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The answer to the ultimate kiwi question is…

Need to know something about New Zealand? Online encyclopedia ‘Te Ara’ is the answer to every teacher’s prayers, believes Jock Phillips.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a website that had answers to everything you wanted to know about New Zealand – and presented those answers in easy-to-read text enriched with photographs, maps and moving images? What a boon for the classroom teacher!

Well, there is one already. Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (www.TeAra.govt.nz) sets out to do exactly that. We’re still working on it but eventually it will be a complete guide to all aspects of this wonderful country – the landscape, the trees and animals, the peoples, the culture, the society, the history.

Produced by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Te Ara is being prepared in themes. So far, there are three, each with about 100 entries or subjects. The first was on the peoples of New Zealand, including a fantastic introduction to the major iwi of the country and a companion guide to all the non-Mori peoples. Every schoolchild in the country can find out about their people, where they came from, and their contribution to New Zealand society.

Next was ‘Earth, Sea and Sky’, which dealt with the forces that have shaped New Zealand, from earthquakes and volcanoes to the seas around us. Third came ‘The Bush’ and explanations on all the amazing native creatures of this land, such as tuatara, kiwi and weta, as well as all the indigenous trees and plants. Together these two themes provide wonderfully rich material for anyone teaching geography or any of the natural sciences.

In November, Te Ara launches ‘The Settled Landscape’, to cover farming and rural life. There are stories about sheep and horses, but also stories about the human life in the country from rural schools to A&P shows. Each story is presented in clear simple language, nicely signposted with headings and lively sidebars. There are at least four visual resources on every page. In all, there are now over 10,000 images, about 1,000 maps and diagrams, more than 400 film and television clips, and a host of interactive activities. Each story also includes a ‘short story’ of about 200 words that summarises the content in language understandable by young readers.

Eventually, Te Ara will have nine themes; but to ensure there is already something about all subjects, the website has done two things:

  • The old 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand (those three volumes in the blue covers) has been digitised. It has some great material; and
  • There’s also an overview called ‘New Zealand in brief’ which introduces the country in six sections – Mori, history, natural environment, society, culture, and government.

If you or your students find all this a bit overwhelming, there’s a good search engine and it’s really easy to find your way around the site.

We know that many students are already using Te Ara since the average daily traffic (about 10,000 visitors) drops by a third during school holidays. However, there are many teachers and pupils who don’t yet use it.

Try it, and I believe it will become your first port of call for anything you need to know about this marvelous and fascinating country of ours.

JOCK PHILLIPS IS EDITOR OF TE ARA.

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