Wednesday 27 August 2014

A Policy A Day: Compulsory Te Reo Māori

In the lead-up to the election, we are going to examine one policy per (working) day. We've selected policies to be as balanced as possible across a range of policy areas and across the political parties. The idea is to explain the background, analyse the policy to investigate the pros and cons, and give a verdict on the policy at the end. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that - after all, we're voters too. Also, I say 'we' because this series will feature some guest posts from other young people, to share their thoughts and ideas as well. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today's post is written by Charlotte Austin.

Today's policy comes from the Māori Party. The idea is to have Te Reo Māori as compulsorily available in schools by 2015. The Māori language is a taonga guaranteed to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi. Unfortunately, despite this, the significance of Te Reo in New Zealand hasn’t always been widely appreciated, and the past 200 years have seen the prevalence of the usage of Te Reo both amongst Māori and non-Māori vary widely.

Brief History of the past 200 years of Te Reo Māori in New Zealand
In the early 1800s, Māori and Pākehā alike spoke Te Reo Māori. Children of early European settlers often grew up bilingual and missionaries learned Māori to better communicate their message. In the 1850s the Pākehā population surpassed the Māori and Te Reo became a minority language. The Native Schools Act 1867 enforced English as the only language to be used in educating Māori children. However, despite this, and the fact that at school children could even be punished for using Te Reo, Te Reo Māori was still widely used and understood up until World War II.

The urbanisation of Māori following the Second World War contributed to a significant decline in the percentage of the population who were able to speak Te Reo Māori. Prior to World War II, Te Reo was the first language of the majority of the Māori population. By the 1980s, this had dwindled to less than 20% of the Māori population.

In the 1970s, there was growing concern about the status of Te Reo, and around this time significant language preservation efforts began. In 1972 a petition with 30,000 signatures was presented to Parliament, calling for Māori language to be offered in schools. Māori Language Day was established, (extended to Māori Language Week in 1975), and in 1987 Te Reo Māori was made an official language of New Zealand. The first Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori-language immersion schools) were also established in the 1980s.

Since then, the prevalence of Te Reo Māori has stabilised somewhat. The 2013 census found 21.3% of Māori were able to hold an everyday conversation in Te Reo (a decrease of 3.7% since 1996, which Statistics New Zealand categorises as a neutral change). Between 2001 and 2006, the percentage increased, however following that, the only sector of the Māori population able to speak in Te Reo to increase between 2006 and 2013 was those aged 65 and older; all other age groups experienced a decline.

The current place of Te Reo Māori within the New Zealand curriculum
At present, Te Reo Māori fits within the ‘Learning Languages’ section of the New Zealand curriculum. That means that it sits alongside other languages such as French or Japanese, as opposed to being an ‘essential learning area’ like English or maths. Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2003 that work began on a Te Reo Māori curriculum. The draft was published in 2007; prior to this there had been no curriculum guidelines for the subject for teachers to use.

Māori Language Strategy
Also in 2003, the Government released the Māori Language Strategy which sets out five goals to be achieved by 2028. This strategy is still in place (although the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill proposed by Hon Dr Pita Sharples is currently before Select Committee). The goals are:

1. The majority of Māori will be able to speak Māori to some extent and proficiency levels in speaking, listening to, reading and writing Māori will increase.

2. Māori language use will be increased at marae, within Māori households, and other targeted domains.

3. All Māori and other New Zealanders will have enhanced access to high-quality Māori language education.

4. Iwi, hapū and local communities will be the leading parties in ensuring local-level language revitalisation. Iwi dialects of the Māori language will be supported.

5. The Māori language will be valued by all New Zealanders and there will be a common awareness of the need to protect the language.

Analysis of the Policy
On the topic of compulsorily available Te Reo Māori in schools, Dr Pita Sharples said that “People will always say this is racist and stuff like this, which is ridiculous, but there will always be that opposition, so I think we just plough ahead now we've had a lot of time", and I’m inclined to agree with his sentiment.

Te Reo Māori is an important part of New Zealand’s past and present and should remain so in our future. Even with the progress that has been made in Māori language preservation, the prevalence of Māori language comprehension and usage is worrying. The good news is that public attitudes towards Te Reo Māori among both Māori and non-Māori are increasingly positive; the progress in this area has been hard won, and it would be a shame to let it lapse.

Although making it compulsory for schools to offer Te Reo Māori is a logical step, the main issue I see with this policy is the issue of whether New Zealand has the capacity in terms of sufficiently trained teachers for this to be a possibility. At present, we just don’t have capacity to make learning Te Reo compulsory in all schools (as proposed by Mana); demand for teachers of Te Reo Māori is already unmet. Making it compulsory for schools to offer Te Reo would be a slightly easier threshold for us to reach because not all students would choose to learn Te Reo, meaning a lesser burden would be placed on the Māori language teachers. It’s crucial, that before any policy is put in to action, that we do have enough sufficiently trained teachers to make the implementation a success. Poor teaching of Te Reo could well be detrimental in that we could just end up putting a whole generation off Te Reo as a language due to a bad experience at school. Since the advent of kura there has been a resurgence of young Māori speakers.

Te Reo Māori needs to be more than just understood. It needs to be a vibrant language, with speakers who want to use it, beyond just in the classroom - also in their everyday lives. There is an important link between using the language and preservation of the entire Māori culture. Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell says "Without our language we will lose our culture and the very essence of who we are as indigenous peoples".

A lot more consultation has been done in recent times surrounding the Maori Language Strategy, spearheaded by Dr Sharples (which has lead to the new Bill). A lot of groundwork has been put in place to ensure that compulsory Te Reo Māori in schools can be feasible in the future. For example, in Budget 2013, about 265 TeachNZ scholarships were made available, targeted at Te Reo Māori teachers. Sharples says "We’ve heard the cries and advice of our people to keep our language alive and so approximately $60 million has been committed to Te Reo Māori and Māori education". But this has to take effect first before we can move to full compulsory Te Reo Māori in schools.

I think that learning some Te Reo Māori should be an important part of every New Zealander’s education, just as important as learning about the Treaty or any other “basic” part of a Kiwi education. Getting too caught up about whether or not people “want” to learn Te Reo is actually not the point. Not every student is going to love learning algebra or reading Shakespeare, but, well, at the risk of sounding like my parents, that’s just life. Te Reo Māori is an important, and I think too often undervalued, part of New Zealand’s culture.

Verdict: Compulsory Te Reo Māori is a good aspirational target, and the benefits of having Māori language teaching more widely available, both for Māori and non-Māori would definitely be a positive thing for New Zealand. I think a strong case for compulsory Te Reo Māori learning can be made, given the important place Māori language should occupy in New Zealand. At present, however, we simply do not have the capacity for this to be a reality, and so the Māori Party’s policy of Te Reo Māori becoming compulsorily available in schools is a more realistic and achievable policy that will still be of benefit. Perhaps what we really need is compulsory Te Reo Māori training for all teachers - although that’s for another post!

For those interested in the overall strategy for saving Te Reo Māori, please have a look at Joshua Fishman's model for reviving threatened or dead languages (including Hebrew and Welsh) which is suggested as a potential model for New Zealand. Step 5 of 8 is compulsory language use in schools.

Charlotte Austin is a second year student at Victoria University where she studies Law, Japanese, and International Relations. She is left leaning but is not a member of any political organisation. Charlotte has an interest in language learning and social policy. A special thank you to @ellipsister for reviewing this post and contributing valuable feedback.

1 comment:

  1. I think the rhetoric around learning Maori needs to be about more than just saving the language for people to get serious and not resist it. Between now and making it compulsory, we need to prioritise a new sense of ownership of the language as a New Zealand thing. The problem is that a lot of pakeha like me grew up not feeling that they had any inheritance in the culture! that it wasn't their right to learn it. A lot of the time, it just intimidates you to sign up to Maori as an option in High School where you are the obvious pakeha. Sounds silly but learning a language is a social and emotional experience and getting young people to take the leap will be an important step. They will be the future teachers of the language when it eventually becomes a core subject.