By Nexus
Sep 13, 2018

Our Language is Dying

Last week, and every year that has preceded it, we saw a far more overt form of racism in our media discourse. Specifically the notion that pundits and politicians use the week where we should be celebrating our diversity and the progress of a bilingual New Zealand to instead ignite the debate over whether te reo, and in larger part tikanga Māori, has any place in our society.

We want to focus on the topic of compulsory te reo in schools, but before we do that, we think it’s important to understand the mechanism that is being employed here and why it is bullshit.

Consider for a second if we used International Women’s dDay not to celebrate the progress made, or recognise how far we still have to go, but instead to have a full-blown media debate over whether women should have gotten the vote in the first place. Or if we used Sign Language Week to suggest that we should just give up trying to communicate with the deaf, and they should all assimilate and learn to lip-read. The level of outrage in both those scenarios would be fierce and deserved. Yet any morning show host, retired morning show host, or politician who failed to win elections with two separate parties can be afforded space on television and radio to undermine the very concept we are celebrating.

Now that we have had time we wanted to reflect on where this conversation is. Starting off by finding out what our politicians position of learning te reo is, then debunking the stupid myth that our education system isn’t ready, having a chat with the Right Honorable Jim Bolger about when he tried to implement compulsory te reo himself, and topping it off by seeing what the students would’ve given up in their compulsory education to instead learn te reo.

This is not the normal “impartial” Nexus news. This is us asking a simple and slightly angry question about why the fuck we aren’t doing enough to preserve an integral part of our culture.

Policy Positions

National: National’s first Māori leader Simon Bridges told the AM show he would “never be in favour” of compulsory te reo. Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye has stated National’s policy would be for students to learn “a second language” of which Māori would be an option

Labour: Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta has stated that it isn’t a matter of if but when, while Willie Jackson has said the Māori caucus are unified in wanting to see te reo implemented.

Greens: Co-Leader Marama Davidson said “the Green Party’s comprehensive te reo policy was developed in conjunction with Māori educators, Māori language experts, and the teacher unions.” A recent press release also stated their desire to see Māori as part of the core curriculum.

NZ First: Is opposed to it and will not support any move to legislate it.

ACT: Fuck them. ACT is just a vague conglomeration of tax cuts, racism, and de-regulation being spewed through the mouth of the man-child poster boy of white privilege. Their/his opinion is irrelevant.

Is Our Education System Ready?

We sat down with education student and WSU Vice-President Māori Nathan Rahui to find out his views on te reo in schools, whether or not he believe we have enough qualified Māori educators to implement a programme, and what he’d like to see in this space.

‘I believe that Māori should be compulsory in school up until Year 10 of high school. I don’t think it should be compulsory the full time for two reasons. A: If you force a person to do something they may not want to do, it can turn them away from learning te reo at all and make them feel more negative. B: We currently have a lack of Māori teachers so the quality of te reo Māori being taught may not be the best if we have to stretch our teachers who are already drowning with work.’

‘However, basic te reo can easily be used by teachers throughout their classes regardless of what they teach. This means teachers making a commitment to learning basic reo and tikanga to use it in the class and for tertiary providers to make it a more prevalent area in teacher training. I think society in general needs to be a more safe place where we encourage people to give it a go.’

But What Does Bolger Think?

Our very own Chancellor and former Prime Minister the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger was an avid supporter of compulsory te reo in schools throughout his time in office from 1990-1997. We managed have a chat with him regarding his current view on the matter, what stopped him from implementing compulsory te reo, and his thoughts on the argument of te reo not having as much value because it isn’t used internationally.

‘It’s still my view that NZ should make te reo compulsory in primary school so that all New Zealanders are comfortable with, and have a basic understanding of, the language on the many occasions where te reo is spoken. Knowledge of the language is part of being a New Zealander.

‘The strong push back came from within relevant Ministries who asserted that they didn’t have the number of te reo speakers necessary to teach in all schools – but they could have started the programme and by now, they would have the resources necessary.

‘The argument that te reo is a localised NZ language should support the teaching of the language as no other country will teach te reo. In my many travels to “developing countries” I have been amazed at the number who speak two or three languages, including English. Clearly, New Zealanders are equally able to learn more than one language and should do so with pride.’

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