The Maori Party wants to make te reo "compulsorily available" in schools by 2015 but students wouldn't be compelled to take the subject.
Co-leader Tariana Turia and Te Tai Tokerau hopeful Waihoroi Shortland revealed the party's education policies at Auckland's Hato Petera College yesterday.
Mr Shortland said the policy wouldn't just tell schools they had to be able to teach te reo and then leave them to figure out how. Instead, the party proposed adapting the Ataarangi programme founded by the late Dame Katerina Mataira and make it available to schools.
It would also be underpinned by a three-year recruitment drive for 200 Maori teachers who would be bonded in exchange for scholarships.
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Mr Shortland said it was important to recognise that 95 per cent of Maori children were taught in mainstream educational institutions. This programme could help students become competent by the time they left primary school.
"We want to look at a programme which achieves our aspiration of a wider uptake [of te reo Maori] by the student body. We've preached the compulsory thing for years and really haven't thought too hard about how we're going to implement it ... I think this is a practical solution," he said.
The Education Ministry said New Zealand had no compulsory subjects in the curriculum. But it had eight learning areas - English, the arts, health and physical education, mathematics and statistics, science, social sciences, technology - of which seven had to be offered to all students in years 1 to 10.
Mana leader Hone Harawira said his party wanted te reo to be a core subject.
But Labour's Kelvin Davis, a former principal who is also standing in Tai Tokerau, supported the Maori Party idea. "I actually think it's a good idea to be honest. I would love every child in New Zealand to want to speak Maori ... but I think if there were compulsion there'd be a massive backlash by unenlightened New Zealanders."