Bolger calls for compulsory Maori teaching

Te reo Maori should become compulsory in primary schools, a former New Zealand prime minister says - and not for the first time.

Former National prime minister and current University of Waikato chancellor Jim Bolger said he suggested the plan during his time leading New Zealand.

"I had a feeling it wasn't given a great deal of attention," he said. "I think with a bit of initiative we would find the way to do it, and I still think we should."

The topic re-emerged earlier last week when Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples said every school in New Zealand should offer te reo Maori.

The Labour Party was pressed on whether it would make learning the language compulsory.

And Bolger said the purpose of his past suggestion was simple.

"Every New Zealander, first of all, would feel comfortable with the language, they would learn to pronounce it properly and they would understand at least the tenor of speeches given in Maori . . . and there was just overall a unifying thing that everybody understood our second language," he said.

"It's really part of what being a New Zealander is."

There could be some resistance to the idea at first, but people would soon get over it, he said, and the changes would result in more students learning te reo at secondary school.

But when Bolger made his suggestion in the 90s, a senior Maori public servant told him there weren't enough fluent speakers to for it to happen, he said.

And Hamilton's Rhode St School principal Shane Ngatai thought it would still be a problem.

"You've got to find an expert in the language to be able to teach it. It's not something you can learn over YouTube," he said. "It's got to be meaningful to the students, that they're actually going to use it in a real context - so have conversations."

Ngatai thought making it compulsory would lead to resistance, and te reo was better left as a freely-available option.

At his school, with 80 per cent Maori students, te reo was integrated into curriculum areas, for example counting and shapes in maths, or with their iwi, hapu and local landmarks in geography.

The Ministry of Education said Maori language education was not compulsory but all students should be able to undertake "quality reo Maori programmes" informed by ministry guidelines.

The Education Act 1989 required school policies and practices to reflect the unique position of Maori culture, deputy secretary for early learning, parents and whanau Rawiri Brell said.

Under the act, "all reasonable steps" should also be taken to get tikanga (culture) and te reo Maori teaching for students whose parents asked for it.

Waikato Times