• Hekia Parata is Education Minister.

As our country marks Waitangi Day, it's appropriate to reflect on the outstanding progress being made by Maori children and young people.

What we expect from our students has changed dramatically over the course of just a few years. The opportunities available to our children and young people are diverse, and they have been making the most of them. In particular, Maori students have made huge strides since this Government came to office.

In 2008, less than half of all Maori teenagers were leaving our education system with NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification. Out of about 13,000 Maori students who turned 18 in 2008, just 6003 achieved the minimum qualification necessary for further education or training.

Seven years later 9476 of Maori who turned 18 achieved that vital level of qualification. That means almost 3500 more young Maori embarked on adulthood with the tools they needed to succeed. More Maori children are also participating in early education, giving our littlest learners the best start. Principals, teachers, parents, whanau and the students themselves have all worked phenomenally hard to achieve this remarkable turnaround. The wider community has also supported their young people to stay in school longer.

Advertisement

The Government's part in this turnaround has been to raise expectations, to focus attention on raising achievement for all students. We have invested heavily to provide schools with the tools they need to support every young Kiwi to achieve their full potential. Funding for schooling has gone up by 35 per cent since 2008/9, and now stands at more than $11 billion.

But while there has been dramatic progress in student achievement in recent years, there is still more to be done. The overall results for Maori and Pasifika still lag behind those of other population groups. The achievement rate for all 18-year-olds in 2015 was 83.3 per cent, an increase of almost 16 per cent over seven years. That compares to 71.1 per cent for Maori and 77.6 per cent for Pasifika. To address this we have invested in providing a wider range of education options for Maori students. In 2015 we spent around $400 million to support te reo.

We have also been working to increase the number of Maori-speaking teachers. In 2013 we committed more than $11m to te reo Maori scholarships and awards.

This is important, as it has traditionally been a struggle to attract and retain Maori-speaking teachers. The highest attrition rate is amongst teachers in Maori medium education. But the number of students learning te reo is growing. Overall in 2016 nearly 180,000 students were learning te reo, an increase of just over 30,000 since 2010. And we can expect this number to grow as more schools come together to form Communities of Learning, sharing the expertise of their teachers.

I am frequently asked if te reo Maori should be compulsory for all children. I'm certainly for a bilingual nation, but of all the drivers for successful language acquisition, motivation is essential.

Compulsion is the antithesis of motivation. It has long been the case that every school is required to offer the opportunity to learn te reo, and government funding is available because it is demand-driven. There is no cap on funding for te reo, a clear sign of this Government's commitment to bilingualism. I will take universal availability over compulsion any day.

I want to end by stating that what we want for Maori kids is what we want for all kids - personalised pathways that engage their interest. We want all students to have the opportunity to achieve their potential. It's what every child entering our education system deserves.