Te Reo Māori – Should It Be Compulsory In Schools?

Image of New Zealand fern

‘Ko te reo Māori te kākahu o te whakaaro, te huarahi ki te ao tūroa.
Māori language is the cloak of thought and the pathway to the natural world.’

The Greens party have announced that they want te reo Māori to be taught in all New Zealand public schools from years one to ten, and they want it compulsory.

There is much debate going on about this controversial topic, so I thought I would weigh in and have my say.

Yes – I do think it should be compulsory, and here’s why.

A few years ago, my husband and I were at a shopping centre in Hamilton. While walking, I overheard a father having a conversation with his two young daughters. This conversation stopped me in my tracks. Not because of the topic, but because of the language. The whole conversation was completely in te reo Māori and not a word of English was spoken. It made me smile in admiration of this whānau embracing our language, and embracing our culture. I thought to myself “Wow”.

That smile soon vanished and instead, I was saddened.

I was saddened because I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Yes, I could understand a few words here and there. But following their whole conversation, I was completely in the dark. I was also saddened because of the thought that had crossed my mind. “Wow, good on them”. It was a positive thought, but if everyone spoke Māori then that thought wouldn’t have been necessary. The thought wouldn’t have been necessary if the Māori language was normalised and spoken just how the English language is. Which is what I believe should happen.

Despite huge progress over recent decades, the survival of te reo Māori is still not assured. Did you know that in 2013, only 3.7% of New Zealanders spoke te reo Māori?

Since 1987, te reo Māori has been recognised as an official language of New Zealand alongside English and Sign Language. So if it’s a national language and a part of our country’s history, why isn’t it compulsory to learn this at school?

Children in most European countries are taught to speak more than just one language. Why can’t we do the same? By giving our children the chance to learn te reo Māori, it may encourage the next generation of New Zealanders to be a little more caring, considerate and understanding of the Māori culture. I’d like to imagine they would also be more proud of themselves and their country.

As part of our family growing and learning together, my husband and I have started an online te reo Māori course which I’m very excited about. We currently use simple phrases and words however I want te reo Māori to be spoken in our home just as much as English is. We want our daughter to embrace her background and culture, both Māori and European. I believe being able to speak both languages is just the beginning of that journey.

It is our responsibility to help the Māori language not just survive, but thrive in New Zealand. Introducing all children to it at school is one of the best ways to make that happen. But until that day comes, it is our job to teach our tamariki.

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