and keep time frames tight so that participating students stay engaged. Once the relationship has been established, you can start to do something more adventurous.
  • Make sure you have strong wifi connections at both ends and trial your connection beforehand.