Several generations ago, children who dared to speak te reo Maori at school were cruelly silenced. The great Ngapuhi leader Sir James Henare, born in 1911, remembered as a schoolboy being sent into the bush to cut a piece of pirita, or supplejack vine, so he could be hit with it for speaking te reo in school grounds.

Thankfully, kids are no longer being silenced in this way. Instead Maori language and culture is being heard and seen more and more often in the everyday world of the classroom. When I visit schools around the country, I'm often welcomed with a powhiri. I see bilingual signage, I see kids who know everyday Maori words and greetings, and I've heard many beautifully sung waiata.

In these very practical ways, schools are increasingly bringing the many layers of the Treaty of Waitangi to life. Our kids are also learning more about the Treaty that this nation was founded on 175 years ago.

We're seeing parents from all backgrounds expressing a desire for their children to have more exposure to the Maori language. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of children learning te reo at school grew 11 per cent, from close to 133,000 children to more than 147,000. That isn't including those in kura kaupapa and Maori immersion classes, where numbers increased from about 16,000 to almost 18,000 over the same period.


We would like to have more Maori language teachers to meet the demand. We're working to increase supply with a range of scholarships and support. Currently, for example, there are some 600 trainee teachers studying to be teachers in a Maori immersion setting or to teach te reo in a mainstream school.

Many schools are exploring the ways the Treaty relationship can be further expressed in education by working harder to connect with Maori whanau, or making sure that they have more of a voice in important decisions in the school. This may take the form of co-opted iwi or Maori parent members on the board of trustees. In other schools, communities have set up Maori parents' groups who work collaboratively with the school meet their educational aspirations for their children.

So far, so encouraging. But the Treaty will never be fully meaningful while the education system fails so many of our Maori students. As has been well-rehearsed, at every stage, the education system is less successful for Maori and Pasifika students and students from low-income families.

Economic and social factors do play a significant role for these students, which is one reason our Government is working hard to increase economic opportunities for all. But within the education system, we need to do better. Achievement is also influenced by quality teaching, expectations of performance, school leadership and whanau and parent involvement.

Part of the picture is making it easier for Maori learners to learn as Maori, and supporting schools to offer that. We have a great deal of work underway on that front in our Ka Hikitia strategy.

On a wider front, momentum is building behind the exciting $359m Investing in Educational Success programme that we announced a year ago. Already 17 per cent of schools have been approved to join or are in the queue to join. This approach will benefit all kids by lifting the quality of teaching and leadership in schools and by actively engaging their parents in the setting of learning goals. Excellent teachers will get the opportunity and rewards to mentor other teachers. Schools will work together in communities of schools to tackle shared achievement goals.

It's a long journey from the school days of Sir James, but I believe one he would be truly heartened by. The Maori world is increasingly visible in the classroom. And we have a plan underway to ensure teachers and schools start sharing their best ideas with each other on how to help all students achieve.

Hekia Parata is the Minister of Education.