The Ministry of Education is inviting New Zealanders to take part in a national conversation about education. Here, te reo champion Stacey Morrison spells out her priorities.
When our kids started school, I realised that the choices we were going to make about their education would be some of our biggest life decisions. It doesn’t come easy. There’s a lot of anxiety, especially if you don’t get your best-case scenario.
We were in zone for a really big primary school with little te reo on offer — and, as our kids were reaching school age, we were keen to help. We had 30 whānau who were also keen, te reo experts lined up to support, and external Māori educational institutes on side.
So when we met with the school, we had high hopes. But when you’re in a hui, you can tell straight away when people aren’t into what you’re talking about. It was one of those meetings. It wasn’t a priority for them. You’d think that what we were offering was a gift and we’d expected they’d be keen. But they weren’t.
All they were focused on were the renovations of their school buildings. I suspect the principal was also not that comfortable with the whole te reo thing. For some people, if they’re uncomfortable, the safer move is to do nothing. So that’s what happened.
But there has also been good news. At our son’s new intermediate, our school community helped create a new reo pathway — and it’s exciting. The principal there welcomed our ideas to nurture te reo. He said usually parents come and ask him what he can do for their kids. “But you’ve come and asked me to consider what you can do for all of our kids.”
He got it. So we all helped create a new reo intermediate school pathway through our kāhui ako. But we didn’t adhere to the official definition of a rumaki class as our kids take four English classes a week — and art, music and so on in English. (I think those definitions were written in 1982, so it would be good to see them reviewed.)
We ended up hiring a great kaiako as a specialist teacher and funded it that way.
There are a lot of great reo initiatives going on, but resources are stretched and it’s tough. Our youngest two are at an excellent school with a strong Māori unit in a decile 10 area with good resourcing, with whānau support, and with an excellent pedagogy for bilingual literacy.
But even our school finds it hard to hold on to our kaiako because they’re in such demand.
Parents who want their children to learn in te reo Māori are always compromising — whether it’s discovering your local school isn’t that supportive of te reo or whether you need to be able to afford an hour-long commute to get to your pēpi’s puna reo.
There are also big expectations on whānau who choose Māori medium education for their tamariki. I know of many families who end up feeling quite burnt out. It’s stressful and it takes its toll because the level of input required from Māori medium whānau and learners is so demanding.
Right now, my biggest concern for te reo Māori is around capability and building it across our schools. I’m on the board of one of our children’s schools and I know that, even while we’re really fortunate, it’s still hard.
I think the argument about making te reo Māori compulsory in schools is irrelevant because we don’t have anywhere near the resources we need to teach te reo in every school. We don’t have enough te reo teachers as it is.
So we need to focus on what we can do now and seize the opportunities before us. We have to choose where we place our energy — what is the right fit for our whānau and our tamariki? Thank goodness for our kōhanga reo and kura. But there are also huge opportunities in our homes, and this is an area we could really strengthen.
I’ve been asked what I’d do if I were the boss of education and the answer for me is easy.
I’d see that our resource teachers are paid more. We ask so much of them. In Auckland, for instance, we’re asking teachers to live in a city where it’s really hard to get by because of the cost.
We need to recognise that, and to pay more for the specialist skills of the teachers of te reo Māori. As things are, teachers who can’t afford to live in the main cities are heading home to their takiwā, where they can get a job and where the living is more affordable.
As adults, we have opportunities to speak te reo but, if you’re not a speaker, you’ve got to humble yourself to learn and then upskill your own reo. And you may not find that it’s an easy path. Te reo classes may not be readily available.
Ironically, Scotty, my husband, learned French not Māori when he was at high school in Rotorua. That’s because he was in the top stream and only those in the bottom stream classes were offered te reo.
And, when I was at college in Christchurch, I stayed away from our lovely Māori teacher Tihi Puanaki because I was whakamā that I couldn’t speak te reo. I thought that, seeing she knew my kuia, she probably assumed I was fluent.
Then, when I went to Japan as an AFS exchange student, I learned how to speak Japanese, which gave me an insight into their culture. And that experience led on to me wanting to learn my own reo.
But it took me ages as I was doing it piecemeal. The reality is that immersion is a harsh environment to learn a language. But it’s the best.
There’s an interesting side effect of being able to speak more than one language: it can help you read social situations better. My daughter told me the other day that, when someone’s talking, she can tell from their body language whether they’re telling the truth. I think that comes from her noticing subtleties in how people communicate — and because bilingual, trilingual or multilingual people are always flicking between two pieces of information they hold in their brain.
There’s another interesting thing about those people who don’t see any value in te reo. They’re usually monolingual themselves. But, overall, New Zealanders are more biculturally comfortable than we’ve ever been before. We’ve moved on quite a bit, so we need to stop having scraps about the same things we fought over years ago. No one is going to lose out if more and more of us learn te reo.
What about those who say our tamariki should be learning Mandarin instead of Māori?
I say they should be learning both. We are already bringing up our children to stand strong in their own culture and identity, and also to be global citizens.
What gives me hope is to see the Pākehā girls next to the Chinese kids and my kids in the front row of our kapa haka. All of them going for it. And I think: “It’s going to be okay.”
Just imagine if our future generations of New Zealanders weren’t just bilingual but were trilingual, or multilingual? Imagine.
The Ministry of Education is asking New Zealanders to take part in the biggest conversation about education in our lifetime. What would you do if you were the boss of education? You can have your say by clicking here. #KoreroMatauranga #EdConvo18. (This story has been brought to you with the help of the Ministry of Education.)