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Massive surge in support for te reo

More and more people are supporting te reo to be taught in all schools. But how do we find enough teachers to deliver it? It’s down to government commitment and resourcing..

There has been a widespread surge of support for te reo to be taught in all primary schools, evidenced by recent studies and support for a Green Party petition, says Marama Davidson, the party’s Māori development spokesman.

“It shows a massive shift from 5-10 years ago,” she says. So far, about 3,000 people have signed the petition.

A survey from Te Mangai Paho released recently  found that 40 percent of non-Māori New Zealanders surveyed aged 25-45 years are either sympathetic to te reo or are actively learning and using it. About 55 percent of Māori are actively using te reo. This indicates a public climate of acceptance of te reo Māori becoming a core subject in all primary schools, Davidson says.

Data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, involving 15,822 people surveyed from Oct 2014 -Oct 2015, which asked people about their level of support for “teaching Māori language in New Zealand primary schools” has been analysed in a study by University of Auckland researchers. On a Likert scale of 1-7, Māori and Pasifika people showed the strongest support (with a range of median 5.91 for Māori women, to 5.23 for Pasifika men), but Pakeha women were not far behind (4.96), and Asian women (4.75) also quite strong. Both Pakeha men and Asian men still showed a majority in support, with a median figure of 4.20.

A higher level of education, being younger, being a woman, and having interacted in the previous week with Māori people (either friends, family, work or other contexts) were the four strongest factors associated with support for “teaching Māori language in New Zealand primary schools”.

A “pop-up” online survey last year by Te Ipukarea, The National Māori Language Institute at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) also found strong support for making te reo a compulsory subject in schools (83 percent of Māori, and 80 percent of European/Pākehā in favour), but participants were already people using a Māori dictionary (Te Aka), so likely to be supportive.

Māori Language Commission chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui said an Auckland University survey showed 40 percent of parents supported Māori being taught in primary schools, 46 percent were neutral while the remaining 14 percent were opposed (Radio NZ, 9 August, 2016).

Davidson also cites popular video blogs such as that of a young Auckland woman of South African descent Hana Botha (who is learning te reo), and Kapiti College student Finnian Galbraith last year, about the correct pronunciation of Māori place names as evidence that these issues are being widely discussed. “It’s important to have these community members with appreciation for the language showing their support.”

“Language development helps with literacy and enhances education and learning across the board,” she says. It supports the identity and heritage of the many tamariki Māori who are in mainstream schools.

Strong support

“Ko taku reo, taku ohooho, ko taku reo, taku māpihi mauria.”

My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.

This whakatauki is often quoted by Finlayson Park School principal Shirley Maihi, in her passion for supporting the learning of te reo and other languages. As a result of her strong support, she has been able to attract and retain 19 fluent speakers of te reo among her teaching staff for her growing multi-ethnic Manurewa primary school (roll 1,024).

“We’ve got immersion classes, and bilingual reo Māori going on in the mainstream of our school. We have the expertise to do that. It’s part of everyday teaching,” she says.

Maihi’s commitment to te reo and the many first languages of her students, is based on a belief in the benefits of bi-lingual education. There are cognitive, character, self-esteem, cultural and even economic benefits, she believes. (See

But while Finlayson Park School is a positive role model for diverse language learning, particularly te reo, this school is exceptional. Many mainstream schools would like to include more te reo in their curriculum, but finding Māori speakers to teach it is difficult, says NZEI Fellow and Resource Teacher of Māori at Waitara East School, Taranaki, Tiri Bailey. More professional development for staff and the employment of more RTMs are urgently needed, for language development in both the Māori immersion sector and mainstream, she says.

“Its not so open now to those who want to learn to teach te reo Maori. There’s very little support. If the Government thinks its an important part of education they need to think about putting some money into supporting the whole programme,” says Bailey. She says the Government’s focus has been on raising Māori achievement through National Standards, with little emphasis on te reo.

“One of our views is that if our tamariki are confident in who they are and have the capacity to speak te reo, their achievement levels will rise. We can see that in kura – not only are they competent in te reo, they are also competent in English.”

Maihi agrees that there is a dire shortage of human resources to teach te reo in schools, and a lack of support from the Government and Ministry of Education. Bringing Māori language expertise into the school often has to come from schools’ operational budgets. She would like to see a fund of $12-13,000 available per school per year (like Kiwi Sport), for those who want to employ a suitable local iwi person to work alongside qualified teachers in the classroom.

Māori Language Programme funding is available for those schools teaching te reo for three hours or more per week, but at a rate of only $61 per year per child for teaching at level 4 (3-7.5 hours per week) and up to $963.20 per year per child for level 1 (20-25 hours per week). Increased funding for the teaching of te reo at levels 4 and 5 would make a difference, teacher representatives say.

Over half of the schools in Aotearoa are not teaching te reo Māori, states the Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo (Radio NZ, 7.7.16). The Commission says that 1,185 schools have some level of Māori language education, while 1,353 schools have no Māori language education at all.

The number of students in Māori medium education increased from 17,842 in 2015 to 18,444 in 2016, but these students make up only 2.3% of the total school population. In July last year, only 20% of the total school population were involved in learning Māori language in an English medium school (a slight increase on the previous year). Seventy seven percent of the total school population were not enrolled in Māori language in education (levels 1-5), though 56 percent learnt taha Māori (simple greetings, some tikanga etc). (Education Counts, Ministry of Education).

Specific Māori teacher training figures have not been obtainable, with the merging of teacher training into universities, and are not listed on the Ministry of Education website Education Counts. There are reports of new teacher training courses for Māori immersion teachers, and increased financial support for those teachers, but the figures for Māori in general teacher training are likely to have declined.

Māori participation rates in tertiary education, while still exceeding that of other ethnicities, have declined from 22.5 percent in 2005 to 17.2 percent in 2015, and the number enrolled in certificate level courses fell by 250 students from 2014 to 2015. The numbers attending wānanga have dropped from 29,835 in 2005 to 21,770 in 2015. There was a downward trend in the number of student allowance recipients and student loan borrowers for 2014–2015.

Is teaching an attractive profession for young Māori who are fluent or have some ability in te reo? Bailey says young Māori are keen to enter teaching, but mostly into the Māori immersion sector. As well as the lack of support for Māori in mainstream schools, some of the other difficulties are workload issues, low salaries, and the stresses of poverty in the lives of children, she says.

Government attempts to support more Māori into teacher training include Teach NZ scholarships. Replacing the Māori and Pasifika High Achievers scholarships of 2014, 30 Kupe Scholarships were introduced each year for Māori and Pasifika wanting to enter teacher education.  In justifying the Kupe scholarships, the Teach NZ website states:

“The proportion of Māori and Pasifika teachers in the schooling workforce has changed little over the past decade, even though the proportion of Māori and Pasifika students they teach has grown significantly and is expected to increase in years to come”.

The Māori party, and now the Green Party (as announced on 1 February this year), argue that te reo Māori should be taught in all primary schools as a core part of the curriculum. Te Ururoa Flavell (Māori Development Minister, Māori Party) – “The long term benefit would be a language that’s thriving and since te reo is the window to the Māori world, I think we’d have a country that’s less racist and more embracive of others.”

Labour’s position is that the party supports increased funding for the teaching of te reo in schools to ensure “every child has the opportunity to learn te reo if they want to”, says shadow tertiary education spokesman Chris Hipkins. They will take action to boost the supply of teachers of te reo, and further training in te reo for existing staff.

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart agrees – “Te reo Māori should be a part of our everyday language, and taught as a key part of New Zealand’s curriculum,“ she says. “By normalising te reo Māori in our schools, we help make learning more inclusive for Māori children, and we also help ensure our indigenous language stays truly alive for all of us.”

Te reo Māori has been recognized as an official language since 1978. Stuart called for more Government investment, and stronger measures to attract fluent speakers into teaching.

Another potential solution is further iwi engagement with schools – Ngāti Kahungunu is an example of an iwi which has developed an education strategy, and its own set of standards (Te Pae Huarewa).