Less popular, but te reo important

By Rebecca Savory, Cassandra Mason

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Te reo is suffering from a perception it's "not cool" at a Mount Maunganui high school, its principal says.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Education show the number of secondary students taking te reo Maori are virtually unchanged from a decade ago.

Te reo enrolments peaked in 2008 at 26,339 students but slumped to 22,813 last year - a similar number to those learning French.

Mount Maunganui College principal Russell Gordon said staff were struggling to increase enrolment numbers due to the subject's low popularity.

"Interestingly, it's not one of our more popular options.

"It is not a 'cool' subject, as the students would describe it."

Mr Gordon took the year nine te reo course, and said he found it "surprisingly difficult".

The school was working hard to raise the language's profile by holding events like haka competitions, he said.

"It's just a way of finding things that have mass appeal and normalising all things Maori."

While the school was running special events for Maori Language Week, it was important to remember that it wasn't "just one week out of 52", Mr Gordon said. "It has to be something that's regular, normal and natural."

Moana Radio presenter Pat Spellman said keeping te reo Maori alive was essential to New Zealand's uniqueness.

"In a world where we don't hold too much organic to us, te reo Maori will always be ours."

General Manager of Moana Radio Charlie Tawhiao said people living in Tauranga had close ties to the language. "We live in Tauranga. That in itself requires people to use a Maori word." Both Mr Spellman and Mr Tawhiao agreed that Maori Language Week helped to bring Te reo out into the open and reach an audience that they do not usually reach.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said public servants were now rewarded for Maori language competency.

"We have a number of collective agreements that specify an allowance for people who are competent in te reo and are using that as part of their work."

There was an increasing expectation that public servants could carry out some business in te reo, and it was important that they could respond competently, Mrs Pilott said.

"We wouldn't accept somebody mangling English pronunciation in formal settings and we would have the same expectation [for te reo]."

Maori language immersion schools could be partly credited for the shift, she said.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said while te reo was only directly helpful in a narrow range of businesses, Maori language knowledge demonstrated competence to employers.

"It demonstrates language learning capability and it demonstrates cultural awareness capability and that's very important for business, especially export businesses."

Employees who had learnt te reo were also more likely to have a "better understanding" of New Zealand history and a Maori perspective on different cultures, he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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