Winning Waikato lecturer blends computer science with Maori culture

Dr Te Taka Keegan was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister's Supreme award for his teaching by Bill English at Parliament.
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Dr Te Taka Keegan was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister's Supreme award for his teaching by Bill English at Parliament.

A blend of Maori culture and technology has proved award-winning for a Waikato lecturer.

Waikato University computer science senior lecturer Dr Te Taka Keegan was presented with the 2017 Prime Minister's Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching and a kaupapa Maori Sustained Excellence award. Both were presented at Parliament this week, along with a total of $30,000 in prize money. 

Keegan - who has no formal teacher training - remains the only person ever to teach computer science in te reo.

While the course no longer exists, he still teaches using three Maori philosophies: Kia hiki te wairua (lifting the spirits), kia hihiko te kaupapa (incite the passion) and kia hora te aroha (sharing the love). 

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"They may have some groundings in Maori culture, but they (the philosophies) can be applied to all cultures. It doesn't matter whether you are Maori or Polynesian or African or Asian," the teacher of 30 years said.

"I call it the intersection of Maori and computer science." 

In the 10-minute intervals between his computing classes, Keegan cranks the music up in his lecture room so students walk in and relax. If a student answers a question correctly, he rewards them with a Whittaker's Peanut Slab. If a student has a problem, it becomes his problem. 

"If you really care about your students, they know that, they feel that." 

Before the course was cut because of dwindling numbers, Keegan taught computer science in te reo for 12 years. He created over 500 words that did not yet exist in the Maori language and had them approved by the Maori Language Commission. 

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"Some of them are quite common [now]. The word for computer now is universal - it is rorohiko. The word for Facebook, they call it, pukamata ...

"As the course went on, there were more and more words.

"Language is kind of like that. If people use it a lot, then it becomes official."  

Bringing technology into te reo is vital for the language to survive, Keegan said. 

"If it can't be used to describe the new world and new environment and new situations, then it has to die.

"Our language is being used. It's going places." 

Even though the course no longer exists, Keegan said the progress of Maori language and computing continues. 

Since then, he has worked with Google to develop its Maori translation toolkit and helped make te reo an available language on Microsoft office.

He said it was an honour to receive the top award. 

"[But] as a teacher, we don't really do stuff for awards. We do stuff to empower our students." 

 

 - Stuff

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