Kohanga Reo appeal

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 16:00 08/11/2012

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The Government needs to step up its support of kohanga reo and learn the value of its unique teaching style, Waikawa Kohanga Reo teacher Amai Thompson says.

Members of Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board visited Waikawa Marae and the kohanga reo on Tuesday to speak about the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the trust's claim that the Crown discriminates against kohanga reo compared to mainstream early learning centres.

Board members, who represent 471 kohanga reo (whanau-based Maori immersion preschools) throughout New Zealand, have visited marae around the country since the tribunal released its report on October 18.

The tribunal found the Crown's early childhood education system, in particular its funding formula, quality measures and learning curriculum, failed to recognise the specific needs of kohanga reo.

Mr Thompson said there was a lack of Government support for kohanga reo.

"With 20 [pupils] in a kohanga reo compared to the same in an early learning centre, the mainstream centres can receive up to three times the amount of financial support."

Kohanga reo gave pupils full cultural immersion, with language and traditional values, which were unrecognised by the Education Ministry, he said.

"None of our kaumatua [elders] are paid to teach the children and only they can pass down the knowledge they hold of our culture.

"The qualifications they have is their experience and that's recognised by the kohanga - it's not a teaching diploma recognised by the ministry."

The Government was "undermining" the role of kohanga reo by implementing blanket policies over early childhood education providers such as having to change a baby on a table. The policies failed to value whanau-orientated teaching methods.

"Our kaumatua would say the only thing that belongs on a table is food, not a baby's bum."

Speaking at Waikawa Marae, Te Kohanga Reo National Trust lead researcher Rawhina Higgins said the trust was pressuring the Government to ensure the revitalisation of Maori language and culture.

The board claims kohanga reo did not fit under normal guidelines and the Government was obliged to support them under the principle of partnership between the Crown and Maori. It is demanding the Government draft legislation separating kohanga reo from early childhood centres and provide equal funding to ensure the survival of te reo.

Specific claims of discrimination included that the government does not fund kaumatua (elders) who teach children, because they are not qualified teachers, and that health and safety laws require centres to be fenced off from marae.

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The claims were triggered by the 2011 Early Childhood Education Taskforce report, which the trust says failed to consult with it - despite requests to do so.

The taskforce criticised the educational standards of kohanga reo due to a lack of cultural understanding, she said.

The Waitangi Tribunal has called on the Crown to apologise for breaching the Treaty of Waitangi, recommended it appoint an interim independent adviser to the Government to work through the issues, and provide more funding to kohanga reo so that they are able to comply with new early childhood regulations by the 2014 deadline.

Ms Higgins said the trust hoped to get a response from Education Minister Hekia Parata by Christmas.

- The Marlborough Express

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