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Innovative tertiary educator earns national recognition

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Professor Kereti Rautangata
TOP TEACHER: Professor Kereti Rautangata stands at the prow of Te Kawau Maro, one of his works which stands as a symbol for Te Wananga o Aotearoa. 216051AD

By Dean Taylor

Amongst all the turmoil at Te Wananga o Aotearoa stands a man who has a unique vision for tertiary education and a passion to share his knowledge.

Professor Kereti Rautangata is Director of Whakairo (carving) and Pouwhenua for Te Kura Toi (School of Visual Arts) over 28 Wananga campuses, but his teachings, beliefs and inspiration have seen his influence spread much wider, and now those achievements have been recognised at the highest level.

Encouraged by Wananga Dean of Schools Ken McOnie, supported by CEO Rongo Wetere and with the invaluable assistance of his wife and work colleague Maria, Mr Rautangata accepted nomination by Te Wananga o Aotearoa for Excellence in Innovation at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards.

His application to the award panel concentrated on four major innovations that have been supported by the Wananga.

The judges obviously shared the Wananga’s confidence in Mr Rautangata and he was selected as one of just nine winners.

He describes his own philosophy of teaching as simply being able to ‘see a spark’ then ‘fanning it to blaze’.

“I like to do it through carving, weaving or art,” he says.

The award includes a $20,000 scholarship which Mr Rautangata plans to use for professional development. One of his identified goals for the future, which could benefit from the money, is to complete and publish his book ‘The Spiritual Symbology of Whakairo’.

Mr Rautangata’s teaching roots started in the early days of the Wananga when he was employed as a carving tutor. He returned about 10 years ago, but with a much higher mana as a carver. Mr Rautangata was awarded the honour of pouwhenua (supreme carver) by the senior carving fraternity of Aotearoa in 2000, a position usually held by someone more senior. He says it was a humbling experience, but it is a position he holds dear and treats with utmost respect. The past few years has seen a concerted effort to expand his role and influence in the organisation.

He and Dr Paakaariki Harrison initiated the world’s first bachelor course for carving.Such was his enthusiasm for the course, that Mr Rautangata started delivering the programme at Te Awamutu’s Apakura Campus even before it was fully accredited.

Now he is guiding and advising others how to present his programme which saw its first 18 graduates at the end of last year.
That completed innovation is being taken into the future with the development of the successive Masters and PhD level programmes.

Mr Rautangata was also responsible for the overall design concepts of the carving, weaving, kowhaiwhai and painting of Aratiatia Marae at Fairfield College. Its wharenui Te Iho Rangi is described as ‘the summation of our spiritual or cosmic history from time immemorial - from the depths of our ancestry, to the present day and into the future’.

The fourth innovation is the culmination of Mr Rautangata’s insight into spiritualism, cosmic forces and self awareness through the martial arts of the Maori people. The Spiritual Warrior School is supported by, but taught outside the Wananga. Mr Rautangata says it is the daily application of cosmic principles to the daily challenges of life. At its heart is the use of profound states of meditation to achieve real knowledge through experiences relevant to each person’s own consciousness.

Mr Rautangata received his award from Education Minister Trevor Mallard at a special ceremony held in the Grand Hall of Parliament.