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Māori language in education in New Zealand

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Māori language in education
While English is the dominant language of education throughout New Zealand, this was not always the case, and in recent years there have been ongoing efforts to raise the availability of Māori language education in New Zealand as one of New Zealand's three official languages.

Prior to the arrival of the first European settlers in what would become New Zealand, traditional educational systems in Māori society (a ritual transfer of knowledge for most Māori, and the more formal whare wānanga—“house of learning”—model primarily for those of chiefly lineage) were naturally conducted through the medium of the Māori language.

In 1816, the first mission school was opened to teach the Māori in the Bay of Islands. Here too, instruction was conducted primarily in the Māori language. Though English-medium education would have also been available for children of European settlers from nearly their first arrival, ethnic Māori continued to learn primarily through the medium of the Māori language for many years. It was not until the Native Schools Act was passed in 1867 that a systematic government preference was articulated for the English language as a medium of instruction for Māori children. And even with the passage of the act, the English-language provision was not rigorously enforced until 1900.

Starting in 1903, a government policy to discourage, and even punish, the use of the Māori language in playgrounds was enacted. In the early 1930s the director of Education blocked an initiative by the New Zealand Federation of Teachers to have the Māori language added to the curriculum. Though not the only factor, the ban on the Māori language in education contributed to the widespread loss of Māori-language ability. By 1960 the number of Māori who could speak the language had fallen to 25% from 95% in 1900.

Focus on falling Māori academic achievement in the 1960s coupled with the loss of the language, led to heavy lobbying by Ngā Tamatoa and the Te Reo Māori Society in the 1970s for the introduction of the language into the schools. This was accompanied by the establishment of Māori Studies programs in each of the Teacher Colleges by 1973. The 1980s then marked a pivotal decade in the revival of Māori-medium education, with the establishment of the first kōhanga reo (“language nest” – essentially a total immersion Māori-medium pre-school and kindergarten) in 1981, the first kura kaupapa (established at Hoani Waititi Marae, West Auckland) in 1985, a finding by the Waitangi Tribunal the Māori language is guaranteed protection under Article II of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1986, and the passage of the Māori Language Act in 1987, recognizing Māori as an official language.

Under New Zealand's current education laws, Māori language education is available in many locations throughout the country, both as a subject in a normal English-medium school as well as through immersion in a Māori-medium school set up under Section 155 (s155) or Section 156 (s156) of the Education Act 1990. The full immersion schools are commonly referred to as Kura Kaupapa Māori. Though enrollment numbers in Māori language programs have remained relatively stable in the last 5 years, both the raw total as well as the percentage of students enrolled have fallen since a high mark set in 2004. The decrease has primarily been among ethnic Māori themselves. See table below.

The definitions provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Education are as follows:

Māori Medium: Māori Medium includes students who are taught the curriculum in the Māori language for at least 51 percent of the time (Māori Language Immersion levels 1–2).

Māori Language in English Medium: Māori Language in English Medium includes students who are learning the Māori language as a language subject, or who are taught the curriculum in the Māori language for up to 50 percent of the time (Māori Language Immersion levels 3–5).

No Māori Language in Education: No Māori Language in Education includes those students who are only introduced to the Māori language via Taha Māori, i.e. simple words, greetings or songs in Māori (Māori Immersion Level 6), and students who are not involved in Māori language education at any level.


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