Phrases like ‘kia ora’ have come to embody that sense of warmth and Kiwi welcome.

But how many of us could carry on that conversation in Māori, beyond the initial greeting?

Data from the 2013 census records just 125,000 speakers of te reo in the country – out of a then population of just over four million.

Te wiki o te reo Māori – Māori Language Week – began on Monday, and it has once again brought to the fore the question: should te reo Māori be taught as a compulsory subject in schools?

Interestingly, this year it has also coincided with Auckland Central MP, Nikki Kaye’s Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill being drawn from the ballot last week.

Her bill would see at least ten languages designated ‘national priority languages’ and would require the Crown to resource the teaching of these languages in primary and intermediate schools.

Every school would have to offer at least one additional language.

Te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language must be on the final list of priority languages for schools to choose from, with the rest of the languages being chosen through public consultation.

But what the bill wouldn’t do, is make te reo compulsory.

National has publicly stated that they don’t support compulsory te reo in schools.

“We believe motivation is an essential part of language learning and that’s one of the reasons why we don’t support compulsory,” Kaye tells EducationHQ.

“In saying that ... when we designed our bill, we were very specific in writing into the law that te reo must be funded by the Crown as a priority language, and if you read that together with the Education Act of 1989, which contains a section that [says] all reasonable steps must be taken to provide instruction to students who ask for it, in my view there is a strong argument that my bill is providing that universal access.”

Kaye believes putting a requirement on the Crown to fund access to priority languages will help force a resolution to workforce development issues around language teachers, and acknowledges that the policy is going to require investment in further training for teachers: professional development and scholarships, for example, and looking into the role of kōhanga reo in supporting language specialists to rise through the ranks.

It’s not just teacher training that needs to be addressed, but student motivation too.

Kaye believes that providing access to language learning will send a message to parents and their children about the support available to them to aid them in taking up a second language at school.

“...my view is by making it very clear that we value language at a cognitive level, at a cultural  level, at an economic level, that we’re putting additional time aside for every primary school and intermediate school, that’s one way that we’re going to get greater second language fluency,” she says.

The Government’s position is more difficult to gauge, given the number of party voices involved, but officially, it supports universal availability.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking at Wellington High School earlier this week, told students that she wants her generation to be the last not to speak te reo Māori.

She has also spoken publicly about wanting her daughter, Neve, to learn the tongue.

In August, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta opened public consultation on Maihi Karauna, the Crown’s draft Māori language strategy.

Aimed at revitalising the language, the strategy sets out clear goals, including having one million New Zealanders speaking at least basic te reo by 2040.

Mahuta also told The AM Show on Monday that te reo would be integrated as a core subject in primary and intermediate schools by 2025.

The Green Party is keen to see te reo implemented as a core curriculum subject in all public primary and secondary schools from Year 1 to Year 10 by 2025.

However, NZ First is opposed to compulsory te reo in schools.

This opposition made for embarrassing scenes earlier in the year, when Mahuta claimed “It’s only a matter of time” before te reo is compulsory.

NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters later told her to get “on the same page” with the Government’s policy.

THE ROLE OF SCHOOLS

Te reo Māori is one of the areas currently experiencing a shortage of teachers.

“We want te reo Māori to be universally available in schools,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins tells EducationHQ.

“The biggest challenge is getting enough te reo teachers, which the Government is working on as a priority.”

The Ministry of Education supports a number of Māori language in education teacher supply initiatives, according to Dr Wayne Ngata, Chief Advisor Te Ao Māori at the Ministry.

These include “Māori medium and te reo Māori teaching scholarships and study awards; Māori language in education initial teacher education and in-service professional development; and Māori language in education curriculum support,” he says.

The eight types of Māori medium and te reo Māori teaching scholarships have attracted over 260 applicants this year, according to the Ministry.

The scholarships provide financial assistance to those fluent in te reo or of Māori or Pasifika descent (depending on the type of scholarship), who are looking to train as teachers.

In addition, the Ministry’s Tau Mai Te Reo (Māori Language in Education Strategy) is currently being refreshed.

“We intend that it will direct the contribution of the education system to the Maihi Karauna,” Ngata says.

“The Ministry of Education has contributed to the development of the draft Maihi Karauna, together with other agencies, and we are focused on ensuring effective and efficient integration of Tau Mai Te Reo within the Maihi Karauna.”

Laures Park, Matua Takawaenga of NZEI Te Riu Roa, says it’s important to look for other ways to increase the number of teachers able to teach te reo Māori.

“The Government is focused on training teachers; it’s going to take a long time to bring them to the needed level of fluency,” she says.

Park says that community-based strategies could also be used, such as taking teachers out of the classroom for a term or two to learn te reo, before sending them back into the classroom, under supervision, when they are fluent enough to lead the students on the next step.

She suggests this could be an interim measure, until enough trained teachers fluent in te reo are available.

Park says it’s important to directly target teachers who want to learn the language, as well as students coming out of total immersion environments who could be encouraged to train and register as teachers and use their fluency as a teacher.

“There are options available, we just need to be clever about how we approach this!” she insists.

Meanwhile, NZEI began Te wiki o te reo Māori with a call to begin teaching te reo in early childhood education, as it is in kōhanga reo.

“There would need to be support for educators to enact the proposal,” Park says, while NZEI president Lynda Stuart says “overall capacity” in the sector to teach the language would need to be addressed.

POCKETS OF SUCCESS

In Torbay School, on Auckland’s North Shore, teachers have become learners in a pilot of a student-led approach to learning te reo.

Two days a week, teams of Year 4-6 students lead classes of Year 3s in a waiata, followed by a lesson on that waiata.

The classroom teacher is in attendance to make sure things run smoothly, but they too are learners in this situation.

It’s part of the Wai Ako programme, and Torbay School was the first school in Aotearoa New Zealand to use the programme in 2017.

Wai Ako uses music videos to get children and teachers singing basic phrases, allowing them to work on pronunciation, phrase structure and vocabulary.

There is a strong focus on immediately transitioning into opportunities to speak te reo every day.

Teacher Sam Boriboun, whose wife Roimata Smail created Wai Ako, says “I know from experience that children sometimes understand ideas better if they are explained by a peer rather than a teacher.

“So, I wondered if there was a way to get our students leading the school.”

The pilot began in June and has successfully engaged students.

“Torbay School is both excited and proud to be piloting the model involving student tutors,” principal Gary O’Brien says.

“We are working hard to develop our programmes and culture around teaching te reo and Wai Ako breaks down some of the barriers our teachers face; it is a superb innovation in the area of teaching te reo.

“Using older students as tutors has been a revelation; it has spin-offs for students, both young and old as well as for the teachers [and] it certainly is helping to embed te reo into our culture here at Torbay.”