Apr 30, 2012

Groser calls for compulsory te reo

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.


  1. It'd be great to see a Maori MP (from any party) putting this up as a Member's Bill.

    I think you'd get National at least supporting it to Select Committee.

  2. I grew up in South Africa, where the [then] two official languages- English and Afrikaans- were taught at every school, Schools for black communities began with their indigenous languages, and switched to one or the other when they reached about ten years old.
    It was the attempt in 1976 to make Afrikaans the compulsory medium of instruction that began the student uprising; putting all that aside, and looking at White, Indian and Coloured [mixed race] education, the effect was to build a mutual identity.
    Go to Brown's Bay- all South African born New Zealanders use Afrikaans to talk to each other, even if they speak English at home, because it is part of our identity.
    Making te reo Māori compulsory would give the benefits of developing our national identity, and would make language learning easier. The only problem would be cost- and that won't be much, as schools already have everything in place.

    1. That was South Africa mate and quite frankly I dont want to destroy our country telling people to speak a language that is useless in the world we compete in. If someone wants to speak Maori they can learn in many places without compulsion.

      We are already following a separatist path and as 20% of our kids are no hopers when they leave school already do we want to make it worse?

    2. You missed the point of Tim Groser's call. He wants children to learn te reo Maori as a means of increasing their cognitive abilities and, as a result, New Zealand's economic potential.

    3. I don’t see Maori language as useless I can’t speak Maori and their fore I can’t sing our countries National Anthem. I feel it is unpatriotic for me as a New Zealand Citizen to not fully understand and pronounce correctly our National Anthem. I regret that Maori was not mainstream at school but German was –We fought Germany 70 years ago in the War yet we value their language over our Maori. Anglo New Zealanders need to snap out of being British Colonists and become New Zealand Citizens. Learning Maori is the exact opposite of Separatism it is Patriotic.

  3. The problem with compulsory language education is often that students simply don't take it seriously.

    In most of Asia, English is compulsory, and yet most people don't speak it.

  4. That's a really interesting point, Grant. Cheers. That's true, to a certain extent I suppose. I found in my primary school, where basic te reo was compulsory, and in high school where Maori studies was compulsory in year 9 that most students were keen and took it seriously. More so in primary school admittedly.

  5. Hika ma! Kua tae ki te wa o te Reo Maori kei runga i tenei Blog. Kaore kau tetahi i whakahoki ki aku korero i te reo i mua. Kaore kore kua marama aku tuhinga ki a etahi. Kaua e korero mo te reo i tetahi reo ke! Me whakamahi to tatou reo mo tera. He reo e ora tonu ana. He reo ka poipoi i te taringa. He reo whangai i te ngakau. He reo i tipu i tenei whenua. Ko ona pakiaka e whiriwhiri ana i ki nga kohatu, ki te oneone hoki o tenei whenua. Ko taku inoi atu ki a koutou katoa, kaua rawa e korero mona ano nei, kaore ia i konei. Ano nei kei te korero mo tetahi mea kaore e ora ana. Ano nei kei tawhiti atu, ki wahi ke, ki whenua ke ranei. Kei konei ia. Taringa areare! Whakarongo. Ka huri au ki ta Groser. He pai tona whakaaro. Engari me korero i te reo, me tautoko i te reo ki te whakatutuki i ta te Tiriti i taunaki ai. A, me korero ano hoki na te mea ko ia tetahi o nga matauranga, e whakamarama ana i tenei ao ki a tatou.
    This is not a direct translation of what I have written, but it is similar. Our reo is a living language that has its roots in this land. It explains this land better than any other language. It caresses and soothes those who understand it and yearn to hear it. Please do not discuss it as if it is some inanimate object. It is not an object and it is not inanimate.
    Enough of that. Good on Tim Groser. I agree absolutely that it is invaluable in enabling the mind to learn other languages. He will incur the wrath of patrons for saying what he has. As for Winitana, he has his electorate to satisfy. He well knows that matters of identity are vital. To then equate all learning, and knowledge or skill as worthless if it does not have a monetary value is inconsistent with the value he and others place on identity, on not selling our souls, or lour land, or our water, or our symbols, or our language to foreign states or global corporatons.
    The reo should be spoken, retained and nurtured because the Treaty promised it and because it is knowedge that is unique, it is ours and it has intrinsic value. It is better than Shakespeare. Shakespeare is English and is a cultural icon of that language and culture. I cannot see what there is to fear from learning, it valuing it and retaining it. I can see no other reason for the attitudes of many of its detractors than xenophobic, jealous, meanspirited nastiness. Harsh words maybe, but why support, french as the language to speak when I was young, then Japanese, then Spanish and now Mandarin, when all this time a beautiful home grown language was suffering and could have improved the language skills of thousands of citizens of Aotearoa. This is what welsh language diehards, Quebecois, Basques, and countless other minority groups who treasure their own languages experience daily. Aue! Me mutu au i konei. Open your ears and your minds and hearts if you would, to a different tune, a different sound and a different way of thinking and doing. Nga mihi ki a tatou katoa

  6. It's a really bad idea because we already know Maori kids fail at pakeha schools, if te reo is made compulsory the result will be white kids learning to speak our language while Maori kids don't and how will Maori kids in those classes feel? I remember the way we were treated by teachers and white students at school, giving them our language is just giving them another weapon to use against us. It is another assimilationist policy and a way for pakeha to steal another part of our culture and identity for their own self-aggrandisement. This is not a well meaning plan it is not pro-Maori and it won't solve any of the serious problems with Maori education. It will make them worse and it will sabotage our attempts to reclaim our own language. The solution is Maori education for Maori by Maori, only a fool would let their enemy educate their children and to let our enemies use our culture to teach our kids their assimilationist agenda is beyond foolish. I really hope redneck knee-jerk will stop this before it causes serious damage.

    1. I may be wrong but I always perceived someone who was a redneck ignorant of a language like Maori and would refuse to learn it especially use it as a weapon against those very people they despised. The reason why they would refuse to learn such gobbledygook is because they might accidentally start to appreciate Maori and get a better understanding of Maori perspectives. I never heard of the KKK learning African Languages to get one up on African Slaves. Also Maori are at the end of Anglo Saxon assimilation –Speak English, Education etc. Would it not be fair if Anglo New Zealander’s accepted some assimilation into Maori Society and be on the receiving end.

    2. *sigh* THIS is the problem. The only racism they are aware of is the KKK so they think if anything annoys rednecks it must be non-racist. It is typical for white NZers to confuse Maori with African Americans and then judge that if Maori are treated differently it can't be racist. No, Maori are Indigenous, the comparision is with Indigenous people in America. Various Nativist movements in America did use native imagery and dressed up in 'red-face' as they terrorised whatever group of POC, they do appropriate Native words and names to validate their presence on Native land. You are missing the basic point; NZ and America are settler states, when settlers colonize an area they come to take over and replace the Indigenous people on their own land, the next step is for the settler society to forget they are colonizers and become indigenous themselves. They do this by stealilng from the culture of the people they replaced and there by appointing themselves as the rightful heirs. This is what NZers are doing when they stick Maori-looking sculptures outside police stations or teach their kids to count to 4 or whatever, it seems like a gesture of respect at Maori but in reality it serves their own agenda.

      I don't want white people to assimilate with Maori culture, that doesn't help me. White people outnumber Maori so quite obviously *reverse assimilation* would just mean white people taking over and ending Maori resistance. Is that respect? That's the end goal of settler colonialism, the end of Maori. We are not here to help you seperate yourselves from England, post-colonial for pakeha means continuing colonization for Maori.

      It would be a lot more useful if kids in schools were taught some basic facts about colonisation and the histroy of the country they're living in.

  7. There's no shortage of research showing the beneficial effects of second language learning on other skills; discoverlanguages.org lists some.

    Unfortunately it's impossible to tell from internet summaries how good the research is (I severely cut down reading educational research two decades ago because so much of it was poorly controlled and driven by the researcher's agenda) and how applicable the research findings are to school and social situations different from those in which the original research is carried out.

    Maori language is just one language which could be used in NZ, since we have numerous native speakers of other languages, including trained teachers in those languages. Even dead languages such as Latin claim improved skills in other subjects (I know nothing about the quality of the research.)

    If the aim of language teaching is fluency (I realise that's not Groser's stated aim), the extent to which people will learn a language depends in part on the willingness of individuals to learn and the prestige and utility of the language outside the classroom. Since notions of patriotism, identity and utility vary from person to person, language advocates need to be careful not to project their own enthusiasm onto other people.

    Anyone who thinks you can make a language popular should look at the sad history of compulsory Irish where for 80 years compulsory instruction has failed to make it the preferred language and the estimated percentage of proficient speakers is much lower than the inflated census figure imply.

    I taught in a multi-cultural South Auckland school where Maori was compulsory in the third form and it was obvious from student comments, even more obvious from the drop-out rates at the end of F3 (99% for non-Maoris, 50% for Maoris, IIRC) that it wasn't winning hearts and minds.

    I'm currently in my 10th year teaching English in Hong Kong where it's an official language, important in parts of the economy, given a lot of educational resources, used in plenty of media, and English Medium of Instruction schools have very high prestige, but so many students are so unable to speak it after years of instruction that you have to wonder whether they and the taxpayers are getting value for money.

    Kiwi Dave

  8. If we're implementing this concept as policy for the sole ends of improving education, should we not also consider the economic outcomes? So wouldn't it make more economic sense to implement language programs that taught the language of our major trading partners than te reo?

    1. Possibly, but I think the argument is it's easier for NZ students to learn Te Reo than any other language because they have more opportunities to be exposed to it in their day-to-day life than they do Mandarin, Portuguese and so on.

    2. If we are going to deal with other Nations economically that have different Cultures– e.g. China, Vietnam, Singapore it is in their interests we are multicultural nation and not another version of Britain in the south pacific (They may as well trade with Great Britain)

    3. Obviously, NZ is the best place to learn Maori, but in terms of day-to-day usage, in some parts of Auckland, including schools, you are much more likely to hear Samoan or Putonghua than Maori. Moreover, the increased availability of radio and TV through broadband is making other languages readily accessible for viewing and listening.

      According to research from several decades ago (no idea if it has been replicated), people learning a language for affective reasons do better than those with instrumental motives. People's motives change over time and differ from person to person. So I'm a bit cautious about the value of compulsory second-language learning generalisations which fail to recognise that different languages have different values for different groups of people.

    4. @Joe:

      I really do not think anybody from China or Vietnam is going to be impressed by New Zealander's mastery of Te Reo.


      Excellent point re: Samoan or Putonghua.

      I think a more equitable solution would be to make it compulsory to learn a language that's not English but to let the student chose which one. I have a feeling Maori would be by far the most popular, although perhaps less so in areas of the country that have small Maori populations/large second-language communities that aren't Maori.

      It seems particularly unfair to be telling recent migrant communities that the best way they can contribute to creating a multicultural society is to learn the Maori language/culture rather than preserving their own.

    5. You apparently think you have had a bright idea here. It in future if you are going to offer advice about what poc need it would help you to look up what they are saying themselves first. Http://bilingualaotearoa.wikispaces.com as if you are really interested.

      I am against teaching white kids but for the opposite reason from this guy. White people already think they own Maori culture, this will just encourage them. If A white politician suggested all white people should compulsorily be given a moko to show their respect for Maori culture, it would certainly annoy the rednecks but that wouldn't make it ok.

  9. When I went to primary school at Mangere Central in the 60's, we had a high Maori roll and most of the Maori kids came from the "pa" at Ihuamatao.
    Some of the adult women still had the genuine moko and were amongst the most lovely people I have ever met.

    Most of them spoke fluent te reo, and spoke fluent english as well, the majority of them went on to be good sucessful NZ citizens.

    My regret is that we pakeha never took advantage of the opportunity to learn from them.

    We had great games too, with stick and poi etc. Good constructive days.

  10. While I am on a roll, there was a maori lady who lived at the end of Pukaki road in a whare, with her grandson who I was mates with.

    we called her Mrs Leonard but I am sure that was not her "real" name, she was 100 years old and spoke no english in the 60's.

    She was great.

  11. When I started primary school, back in 1985, we all learnt Maori, when I was at intermediate in 1992-93 we all learnt Maori, and when I was in 3rd and 4th form, in 94-95, all students took Maori.

    So you can excuse me if I was under the impression that Maori was already compulsorily in our school system.


    PS: I had no problems with it.

  12. Good point, first anonymous. I have been in some classrooms where Māori students were being made to feel that they weren't as good at their own language than Pākehā students, teachers correcting their (correct) pronunciation, Pākehā kids telling Māori how it was, just dreadful stuff. I think a very important question is who would teach it. If Māori was made compulsory now, without a major push to get good speakers teaching, we would just exacerbate the current situation where Pākehā teachers who speak very badly are put in the situation of having to teach a language they don't understand (or, sometimes, even respect).



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