Call for Maori language to become 'core subject' in NZ schools

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Source: Getty

New Zealand's government wants the Maori language to be able to be taught in all primary schools alongside maths, English and science but admits it's not an easy goal.

While the language, te reo Maori, is one of three officially recognised in New Zealand - alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language - it's currently not compulsory and not taught at many schools.

Monday marked the start of Maori Language Week in New Zealand, an annual event that has in recent years received increasing attention from media, businesses and politicians.

Maori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta told the AM Show the government wanted te reo to be a "core subject" in primary schools by 2025.

"The Maori language is one of the best ways to say 'We are New Zealanders'," she said.

FILE: New Zealand Labour's Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta
FILE: New Zealand Labour's Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta

But, with current shortages of teachers in the subject, there was a "huge challenge ahead".

"It's really hard to find teachers who can backfill, certainly within the kura kaupapa (Maori-language immersion) system - I expect that is the case within the mainstream," she said.

Government ministers have avoided using the word "compulsory" - which has proved controversial in the past - in favour of "universal availability".

The primary teachers' union and the Green Party both on Monday, however, called on the government to go a step further and resource teaching in every class.

While the use of words and phrases in Maori is common in New Zealand and interest in the language as part of the national identity has grown in recent decades, 2013 census figures suggested as few 50,000 people spoke it at a high level, while about 150,000 were conversational.

The government wants to have a million residents speaking at a basic level by 2040 and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she wants to raise her daughter, Neve, speaking both Maori and English.

There's also been a recent surge in interest in beginner Maori courses across the country, with providers saying they had to leave hundreds of people on waiting lists this year.

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