A Better Start National Science Challenge Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane has received one of the Queen’s highest honours.

Professor Macfarlane is a leader with A Better Start’s Successful Learning team, and is the Challenge’s Kaihautu Māori. He has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his services to education, psychology and Māori.

Professor Macfarlane says he felt surprise, humility, and curiosity to know “why me” when he was told of the honour.

“What about all the others who have made such huge contributions in Te Ao Māori,” he said in an interview with Stuff. “Haven’t I just been doing what I had to do? Haven’t I just been doing my job?”

An integral member of the A Better Start National Science Challenge since its inception in 2015, Professor Macfarlane says being a role model to the next generations of Maori students has always been one of his biggest motivations.

“I love watching them grow and seeing them in time make a contribution themselves,” he told Stuff.

The citation for Professor Macfarlane’s Queen’s Birthday honour describes him as a leading figure in cultural theory in education and psychology and an eminent researcher in the field of Mātauranga Māori, who has gained international recognition for the transferability of his theories.

“Professor Macfarlane has developed bicultural approaches for teachers and psychologists to create safe and inclusive relationships with Māori students and clients, notably the Educultural Wheel, his most widely referred to framework for professional practice. His education theories have also proven to be effective for Pacific, disabled and gifted learners,” the citation reads.

“He developed his first education theory in New Zealand, the Hikairo Rationale (now Hikairo Schema), a bicultural approach to positive behaviour, while head teacher of the Awhina special education school in 1980s and early 1990s.

“He has contributed to national projects, such as Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour and Hui Whakatika, a Māori-developed restorative justice programme in schools. He is a Professor of Māori Research and was founding director of Te Rū Rangahau (The Māori Research Laboratory) at University of Canterbury.

“His bicultural research model He Ara Whiria has been widely used by Superu (The Families Commission), MSD, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Defence and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, and is the basis for research for A Better Start – E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge.

Professor Wayne Cutfield, the Director of A Better Start, says Professor Macfarlane’s contribution to the Challenge has been invaluable.

“He spearheaded the Challenge’s approach to braid together Maori and Western views and approaches to research. His braided rivers approach has been adopted not only by A Better Start but also other groups and organisations across Aotearoa.

“He’s a calm and wise voice,” says Professor Cutfield. “He wore the korowai for the Challenge, bringing us respect and mana, for which we are extremely grateful.”