Opinion: Why I don't want compulsory te reo Māori in schools

  • 29/06/2020
Opinion: Why I don't want compulsory te reo Māori in schools
Photo credit: The Hui

By Heta Gardiner

OPINION: I attended Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamata, a school that embraced te reo Māori and celebrated being Māori. When I moved to an English medium school, Māori was an option, and I continued with Māori as a subject until I left in year 13. Reo Māori featured in my University study, alongside Kura Reo and Te Panekiretanga o te Reo (The Institute of Excellence in Te Reo Māori) which consumed significant chunks of holidays and weekends. I currently work in the te reo Māori space. I have a passion and a love for my language, and it's for that reason I have formed the opinion that I don't want te reo Māori as a compulsory subject in schools. 

I understand the arguments for making Māori a compulsory subject. I realise that some reo advocates that have spent their lives fighting for the language are for it, and I am by no means, discrediting them, or anyone that has that opinion. The Green Party made making Māori compulsory in schools one of their election year policies in 2017, to the applause of many in our Māori communities. It is said compulsion will raise the collective understanding of non-Māori with things Māori, leading them to having a deeper understanding of our culture. It is also said that it will bring the country together, it will lift the status of the Māori language in this country. These are all positives. But there is a flipside.

Put aside the fact that good principals who want to support genuine Māori language choice around the country point to the shortage of competent, qualified teachers as their biggest challenge, and adding the number of students for Māori classes 10 fold will overwhelm our school system. Even if that huge barrier could be manoeuvred with massive increased Government funding for teacher training, my objection is not based on economics or logistics. 

My perspective circles primarily to one point; He taonga tō tātau reo, ā kaore au i te hiahia ki te hoatu i tēnei taonga ki te hunga ka takahi i a ia. My language should be cherished. I reject the idea of gifting it to those who don't want it, and I don't want any part of forcing it upon those that hate it. 

Yes there are many people out there that absolutely despise the idea of learning the Māori language. Parents will pull their kids out of class, teachers and principals will refuse to teach it in schools. We'll get a never ending chorus of "My kids aren't Māori, why should they have to learn Māori?" "This is PC gone mad!". 

There will be protests to Parliament, petitions, all in the name of "Don't force me or my kids to learn Māori!". It will be an endless stream of revulsion towards te reo. I for one, am not hurrying to expose our taonga to such treatment. To me, if you so passionately disdain the idea of learning this beautiful language, I have no interest in the limited money earmarked for reo Māori, to go towards forcing you to do so.

What I would rather see is te reo Māori being available to everyone that wants to learn. From Kohanga, all the way up to adult learners. A lot of educational providers already offer free adult reo classes for beginners, and I think it would be great if that was expanded. Make it affordable and accessible to all. Support those that are hungry to learn the language, invest in them, and if you truly believe that compulsion within our school system is the way to affect peoples' attitudes and understanding towards Māori, why not focus on making NZ history compulsory instead? It will achieve a lot of the same benefits as making Māori a compulsory subject, without exposing the language to ridicule and contempt from the ignorant and racist. It will leave Māori language money and effort where I think it belongs, to those that actually want it. 

Heta Gardiner is a producer for Māori Television's daily news program Te Ao Mārama, is a graduate of Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori (The Institute of Excellence in Te Reo Māori) and has worked in Māori broadcasting for over a decade.

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