Growth of te reo Māori in early learning

Issue: Volume 99, Number 11

Posted: 16 July 2020
Reference #: 1HA946

New research has found significant growth in the use of te reo Māori among preschoolers.

Nearly three-quarters of four-year-olds in Aotearoa New Zealand are using at least some te Reo Māori, and 10 per cent can speak or understand simple sentences in te Reo.

These are two of the major findings of research led by Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, which analysed information from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, looking closely at mothers’ assessment of te Reo Māori use in their children at age two and again at age four-and-a-half.  

Project Lead Hannah Simmonds says another exciting finding was the increased knowledge and use of te Reo among non-Māori children. Around 20 per cent of those who speak and understand simple sentences in te Reo were non-Māori.

“This highlights the value that many different people see in te Reo Māori. It shows that te Reo Māori strategies have also contributed to a growing interest in New Zealand’s national identity and cultural distinctiveness.”

The research also explored the key factors which support the knowledge and use of te Reo Māori. These include attending a kōhanga Reo, having a mother who speaks te Reo, living in communities where te Reo is spoken, and parents reading books, singing songs and playing games with children in any language. 

Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Professor Te Kani Kingi, says the findings suggest te Reo Māori has a strong future. 

“The fact so many children had some knowledge of te Reo was unexpected and encouraging. It shows that we are reaping the benefits of the past 30 years of investment to promote, sustain and revitalise te Reo,” he says. 

Early Action Learning Plan

The research aligns with objectives within the Early Learning Action Plan(external link) for te Reo Māori to be part of all early learning services and for services to contribute to the revitalisation of te Reo.

The early learning curriculum Te Whāriki(external link) sets out expectations that all early learning services integrate te Reo and tikanga Māori in their curriculum. Te Whāriki also articulates that responsibilities of kaiako include being culturally competent, developing increasing proficiency in the use of te Reo and tikanga Māori and able to form responsive and reciprocal relationships with tangata whenua.

The Ministry of Education is taking steps to support professional learning and development in this area to help expand the use of te Reo Māori across all early learning services. Among these is the implementation of Te Ahu o te Reo Māori(external link) – an initiative which aims to grow and strengthen the use of te Reo Māori in education settings.

Te Ahu o te Reo Māori

Te Ahu o te Reo Māori means the future pathway of te Reo Māori. The aim of the programme is to grow and strengthen an education workforce that can integrate te Reo Māori into the learning of all ākonga and students in Aotearoa New Zealand by 2025. It also provides opportunities for te Reo Māori to be normalised, and Māori identity and culture, to be shared and embraced.

Kindergarten Taranaki teacher Leena Thomas says it’s about lighting the fire in the bellies of everyone around them – kaiako, whānau and their tamariki.

“You know, this is our language as a country, so for us, for me, I want to reflect that we have a dual heritage and we need to be able to stand proud with both of those languages, so our tamariki, grow up with both of those languages.”

Enthusiasm for te Reo in schools – but more work to do

Meanwhile, a new report, Te Tāmata Huaroa(external link) published by the Education Review Office (ERO), shows that while there is enthusiasm for te Reo Māori in many English medium schools, practical obstacles need to be overcome to allow revitalisation of the language.

The majority of schools ERO spoke to have a positive view of te Reo Māori teaching in their classrooms and want to increase their provision, with many including this in their strategic goals. 

However, despite this enthusiasm, there was little evidence of complex learning and explicit language teaching such as grammatical forms, speaking, reading and writing. Instead te Reo Māori was included in simpler forms such as waiata or karakia.

A lack of te Reo Māori knowledge across the teaching workforce, coupled with low levels of knowledge and expertise in general second language learning were identified in the report as key obstacles. Many schools are taking steps to overcome these such as skill specific recruiting and targeted professional learning and development.

ERO has identified further opportunities including growing and extending the numbers of fluent speakers who work within the school sector, paying increased attention to the development of comprehensive resources to support teaching and extending partnerships with Iwi.

ERO Deputy Chief Executive Evaluation and Review Māori Lynda Pura-Watson is keen to use the findings in the report to start conversations about further development in this area.

“This is an exciting exploration of the landscape of te Reo Māori teaching on a real practical level but also puts education firmly in the centre of wider revitalisation of the language and the long-term goals of the Government.”

About the research

The full research report, He Ara Ki Ngā Rautaki e ora tonu ai Te Reo: Pathways to Retention and Revitalisation of Te Reo Māori, can be found on the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) website link)

The research was funded through the MSD’s Children and Families Research Fund. The research was led by Hannah Simmonds of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi in association with the Universities of Otago and Waikato, the Auckland Museum, Te Mātāwai, Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, Te Whānau o Waipereira, Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Education, Te Taura Whiri I Te Reo Māori, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

Growing Up in New Zealand is this country’s largest longitudinal study of child development and is following the lives of more than 6,000 children born in Auckland and Waikato, funded by the New Zealand Government.

The ERO report Te Tāmata Huaroa(external link) was completed as part of an ongoing work programme focused on the provision of te Reo Māori in English medium schools. ERO spoke to teachers and school leaders in 102 primary and secondary schools across Aotearoa to inform this report.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:18 pm, 16 July 2020

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