Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Educators back compulsory Māori language

Greens Māori development spokeswoman Marama Davidson fronted the Greens' plan proposal to make te reo Māori a "core subject" in schools from years 1 to 10. Photo / Dean Purcell
Greens Māori development spokeswoman Marama Davidson fronted the Greens' plan proposal to make te reo Māori a "core subject" in schools from years 1 to 10. Photo / Dean Purcell

Educators have been quick to endorse a controversial Green Party proposal to make Māori language a compulsory core subject in state schools from years 1 to 10.

The two teacher unions, School Trustees Association and even the conservative Maxim Institute all backed the policy. Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he personally also believed in it, although Labour would not endorse it formally.

But National's Māori-speaking Education Minister Hekia Parata said children should only learn the language if they chose to.

"I'm for a bilingual nation," she wrote in an article supplied by her office.

But she added: "Of all the drivers for successful language acquisition, motivation is essential. Compulsion is the antithesis of motivation."

Greens Māori development spokeswoman Marama Davidson said many children were already excited about learning te reo at school because it "belongs to everybody in this country".

Lynda Stuart of the primary teacher union NZ Educational Institute said te reo should be "taught as a key part of New Zealand's curriculum". But she warned it would need "much more Government investment".

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said: "Personally, and given that I'm Māori myself, I think it's an amazing idea." She too warned that it would need a lot more teacher training.

Maxim Institute chief executive Alex Penk said: " We absolutely welcome the idea that all kids should learn te reo Māori. Like the Greens, we'd love to see every child have a good grasp of te reo because it's a core part of who we are as a country."

In the business world, even Export NZ director Catherine Beard was supportive, although she said compulsion might be "an own goal".

"Whilst te reo obviously is not spoken internationally, there is evidence that if you start out being bilingual it's easier to learn a third language," she said.

"Certainly when we go on trade missions the whole Māori aspect is often emphasised as a point of difference for New Zealand, and that sets us apart and I guess gets us noticed and makes us proud.

"I would say, though, that the negative thing about compulsion is sometimes that it can be a turn-off for people, so whether that would be the right way to win the hearts and minds I guess would be the only question."

Professor Sharon Harvey, who heads AUT's School of Language and Culture and has helped to develop language policies for both the Royal Society and an Auckland regional forum, said children should learn three languages like most people in Asia and Europe.

"English is the language of power both locally and internationally, so everyone who lives in New Zealand needs access to high-quality English language instruction," she said.

"Māori is the language of New Zealand, and I think because of the Treaty of Waitangi and for many reasons, we should be able to speak Māori to a reasonable level of proficiency.

"And maybe schools should have community discussions around the languages of their community and what other languages they will offer to the kids in their area."

- NZ Herald

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