Māori a 'core subject' by 2025 - but still not compulsory

The Minister for Māori Development says te reo will be a "core subject" in primary and intermediate schools by 2025.

But Nanaia Mahuta admits there is a "huge challenge ahead" to reach that goal, with the nation in the midst of a teacher shortage - let alone teachers that can speak Māori.

"It's really hard to find teachers who can backfill, certainly within the kura kaupapa system - I expect that is the case within the mainstream," she told The AM Show on Monday.

"Often Māori language teachers get picked up and taken into the private sector because the language also has an economic value and contribution to make."

Ms Mahuta avoided using the word "compulsory" however. Every time host Duncan Garner asked her to clarify, she instead said it would be "integrated" and a "core subject".

The Government's official position is "universal availability". Winston Peters, leader of coalition partner NZ First, is opposed to making it a compulsory subject.

Research shows learning a second language, particularly at an early age, can do wonders for the brain. Ms Mahuta says in New Zealand, that second language should be Māori.

Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: The AM Show

"I want people to celebrate that as a country we are unique, and we're proud because we always punch above our weight - and that the language is a clear identifier of our unique personality and characteristics."

The Government's longer-term goal is 1 million Kiwis speaking basic Te Reo by 2040. Making it a core subject will go a long way towards that, Ms Mahuta says.

"More people hearing te reo Māori will ensure that people can use it more widely when they go to Pak'nSave, McDonald's, Countdown, in an everyday type of way."

Te Reo teacher Mark Abraham of Rangiora Borough School says that's exactly how he grades his students.

"Our assessment of their language is not necessarily how many words or phrases they can speak," he told The AM Show, "but how confident they are to take the language outside of the school environment, to share it with their whanau at home, to wherever they may be - whether I see them in the supermarket and I see them in the supermarket and they korero Māori to me, or whether they're at the sports fields. That's our assessment. "

The Ministry of Education lists eight "learning areas" that make up the official New Zealand curriculum - English, the arts, health and physical education, learning languages, mathematics and statistics, science, social sciences and technology. Māori is not mentioned by name.

Māori is listed as one of the nine learning areas covered in schools that teach in Te Reo, in addition to the other eight.

Ms Mahuta earlier this year said it's "not if but going to be when" Māori becomes a compulsory subject, drawing a sharp rebuke from Mr Peters.

The Greens want to put the accelerator down however, and make Te Reo a core subject in all schools - not just primary and intermediate - by the same 2025 target.

"We need to reaffirm our commitment in terms of ensuring it's available to all kids in this country as a right," says education spokeswoman Chloe Swarbrick.

Simon Bridges.
Simon Bridges. Photo credit: The AM Show

Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party, reaffirmed his opposition to compulsory Te Reo on Monday.

"I've made clear I don't support that because I just don't think that will be effective," he told The AM Show.

While admitting his own Māori language skills are lacking, he was easily able to count to 10 when challenged by Garner.

Party co-leader Marama Davidson will reveal the Greens' plan on Monday, to mark the start of Māori Language Week.