This is Māori Language week – or, I should say, Te Wiki o te reo Māori – and it’s the perfect opportunity to bring up an important issue: teaching of te reo should be compulsory in all schools in New Zealand. Compulsory from the frst day of school at 5, until the last day of Year 12.
Let’s put it in some context. In France, schools teach French. In England, schools teach English. In Spain, schools teaching Spanish. In Japan, schools teach Japanese. Oh look! There’s a bit of a pattern going on here. How about this one: in New Zealand, schools teach te reo Māori…?
Nope. That doesn’t sound right. And that’s the problem. No one, it seems, is taking responsibility for the teaching of our language in New Zealand schools. Under the Treaty of Waitangi, there is a duty to uphold the biculturalism of New Zealand. If the language isn’t a key part of that, then something’s gone more than just a bit wrong.
Oh, the argument goes, but not that many people speak it any more. Apparently, according to a recent survey, just 0.6% of Pākehā speak te reo. And that’s exactly why it should be taught! How do you stop a language from completely dying out? Make sure more people speak it!
It seems, though, that our Prime Minister isn’t quite on board with this idea. In a recent interview with Radio NZ, he said that teaching of te reo Māori shouldn’t be compulsory, but instead the government should be concentrating on funding Māori TV. Hmm… so he wants people to watch more TV (he’d’ve liked my article a couple of weeks ago) but not know their own language?! Really, Prime Minister?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t speak nearly enough te reo. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I don’t teach nearly enough te reo. Maybe it’s not the government who’s to blame – it’s the teachers. If I taught it more – and all the other teachers taught it more – it might make a signifcant difference.
Maths is compulsory at school, and it gets taught pretty much every day. Likewise, English and social studies and all the rest. Even if it was for twenty to thirty minutes every day (a few hours a week over the entire length of a school career!) just imagine how much difference that would make!
The only way to ensure that te reo Māori is taught is to make it compulsory. And John Key, as our Prime Minister, needs to set the example right at the very top of government.
This is an opinion-based article designed to provoke debate, discussion and further inquiry
amongst your students:
Critical Thinking Challenges:
- Why do you think there is a reluctance to make te reo Māori compulsory?
- Do you think that teachers want to avoid teaching it? Why? Why not?
- How much te reo Māori can you speak?
- Can language and culture be separated? In other words, can the language be taught and understood without understanding Māori culture and ways of life?
- Thinking about the same issue but internationally, so many languages are dying out in the world partly because globalisation means that there tends to be just one or two languages per country, and most international business (and the internet) is done in English. How might countries and groups of people save their languages?
- If people move from another country to New Zealand, do you think that they should have to learn te reo Māori?
- Can you come up with an argument against making te reo Māori compulsory in schools?
- How can you encourage more te reo Māori in your school?
- Not everyone in New Zealand speaks te reo Māori. But not everyone in New Zealand speaks English as a frst language either. Find out in your class, school, neighbourhood, church, sports team, and so on, what different languages other than English are spoken. Ask your friends or people you know what they do to make sure that their linguistic heritage (the language of their culture) doesn’t get lost here in New Zealand?
Have Your Say:
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