Compulsory Maori language in New Zealand schools


When I went to intermediate and secondary school I learnt French. It was the only language on offer and it was part of the compulsory curriculum in my classes at Napier Intermediate and Napier Boys’ High School.

I learnt it not because there was some idea that all/any of us might one day live and work in France or need to converse with anyone in French. It was, I presume, because France was the closest non-English speaking ally of the British empire at the time and because learning another language was an important part of a good education which, in turn, would enhance our understanding and appreciation of English.

Maori language was never offered as an option.

A hell of a lot has changed since then for most of us. But not for Don Brash.

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Brash’s comments criticising the use of the Maori language on Radio New Zealand are childish and pathetic. And that’s before we get to the underlying oppressive racism.

Why should New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha alike, be denied hearing the first language of this country spoken on our public radio network?

We need to hear a lot more of it and not just a few greetings here and there.

It is the birth right of every New Zealander to learn Te Reo and it should be placed alongside English, Maths and Science which are already compulsory to Year 10 (Form 4 to older readers).

I wish I’d had the chance to learn Te Reo at school in Napier.

Language is the cornerstone of culture and this country would be a very different place if all our kids learnt Maori alongside their times tables.

We can’t deny this to another generation of New Zealanders. Let’s get a plan in place to build national pride based on all of us knowing Te Reo.


  1. Waiata have been taught in mainstream public schools for generations now. Simple greetings in Maori for a similar time but less commonly. While this was mainly tokenism some recognition was given to the need to share.

    French was taught as a part of British based “liberal education” used to fit the nobility class to mix with their noble peers across Europe.

    How the hell that got into NZ and schools is connected with sentiments held by some exposed to liberal education in England An imported anachronism justified by the suggestion it could be helpful to one if one traveled back “home’ and the “continent”.


    Maori has been displaced as a educational medium and relevant subject for Kiwis. It also has been monstrously devalued by bigoted imported class judgments along with many other value system erosions.

    Kiwis should revile against local culture being displaced.

    • I agree with your last 4 lines.
      But to emphasise your argument you have done the same to French. It is actually a big international language, the first language of 13 (I think) African countries. (But we don’t make money from those countries, do we?) French is actually close to Spanish in the group of global languages.
      One could argue for years about how to count speakers of such languages, how many speak which as first or second language, etc. It was popular with aristocracies 100 years ago, but that no longer applies much now.

    • I believe thet French was felt to be important because at the time John went to school it was both the language of Diplomacy and Air Traffic Control – both since replaced with English.

  2. About half of the current prison population is functionally illiterate in English.

    Think about that.

    So while learning Te Reo might be a bit of fun for middle class kids who have already mastered the basics, it is way down the priority list for those at the bottom of the social pile.

    • I thought about it, and it seems to me that with increasing acceptance over time, there’d be fewer unacceptable people to stick in prison.

    • Andrew all of those ‘illiterate’ people you talk about all were forced to learn your mother tongue ‘English’. Maybe it’s the system which didn’t cater enough towards how Maori learn which contributed to some Maori not being able to read nor write in English as you deem fit. Maybe their survival mode kicked in because their very fabric of culture and life styles was ripped away from them and they had to rapidly adopt the imperialist system. The system assumed all Maori had to do was to adopt white culture and forget about their own culture because it was and still is by some deemed irrelevant. Do you not think that this pedagogy will have negative knock on effects?

    • Andrew, Maori were forced to learn the language of their colonisers.

      Just as, my parents informed me, that post World War 2, the Russian language was mandatory in all Hungarian schools.

      Hopefully putting it into a Cold War context explains Western colonialism to you.

      • Frank: “Just as, my parents informed me, that post World War 2, the Russian language was mandatory in all Hungarian schools.”

        Perhaps they should’ve stuck with the Russian education system? The Russian Federation is at the top of this study, with 581. Followed by Singapore…. Poor old NZ, results – 523 – falling; can’t find Hungary’s results right now, but presumably among the also-rans, as is NZ.

        And despite all that compulsion, Hungarians still speak Hungarian. Which points to the failure of compulsion in respect of language teaching in any education system. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, in respect of te reo.

        People can’t be forced to speak a language; the Irish have also discovered this unfortunate fact of human behaviour.

        • D’Esterre., I was looking at it more from the coloniser’s view that they imposed their language on an indigenous population. English on Maori; Russian on Hungarian.

          Reasserting the status of Maori te reo in New Zealand would be showing respect for Maori as an indigenous people.

      • Frank

        If you read your history you’d know they were told to speak English in school by a Maori Minister of Native Affairs, and told to use their mother tongue at home.

        Sensible guy!

    • But we’ve been teaching those kids in English for forever., generations in fact..and it doesn’t seem to be working, so maybe its time to try a different, you know, self esteem and a sense of pride in an identity and in the most important building block of any and all’s language.
      Learning another language os not an Either/or situation, the more you know the better..Two-thirds of children around the world are raised in bilingual homes (Crystal, 1997)

  3. New Zealand is a beautiful Country , but that is not what makes it unique. It is Maori that makes NZ unique and we should cherish it and embrace it and promote it. We have no room for stupid old racist farts.

        • Am I stupid? Clearly I am because I don’t understand the relevance of the racist Peters sitting on treasury benches

              • Andy – “far right”?

                I’ve been one of Peters’ most trenchant critics in the past, but even I haven’t referred to him as “far right”.

                But what’s more interesting is that you are using the term “far right” as an insult.

                • I am using the term “far right” ironically, in the sense that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the open borders globalist agenda is described as “far right” by the European media

                  Of course it is all nonsense. Someone who is “far right” believes in limited government, not gassing Jews.

                    • Of course the NASDP (Nazi Party) was far right? What else would you call it, Andy?

                      “Someone who is “far right” believes in limited government, not gassing Jews” – Andy, December 6, 2017,9:07 am

                      No, gassing jews is frowned upon, Andy . But that doesn’t stop the far right from bombing mosques, assaulting muslims, and other acts of terrorism.

                      You are too short-sighted to understand the crazy shit that far right nutcases get up to.

                    • It’s a logical fallacy Andy styles. So when the debate gets to big for him. He claims no one knows either and mentions Jews.

                  • What do you mean? Does NZFirst believe in “limited government” — if so, in what sense? It believes in increased govt regulation and control over the economy and an end to neoliberalism and domination of the NZ economy by foreign corporations and nations. Is that far right? Or maybe is it Common Sense?

  4. Maori language should not be compulsory subject at school, it should be opt in or opt out.
    There would be very few occupations that knowing how to speak maori would be a requirement, in all the jobs Ive done over the years nobody has ever spoken a word of maori to do their job

  5. When our third official language is also taught in schools, John. That’s a language that even infants under the age of one can ‘speak’ and it is also a gateway language for learning others.

    It also is inclusive of deaf people – quite a few of whom are Polynesian.

    Speak up, John Minto. Make that third language freely available. We’ll be a much better country for it.

    • Te Reo is actually Aotearoa’s first language, then came English, then came Sign Language. You are probably trying to reference the “official” languages, which is really just a historical record of how the levels of bigotry in pakeha people has changed over the years..

    • For goodness sake Andrea, Minto speaks up on so many things, whilst many of us sit on the sideline. Get a petition going on yourself, don’t expect Minto to do everything. This article is about the racist rant of that moron Brash who was interviewed by Kim Hill at the weekend on RNZ.

  6. Te Reo Maori is a beautiful language accompanied by a unique, distinct and strong culture. This language is the corner stone to the culture and the thriving if Maori people. Maori are by enlarge proud of their culture and feel slighted and hurt when a member of the dominating race wishes to see it snuffed out or is upset that he doesn’t know more than three or four words in Maori, so by his standards no more than four words should ever have been spoken on all our Media waves. For Brash and his ilk, that is called entitlement. If the world isn’t catering to me, I am going to throw my toys out the cot and demand that it is. ‘How uppity of Maori to expect me to learn more than three or four Maori words.’ Racist he is. Ignorant he is. Immature he also is.

  7. Imagine what an innovative, playful & more cooperative society we’d have if we did away with our compulsory school system.

  8. If you can speak somebody elses’ tongue you have a greater appreciation of how their minds and culture work (even subliminally). Language embeds concepts, ideas, beliefs.

    On that basis alone we should all learn te reo. And in addition we need to give greater honour to the Maori culture, speak truth to the history and realities of colonisation. And as importantly we must honour our British heritage equally because the amalgam of the two cultures are the basis of what it is to be a Kiwi.

    • That sounds a little racist. What about the early Dutch settlers, for example? Shouldn’t we be learning Dutch too?

        • So Dutch are non-entities to NZ, even though we have the Abel Tasman NationalPark and Hasst Pass named after the Dutch.

          Oh, we should airbrush the Chinese who worked in the gold rush out of our history too.

          Sorry, I mean we *did* airbrush* them out of our history

          It’s hardly surprising that NZ is a racist country when it was the only English speaking country not to prosecute Nazi war criminals after the war

          And then there’s Res 2334, the openly anti-Jew resolution that denies any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, co-sponsored by NZ and some other failed states

          NZ, 100% Racist

  9. When I was at those same institutions John I sought Scots Gaelic. The froth of youth. There was German.

    Yet it was deep within my siblings and I to talk the language of our roots, that neither sold nor bought cows.

    Maori however requires a leap of imagination.

  10. “…I presume, because France was the closest non-English speaking ally of the British empire at the time and because learning another language was an important part of a good education which, in turn, would enhance our understanding and appreciation of English.”

    I took French and Latin at high school. Latin beats all other languages hands-down for fostering understanding of English. Though we studied English grammar at primary school, I didn’t really understand it until I studied Latin.

    Maori language wasn’t available at my school, either, though in those days there were many native speakers. I studied it in my young adulthood, almost 50 years ago now.

    “Brash’s comments criticising the use of the Maori language on Radio New Zealand are childish and pathetic. And that’s before we get to the underlying oppressive racism.”

    Brash’s views on Maori – both the people and the language – are reactionary and very conservative. After he gave That Speech at Orewa all those years ago, I wrote to him, politely challenging his perspective. He responded, very politely, I must say. He’s certainly an intelligent man: it’s unfortunate that he clings to those beliefs still. He’s also hilariously wrong about the Moriori issue; it is really strange to hear him continuing to trot out that discredited canard.

    But I don’t think it’s helpful to characterise his views as racist: they’re not. We need to stop with this thing of calling out as racist, things other people say that we dislike and disagree with. It’s an epithet, which does nothing but squelch debate. Racism is the preserve of governments. Have a look at what the Australian government is doing to NZ citizens at present: now that’s certainly racism. I’m relieved to see that you haven’t used “white” as a pejorative with which to beat him, as others have.

    “We need to hear a lot more of it and not just a few greetings here and there.”

    “Language is the cornerstone of culture and this country would be a very different place if all our kids learnt Maori alongside their times tables.”

    Unfortunately, evidence from other countries tends not to support the utility of making it compulsory. Even the Irish have found that not to be a fruitful strategy long-term, and god knows, if any country had a head start in preserving and promoting its indigenous language, it’s Ireland.

    For survival long-term, te reo needs native speakers. This is something which ought to concern Maori in particular, it being their heritage and culture.

    It’s very difficult to get accurate stats on how many native speakers there are, or indeed if there are any left at all. If there are none left, then te reo is a dead language, just as is Latin.

    I’m certainly aware that there are children in NZ who have been brought up as bilingual English/Maori: my own extended family, for instance. However, I suspect that the evidence from other countries would suggest that English will dominate those children’s lexicons, given its status as the language of public discourse here. This might not matter, were te reo not endangered. But it is; it needs those youngsters raised exclusively in te reo for the first 3 or 4 years of their lives, in order to be dragged back from the brink of linguistic extinction. Difficult, but probably not impossible, at least at present.

    • The way I see it is of you want to learn engineering, go to Germany.

      If you want to learn law, go to France.

      If you want to learn how to be a shyster. Go to the U.K

      If you want to learn Māori the come to New Zealand.

  11. Nope, don’t make it compulsory, you will only feed the ones like Brash and so, to attack anything progressive or sensible, offering them arguments of nanny state.

    But make it available at all schools, yes, so pupils and their parents can choose. That means, ensuring a Maori language competent teacher is available at all schools.

    As for other languages, yes, make that an offer also.

    The compulsion approach will not work, you count your chickens on the left side and ethnic side of the spectrum, perhaps, but the ones on the other side will hate and attack you for it even more.

    As most NZers are middle class, white, or mixed race, tending to be white, Asian or whatsoever, you will have most of them opposed, and they will vote accordingly.

    Do not make this a political issue, it will likely back fire, and we need even more important things dealt with, than a language one.

  12. I want to say that I object NOT to the use of Te Reo on RNZ, but to the annoying use of it by Guyon Espiner on Morning Report. He rattles of words in a silly sing song manner; for quite some time I thought he was intentionally trying to offend Maori listeners. Now I grasp that he is more or less just showing off his personal knowledge of the language. If we want non Maori NZers (and Maori who do not speak Te Reo) to appreciate the language and embrace its use we MUST 1) speak it in an intelligent and moderately paced way and 2) provide at least a general translation of the phrases used. Otherwise it is just a silly, meaningless — and sometimes rather annoying exercise! And Please don’t say I am a racist for being annoyed!

    • It has become a PC thing, a show off thing so to say, hey, I talk te reo, but otherwise he does not care a shit, happy with status quo.

      • I suspect Guyon doesn’t see much past the pleasure of learning. How ever confusing education with RNZ is a novel approach to virtue signalling how annoyed one is with life.

        You see RNZ isn’t a school. What Guyon is doing is taking his listeners along on a journey. Much like reality TV for radio.

        Guyon would have joined RNZ for all sorts of reasons. One being he wanted to be on radio. But broadcasting isn’t a stationary ideology. Peoples toast change, listeners come and go, but Guyon is giving us a slice of his personality and we can’t expect him to remain ideologically shackled or he will become irrelevant.

        And this is mostly about learning to love yourself and listeners.

        I’ll put it like this. Grizz Wylie and Laurie Mains and John Hart were grumpy people and disliked by the players. And they won ZERO!!! World Cups.

  13. Having travelled widely for my OE and lived overseas like many Kiwis, I found knowing French incredibly useful – many people who don’t speak English, can speak French- it’s a sort of second lingua franca after English.

    It’s also a compulsory language for many UN/international jobs. To say it has no use is very insular. Perhaps those early educators who included it on the curriculum were at pains to ensure that NZ was a confident participant on the world’s stage, rather than an ignorant little outpost with no knowledge or understanding of distant cultures.

    I have no issue with people learning and speaking Maori, but if you are raising children who you want to have all the opportunities open to them around the world, French is important. In some elite universities overseas it is a requirement. Why would you limit your children’s options?

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