'We had a duty' - Auckland Grammar on introducing compulsory te reo Māori

A prestigious Auckland high school has introduced te reo Māori for the first time with a bold statement - it's a compulsory subject for all year nines.

Auckland Grammar hired its first te reo Māori teacher in 2016, making it mandatory for all year nine students to take the subject once a week for two school terms. It's a huge handful for one teacher - there are more than 500 year nine (third form) boys.

The school felt it had a duty to provide the opportunity to young men, the school's principal Tim O'Connor told The AM Show. But the language was almost scuppered before it could be introduced.

"We undertook a review of the curriculum in 2015 and one of the strong threads that coming through at that point in time was that we should be introducing Mandarin... for various reasons, including the impact on trade.

"At that point in time, the question we asked ourselves was why would we not introduce Te Reo into the school before we introduced another language, such as Mandarin?"

Auckland Grammar Principal Tim O'Connor.
Auckland Grammar Principal Tim O'Connor. Photo credit: Newshub.

Mr O'Connor said there was a case to be made for the use of Te Reo in business and the workplace.

"If you're moving forward into any business or the government sector... then the need in this country to understand some Te Reo, to understand some basic tikanga, to be able to mihi has a right of place."

He said getting people to understand the culture was vital to all New Zealanders. 

Now in its second year of offering the subject,  of the hundreds of boys who learned te reo in 2015, just one class of boys about 30 decided to continue to learn the language in year 10.

There was no pushback from parents and the boys, he said.

When asked whether he would make te reo Māori compulsory in high schools, Mr O'Connor said he'd look at introducing compulsory Te Reo in primary schools instead.

On The AM Show's panel, former Reserve Bank Governor and ex MP Dr Don Brash questioned the opportunity cost of dropping another subject for Te Reo.

Former Green Party leader Russel Norman argued learning the language is an important part of being a New Zealander.

"This is part of our identity. This is part of who we are and that's why the school has made it compulsory for year nines."