Te Tumu senior lecturer Tangiwai Rewi has documented the journey of te reo Māori as an education tool in a recently released book, Te Kōparapara.

Co-written with her former colleague Matiu Ratima, their chapter begins with a history of te reo Māori, which pre-dates European settlement in the early 1800s, weaving its way through the journey of the language en route to its revitalisation in the 1980s.

“When the missionaries came, the religion and Christian-focused curriculum were taught through the medium of te reo Māori in 1816,” Rewi says.

“… children who attend immersion education are achieving well at the same rates, if not better, than their counterparts in mainstream education …”

“Tikanga and te reo were then absent in the curriculum for about 50 years if not longer and then, when it came back, it came back stronger than ever.

“Now you can once again get an education in te reo Māori, but what a journey the language and our people have been on to get it to this point. The significant difference, however, is that the education offerings are now defined by whānau with a view to realising their aspirations, their moemoeā, for their tamariki.”

The chapter discusses a raft of options available for Māori in education, with Rewi focusing on primary and secondary schooling. The work reads like a biographical analysis of her own 25-year career in the te reo Māori education sector and also offers examples of how different kura models have allowed whānau to flourish.

Dr Rewi with parents Tuahana (left) and Tepene Clark at her PhD graduation celebrations in late 2018.

An uproar within the teaching sector over the introduction of Kura Hourua or partnership schools (charter schools) in 2014 saw Rewi seek out one of the new principals. She sought answers about why they had decided to pursue the new model.

“I could see from talking to them that it was making a positive difference for their community,” she says.

“I have highlighted that in this chapter, in particular, because nothing was happening in their community in terms of kaupapa Māori schooling options anyway.

“There was also nothing that I could see that was anything but success for their community by being involved and providing that option for them.”

While abolishing charter schools was a labour Party election policy, the 12 charters schools are transitioning to state integrated school status.

The successful revitalisation of te reo Māori continues, however one pattern remains stagnant: Māori families are still likely to put their children through mainstream centres and schools rather than the full immersion Te Kōhanga Reo (early childhood centres) and Kura Kaupapa Māori (primary through to secondary school).

The choices are available, Rewi says, but they are not always seized upon due to a number of variants, such as philosophical or logistical reasons.

“Maybe the current reinvigorated interest in te reo Māori will motivate change.

“But in my opinion, what hasn’t changed is that children who attend immersion education are achieving well – at the same rates, if not better, than their counterparts in mainstream education. This is what the statistics are continuing to tell us as well.”

The book will be used to teach a number of classes: Rewi says the underlying message of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori education continuing to be an essential vehicle for educating students will serve as an important lesson for all of those who read it.

Read more from He Kitenga 150 here.