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Tag: te Reo Maori

Bottling up the policy on Te Reo Maori

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!”


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Pathways-ED: E ngā Akoranga. Akohia te Reo nā te mea he oranga kei reira.


Stuart Middleton
26 July 2012


We often get greatest wisdom about education from people outside of education and the recent statement from Hon Tim Groser was just another instance of this.

“All New Zealand students should be learning te Reo Māori,” he said. No ifs no buts.

His reasoning was that in a global world that is multilingual we need a community that is linguistically able to operate with ease and comfort in a range of language settings. He is of course right in this.

Students who can and do learn French and German are also developing a language facility that has these characteristics but is less useful in terms of the fabric of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Bilingual brains are better brains and only a very small number of countries speak only one language. There is that old quip that if you speak many languages you are multilingual, if you speak two languages you are bilingual and if you speak one language you are English. There is some truth in this as the pattern of monolinguals is more aggressively present in English-speaking countries than in others. Well, that used to be true but it has been challenged by two key features of the world we live in.

There has been a world-wide resurgence of indigenous languages in that set of Anglophone countries. This phenomenon would have been unthinkable in the 1950s and 1960s when it was thought that speaking a language other than English was an educational handicap. We now rejoice in this country in Māori medium television and radio, in availability of te Reo Māori printed media, and in a younger generation which generally has an ease with the notion that New Zealand has two key languages and three official languages.

The young ones are very different in this respect from the older generations who still phone talkback radio to campaign about the signing of “two anthems” or write to the newspaper complaining when it has printed its masthead in te Reo Māori to mark the start of te wiki o te Reo Māori.

The other key change is the pervasive migration of it around the modern world. In New Zealand our language landscape has been greatly enriched by the presence of the languages of the Pacific, by languages from Asia and Europe and India and many other communities. We are the better for this and a student who has learnt a second language is more able (and willing) to tolerate other languages and even a little more disposed to relate to cultural difference. In short, the fabric of our community is improved when students learn a second language.

Migration has both enriched us by the importation of other languages but also challenged us. We must urgently address the issue of teaching mother tongue languages to our New Zealand linguistically different groups. Urgent in this regard is Cook Island Māori and Niuean. But Samoan, Tongan, and soon Chinese will be pressing for urgent attention. Why wait until language facility is lost before reacting?

But let’s deal with the question that the second language to be learnt should be Māori. Well, it makes sense. Many living languages are now used across the spectrum of daily life across New Zealand. That is not to say that each and every home uses it, far from it, but a student learning has to make very little effort to have contact with it. Furthermore, learning a second language is known to have an impact on ability with the first language.

Why is this? Well the act of learning a new language is the process of constantly asking the questions (to oneself): In what ways is this new language the same as or different from the language I know? In what ways does this language work that are different to the ways the language I know works?

If we want high levels of language ability in our community we need to have a goal that each and every student would learn a second language and In New Zealand the argument that this should be Māori is compelling. Now what about the question of how long should this learning continue. I would argue that it should continue for all 13 years of compulsory schooling after having started in pre-school. Language ability continues to develop and grow and the way to best help this is to be consciously studying two languages – for most students this would be English and Māori, for others it is best to be the community language of the home and English (e.g. Samoan and English, Tongan and English).

Back in the 1980s I was on a Form 6 & 7 English Syllabus Committee that proposed a language programme in which English was compared with Māori – the theory was that such a linguistic study would increase a student’s knowledge about language and have the added benefit of it being about two languages that were firmly bedded into New Zealand. There was wide support for it until the politicians got hold of it, aided and abetted by a small group of teachers who resisted change not only in this matter but in most. David Lange, PM and Minister of Education at the time, lost his nerve and sacked the committee. That made that language issue go away – or did it?

E ngā Akoranga.  Akohia te Reo nā te mea he oranga kei reira.


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