Te reo Māori advocates want more non-Māori teachers taking up the language

Te reo Māori advocates are calling for non-Māori teachers to take up the language.

They believe it should be compulsory in schools, but first they need non-Māori teachers to make the most of a Te Reo course made available to them through the Ministry of Education.

With over 2100 students on their school enrolment, Manurewa High School in Auckland is one of the largest schools in the country with a diverse range of students.

Pākehā students make up just 5 percent, with Pasifika students being the largest ethnic group at 53 percent. This is followed by Māori. However, speaking English and Māori at the kura is very normal.

"It's not uncommon for all our kids to speak Māori. You'll quite commonly see our Pasifika students walking around the school saying things like 'mahi kura' or 'kia ora'," said deputy principal Nichola McCall.

"And that's something we believe, language, culture and identity is hugely our superpower, so we embrace that as much as we can."

That's because many of the kids are already speaking in their native tongue at home, with those skills easily transferable to Māori due to its similarities.

This high school currently offers year 9 newbies one term of compulsory Te Reo, but is aiming to extend that to the whole year.

"Our rangatahi are not seen as that deficit, that pressure is not put on them. They're seen for their beauty and their magic and I think that's really important for our rangatahi to be strong in who they are. We need to be valued, they need to be valued and it's through the language where it starts," McCall said.

Over half of the people in the world are bilingual, and in Aotearoa, a study has found that at two years of age, 40 percent of children understand two or more languages.

The Government has recognised the benefits of bilingualism and what it does for Māori student achievement. They want to have 30 percent of Māori students cross over from mainstream to total immersion schools like kura kaupapa by 2040.

But vice president of New Zealand Education Institute Ripeka Lessels said they want te reo Māori to be compulsory in mainstream schools.

"Teachers have to lift wherever they are at in their te reo Māori journey to give our children access to te reo Māori if we are going to normalise te reo Māori," Lessels said.

Research has shown bilingualism also enables children to develop their identity and build relationships across the many diverse cultures that make up modern-day New Zealand.

With schools going to see more multi-ethnic communities, the education trade union said resources have to be put in to strengthen the workforce and to unpack structural racism in the education system.

"Of the 110,000 registered teachers on the Teaching Council books, only a small portion have taken up Ahu o Te Reo," Lessels said.

That's the Ministry of Education's initiative to support teachers, managers, and support staff in their te reo Māori development.

Pākehā make up more than 70 percent of the education workforce, but only 10 percent of them took up the course. Most of the others who enrolled were Māori.

"I think about that system devaluing te reo Māori, I think about that system devaluing our culture and I think about all those things. And I think the system created that and the system needs to undo it," Lessels said.

McCall said: "We have to be honest, education was set up as a colonial tool and so when we bring our te reo Māori into this space then we are able to shape and frame the curriculum a lot differently."

The Government has ruled out making te reo Māori compulsory but is working on resourcing the need to reach its targets, which include a million reo speakers in the country by 2040.