In a surprising move, Trade Minister Tim Groser is calling for compulsory te reo in schools – but not for the reasons you might expect:
Trade Minister Tim Groser has revealed his personal view that learning te reo should be compulsory in primary schools.
He made the comments on The Nation, when talking about New Zealand's growing relationship with China.
The minister said being able to speak and write in Maori would make it easier to learn other languages later in life.
Tim Groser concedes his idea is unusual for a National Party minister.
“My personal view is that we should be teaching Maori to every 5-year-old child,” he says.
“This is turning the usual pakeha argument on its head because what I think should happen is you should introduce very young children from New Zealand to the idea of bi-culturalism and more than one language. Then they will be able to learn other languages as their personal circumstances fit."
Research shows that second language learning has positive effects on development. A 1991 American study showed that primary school students of average academic ability improved their reading scores after participating second language classes. A study from the University of Idaho concluded that high school students with two or more years of foreign language study showed significant superiority in performance in English tests when compared with non-foreign language students.
It’s accepted as read that learning a second language, whether that language is retained or not, greatly increases a person’s intellectual ability and – obviously - their ability to learn a third language. Selecting Maori as the second language of choice in schools makes sense. Maori is an official language and the indigenous language. It is a creative step and one, as you'd expect, that I welcome.
The Maori and Mana parties will support the call, as will the Greens and probably Labour. However, Winston has come out opposed to the idea in principle. On balance, the National Party caucus is probably opposed too. Having said that, I can imagine Cabinet, as opposed to caucus, coming around to the idea. John Key is, I admit, progressive on these matters as are others, for example Groser, Finlayson, Parata and maybe Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges.
Others more skeptical than I are calling this an effort to deflect attention from the bigger battles National is facing, think Skycity, land sales, asset sales and so on. I don't think there is anything to suggest this is true. It is, after all, Groser's personal view and a view with the long-term wellbeing of the country in mind. Any suggestion otherwise may be unfair politics.