Race Relations Commissioner wants compulsory te reo in schools

Source: 1News

Should te reo Māori be compulsory in schools? Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says yes.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says words can hurt.

The son of Chinese greengrocers, he learned Cantonese from his parents, and te reo Māori from his customers.

As time went on, he used te reo to build relationships that took him from the fruit shop, to the marae and into politics.

"Te reo Māori has helped me build relationships within the communities I try to serve, and it has also assisted in connecting many diverse cultures and Māori," he said.

Foon believes if te reo Māori is a compulsory school subject, it will help to unite Aotearoa.

"It is all about building a socially cohesive country where everyone is on the same page and unified in our approach to indigenous culture," he said.

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He expressed his belief that New Zealanders of different ethnicities want to learn. And he he acknowledges the Government will need to build capacity to grant his wish.

"We have a generation of Māori speakers coming through – the talent pool is there, we just have to make teaching a more attractive proposition."

The Commissioner says the current strategy lacks teeth, and more urgent work is needed.

Figures from the 2018 census indicate te reo Māori is the second most common language spoken in NZ, with four per cent of the country using it. Samoan is the third most common language at 2.2 per cent.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Te Karere in a statement that the Government has prioritised educators incorporating the use of te reo in teaching.

"The daily and meaningful use of te reo and tikanga Māori is part of our national education priorities, and the Education Review Office will check if schools are complying with that," he said.

He added while most Kiwis today will learn English and Māori in early learning and school, the Government wants to allow young people to have the option to learn te reo at high school and the university level.

Hipkins said there is support in place to ensure teachers can "feel comfortable and confident incorporating te reo and tikanga Māori in their lessons" and scholarships to increase the number of te reo teachers, with the goal of having "a million Kiwis speaking te reo Māori by 2040".

"I commend everyone who is pushing for more widespread use of the language – we have the same goal."