Sep 3, 2012

NZEI adds its voice to call for compulsory Te Reo Māori

It’s fantastic to see that the NZEI, New Zealand's largest education union, has come out in support of compulsory Te Reo in schools. This follows trade minister Tim Groser’s comments in April this year when he said Te Reo Māori should be taught to all New Zealand children from when their 5 years old. Strong evidence shows that teaching children more than one language at an early age will strengthen their abilities in not just language but in education and life more broadly also.

“NZEI National President, Ian Leckie says the organization agrees with the Trade Minister Tim Groser who says every five year old in New Zealand should be taught Maori.”

The support from the NZEI for this cause is heartening and shows not only increasing tolerance and pride in Te Reo from mainstream communities but also a commitment to ensuring the continued revival of our indigenous language and culture.

Ian Leckie went on to say, "inevitably there would need to be additional resources provide for additional staff and to upskill current teachers"

This is the key point. If the Government has the vision and intelligence to start to implement compulsory Te Reo then we can train many more Te Reo teachers in the near future and provide quality professional development to the current staff. If we do this, we will be well on the way towards bilingualism as a nation.

We know that Te Reo is still in a dire situation. Implementing this policy will be one sure way of seeing Te Reo being spoken widely and comfortably in mainstream society.

The latest census figures on Māori language use from 2006, show that only about 24% of the Māori population are able to hold a conversation about everyday things in Te Reo, in other words they have a good level of fluency. Of the 157,100 people (or 4% of the total New Zealand population) who could speak Māori in 2006, 84% were Māori.

These statistics are deeply concerning, and show we need a dramatic step change in Government policy and resourcing for the Te Reo sector. I like many of the suggestions from the Government’s review panel, Te Paepae Motuhake, including establishing a ministry for Te Reo Māori, and by helping iwi to lead the revitalization effort. It’s true that iwi should lead their local revitalization with an emphasis on normalizing Te Reo in homes. But we also need a strong Government strategy, focusing on education and broadcasting.

It would be good to see some leadership on this from within Parliament. There should be a cross party approach. There is clearly a growing momentum for this kaupapa.


  1. Learning Te Reo is like a good book. You need to sell it to me. If there is such strong evidence for bilingualism, why not learn a language that hundreds of millions or perhaps billions speak?

    It would be nice to see a greater emphasis on the basics of Te Reo in schools. But from there, as I said, it should be promoted like a good book. There needs to be interest and a considerable driving reason why people ought to learn the language. If the book/language is good in the beginning, more people might stick it out until the end.

  2. There is so much talk of Maori failure that we have got into a negative mind set as regards maori achievement, NZEI has also embarked on a celebration of Maori success, because success breeds success. Whakahau Whakamana Whakahihi has produced heaps of great stories of educational success:

  3. After 10 years teaching in a South Auckland secondary school where Maori was compulsory in the third form and 10 years teaching compulsory English in Hong Kong, I'm a bit sceptical about the value of forcing a second language on students who don't particularly value it or have much use for it.

    It was obvious in Hong Kong that a lot of students didn't get much past a few formulaic phrases in oral English, despite years of learning, though I couldn't put a reliable figure on that failure for the territory as a whole.

    In my South Auckland school, after hearing some unsolicited negative comments ("not my language", "don't need it", "would rather learn something else")from students about compulsory Maori in form 3, I checked the drop out rate for two years from compulsory F3 to voluntary F4 - circa 50% for Maori students, 99% for non-Maoris(almost all PI or Asian) students. If people don't wish to learn something, they are in a powerful position to achieve that goal.

    In Ireland, Irish has been compulsory for 80 plus years in schools and a prerequisite at different times for the civil service, teachers and the police, yet the latest census says that more than half of the population doesn't speak it and many of those who do say they can speak it, never speak it. The vast majority of school children say they don't speak it outside the classroom. The census measures quantity rather than quality of Irish, and the few attempts at judging competence in Irish that I've heard of, rate only 4-5% of the population as competent speakers.

    New Zealand isn't Ireland - we might do a lot better or somewhat worse, and my anecdotal evidence is scarcely reliable data; but when enthusiasts promote compulsory Maori (or compulsory English in Hong Kong, for that matter), it is as important to know not just what their exact goals are, but also what evidence people have for expecting to achieve those goals, by when, their opportunity cost, and what happens if the policy fails.
    As someone who has struggled to learn other languages compulsorily and voluntarily, I admire those who are genuinely bilingual, but I'm quite pessimistic about the value of forcing people to learn languages against their will.

    Kiwi Dave



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