An app launched in Rotorua yesterday aims to be the one-stop learning platform for te reo Māori - with Bay teachers to be among the first to try it out.
Reo Ora is a fully automated te reo Māori app that learns from its users. Features include livestream classes, the ability to self-mark answers across different iwi dialects as well as the world's first speech-to-transcription service for te reo.
Reo Ora is available to Bay of Plenty teachers through a Ministry of Education initiative aimed at strengthening New Zealand's education workforce in te reo.
Reo Ora app creator and Māori language expert Dr Rāpata Wiri (Te Arawa, Ngāti Ruapani) said he believed the app provides a necessary service.
"The demand for te reo teachers far exceeds the number of kaiako that are available."
Reo Ora is working alongside Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust and the Ministry of Education in an initiative to train 10,000 teachers and staff in te reo Māori nationally per year, including 1000 in the Bay of Plenty. These would be across all school and kura levels including in early childhood education.
Trust poumanatū (general manager) ahurea Māori Bryce Murray said the app would play a big role in the delivery of the initiative's 22-week course.
The goal was to nurture and advance the educational opportunities of tamariki with the added benefit of strengthening relationships between kura, local iwi and mana whenua, Murray said.
"It is an opportunity for ākonga (learners) to strengthen the learning community across educational settings, such as kōhanga reo, early learning education centres, schools and kura, not only for the development of the ākonga involved but also for the communities the tamariki and whānau live and learn in."
Western Bay of Plenty Principal Association president Suzanne Billington said there was a push to foster the Māori language and ensure its survival for years to come.
"There is a genuine positive approach by teachers to learn te reo. You hold a culture in a language so you learn a lot about the culture in which we are living in this country."
Wiri wanted to roll the app out to 470 Bay of Plenty teachers by term four. Reo Ora is also being offered to government departments, iwi organisations and corporate businesses.
But Wiri said this is just the beginning.
"I basically want [Reo Ora] to be 'the' app for people to learn te reo Māori," Wiri told the Rotorua Daily Post.
"One of my motivations has been to be able to deliver to the masses."
Wiri said Reo Ora would make te reo learning more accessible to people from all walks of life, with different schedules.
"They'll see this is the best programme they can use in their own time."
Wiri was raised by his grandparents at Lake Waikaremoana and Rotorua, who only spoke te reo and his knowledge of the language shaped his 30-year career.
For him, Reo Ora is only the latest version in a long journey of development. He said the app's first version dated back to 2000.
"Back in the day we made a CD-ROM and put all of the content on it. Then we put it onto the internet onto a learning management system. Then apps came out so we developed an app."
In late-2019 Wiri met Matt Browning and Josh Dillner of Rotorua-based Salt + Tonic, which developed the app.
"They are very good at what they do. They're the only full-stack developers in Rotorua that I know of," Wiri said.
"I'm very grateful that they've taken my online programme to the next level."
Wiri, Browning and Dillner grew Reo Ora with help from Te Hiku Media, which provided the app's transcription service.
"We were all in the right place at the right time," Dillner said.
"It's been a privilege to deliver world-class technology with a local solution at the core."
Miller said Salt + Tonic had pushed boundaries for the project.
"We've made all sorts of apps but this one is special because we believe it will have a big impact."
Wiri said the app's launch gave him a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction.
"We're seeing how we can use technology to revitalise te reo," Wiri said.
"The other satisfaction is seeing people who are not Māori learning te reo, seeing how our language is becoming universal."
- Additional reporting Leah Tebbutt