Hon Nanaia Mahuta thinks that the policy is compulsory Te Reo Maori in schools, Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins thinks that well its important but….. While the rest of the MPs and most of the electorate have no idea what the Labour Party’s position is.
Never has the case been stronger for a policy of compulsory Te Reo Maori instruction and learning for all New Zealand school students but this is not the first time that the Labour leadership has lost its bottle on this one.
In the 1980s I was on a national curriculum group developing a syllabus for English in Form 6 – up to that point the sixth form had no syllabus and simply used examination prescriptions (who said the senior schools wasn’t all about going to university!).
A distinguished group of knowledgeable people (and me!) set about devising a strategy to teach about language at that level that was innovative and exciting. It was to be a study of English language based on a comparative linguistics approach. In other words, Sixth Form students were to learn about English language by comparing it to another language and that other language was to be Te Reo Maori.
There were compelling reasons for doing this.
Te Reo Maori was an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand therefore all citizens have some obligation to be acquainted with it.
More importantly, knowledge about language is more easily achieved when a student has a basis for comparison. In what ways is this language different from this other language that I already know? Most English speaking people who insist on and endorse the teaching of English grammar actually only learnt what they know about through an experience with another language. This was probably Latin or French, or German.
You do not need to know about English grammar in order to learn the language as a native speaker. But knowledge about how the English language works is essential if students aspire to be highly articulate and elegant in their expression and especially in their writing. So what better way to seek improvement of your first language (should that be English) than by studying a second language? And what better language to study than Te Reo Maori?
It is a language used around us – daily on television, radio and in many places and occasions in our daily lives – I hear much more Maori spoken than I do French or German.
Maori is also linguistically an excellent choice as it has a different vocabulary, an easy phonics system and a quite different structure. And it is an easy language to learn and pronounce. No!!! I hear some older people say but that is not the fault of Maori language, it is the consequqnece of not getting the opportunity to learn about it and to learn it at a time when we were young enough and our aural skills were acute enough to hear and retain the sounds which are different from English – another useful comparison.
So a policy of getting more Maori language instruction into schools is on very strong grounds and there is no danger of it not helping students to achieve higher levels of competence especially in English.
The dangers and risks are all political and that is where some courage is needed.
And who and when did a Labour leader lose his bottle? It was about 1985 or 1986 when the new Form 6 English Syllabus was circulated for comment and a certain lobby group within education got at David Lange and, goaded by allegations from the Opposition side of the House that NZ kids would all be gabbling Te Reo Maori but have no competence in English, and not for the last time he lost his bottle. It was enough for him to summarily dismiss the English Syllabus group which never met again.
New Zealand lost a chance to lead the way internationally to not only bring an indigenous language into the mainstream curriculum but to also demonstrate the value of doing so to all the students who each require in order to achieve and learn, knowledge about and skill in language at increasing levels throughout their educational journey.
So Chris Hipkins should stick his head up above the desktop and declare a strong policy of introducing Te Reo Maori into schools for all students. Not enough teachers, of course there is. They live in the street out the back of the school.
“Courage mon brave” and what a shame my own education sees me default to this exhortation rather than to “Kia kaha!”