Compulsory Te Reo Māori debate fails to address key problems, say critics

Te Reo Māori lessons ... lack of teachers and resources make it hard for a compulsory approach. Image: Māori Television

Māori language week was celebrated last week and the key issue in the media was a debate on whether Te Reo Māori should be made compulsory in New Zealand schools. Mike Mohr of Asia Pacific Journalism reports.

Amid the debate over the issue of compulsory Te Reo Māori lessons in New Zealand schools that intensified last week, many arguments and opinions for and against were voiced.

Many New Zealanders support the idea of te reo being introduced more widely into schools, with overwhelming media coverage in support for compulsory Te Reo be implemented into the New Zealand core school curriculum by 2025.

But the question that has not yet been answered is whether it is possible or realistic, and the views of some who do not agree with the notion of compulsion have not yet been fully voiced.

READ MORE: Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 


It is an ongoing debate that has divided many New Zealanders in support of its implementation and those opposed to Te Reo being made compulsory.

Figures in 2013 showcased a drop in the numbers of Te Reo speakers in New Zealand by 4 percent in 17 years.

Among those opposing compulsory Te Reo is Renata, a student teacher in her final year of study of bilingual primary teaching (Māori and mainstream). She believes that implementation will be complex.

Not enough teachers specialising in the subject area is her concern.

‘Lack of teachers’
“There is already a lack of teachers, where are we going to find the teachers,” she says.

She adds that there is a need to focus more on supporting current speakers and teachers in the subject instead on using compulsion because currently there is such a shortage in the number of teachers.

There are many challenges ahead if it is made compulsory, she believes.

“What’s stopping us implementing Te Reo without it becoming compulsory? Do we need to force Te reo upon people to make them understand the importance or is it already becoming a choice of importance at people’s own free will.”

Tapa, a student of Māori law studies, is opposed to the idea of compulsory te reo in New Zealand.

“I think te reo should not be made compulsory, I do not like the term compulsory,” says Tapa, citing the “immense resources” that will be needed.

“Kura (School) are not always producing high level reo users, most rangatahi (young people) won’t even reply in reo. I think spend the money improving existing structures to a higher level,” he says.

To roll out nationwide implementation of Te reo into the New Zealand school system would cost a lot of time, money and resources, training and maintenance where there is already a struggling system to deliver basic modalities.

More support
“I think, and my reasons are influenced by Dr Tīmoti Kāretu that existing speakers of Reo should be supported to improve what they know and brought up to a higher level.”

There is not a set dollar amount for how much the government spends each year on te reo, but the general conservative figure is more than $100 million a year.

“That funding and resources should be spent in avenues where reo is already active to get it to a higher level and used consistently instead of mass production of mediocre speakers.”

Tapa has a suggestion for those wanting to learn Te Reo: “I think if you want your kids to learn Te Reo, send them to kohanga, and enrol yourself in Reo courses, and embrace te ao Māori (Māori world)”.

Concern for the quality of teaching and for potential students not being provided the full philosophy of the Māori view point and cultural emulsification into te reo will not be achieved by just providing teachers that know the language.

“If any random teacher was given just the language to speed up the process of teaching children, then it has no wairua (spiritual connection) attached to it.”

Māori culture
Te reo Māori does not come alone, it comes with te ao māori (Māori world), whakaaro Māori, tikanga, kawa and many other aspects unique to Māori culture, language and beliefs.

All these will have an effect on each and every single one of these Te Reo meōna tikanga (Competence in speaking, writing, comprehension, structure and the application of Te Reo Māori me ona tikanga) is integrate to have reo, substance and identity.

“We don’t give that just to anyone, especially if it against their will and do not have respect for the culture let alone the language,” he says.

There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel as more and more people throughout the country are willing to make the effort to learn Te Reo.

“Statistics are showing that there has been a major influx of people all over New Zealand wanting to learn Te Reo Māori,” says Renata.

She believes that more resources and funding is needed to support current speakers and to support people who are passionate about wanting to learn Te Reo.

Importance realised
“People who want to learn and are now learning to recognise the reality of its importance,” she says.

Renata understands the amount of work that will be needed for it to be implemented is a huge up taking and everyone needs to do their part to preserve the language.

But, people need to choose for themselves and those who are passionate about learning Te reo need to be supported and encouraged with the proper resources made available to facilitate learning.

“It is up to us as an individual, as a whānau, and as an iwi to maintain that as tangata whenua, it is not the responsibility of others to bring back something that we as a collective need to learn ourselves and pursue,” Renata says.

Current arguments fall to the need for New Zealanders to learn more about Māori point of views and learning a second language will support cognitive development in young children in their development.

There seems to be a lot of agreement that having a second language should be promoted and encouraged for school children.

Fear over choice
A lot of the fear of many parents is not being able to be given a choice on the second language their young one will learn.

Not many people are denying the importance of Māori culture and language in New Zealand, and is the duty of New Zealanders under the treaty to treasure and maintain the language for future generations, say advocates.

But a realistic discussion and debate on how to implement it will be beneficial for all.

While there seems to be a lot of emotion when the topic is discussed, no real attempt is being made to justify to the wider public the need for Te Reo to be compulsory without logical arguments to appease the fear of wider New Zealand.

Mike Maatulimanu Mohr is a student journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Journalism) reporting on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

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