Muddle in the Mainstream: Maori Language Education Policy in Mainstream Schools

By Lourie, Megan | New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Muddle in the Mainstream: Maori Language Education Policy in Mainstream Schools


Lourie, Megan, New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies


Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between biculturalism and the purpose of Maori language education in mainstream schools for non-Mäori students, as it is expressed through policy statements and practice drivers. The question of whether bilingualism is an ideal for all New Zealanders, or only for those of Maori ethnicity, is particularly ambiguous. I suggest that this is because policy continues to attempt to accommodate two increasingly disparate understandings of biculturalism. In curriculum documents the purpose of learning te reo Mäori for Maori students is presented as contributing to the development of a Mäori ethnic identity, while for non-Mäori the relationship between the Mäori language and their own identity is disregarded.

Keywords: Mäori language; identity; biculturalism.

Introduction

This paper examines the relationship between biculturalism and the purpose of Maori language education in mainstream schools for non-Mäori students, as it is expressed through policy statements and practice drivers. The New Zealand state's commitment to the ideology of biculturalism is threaded through education policy documents. The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) for example "acknowledges the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" and the "bicultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand" (p. 9) however, there is little consensus about what biculturalism means either conceptually or in practice (see for example Durie, 1989; Mulgan, 1989; Sharp, 1995; Vasil, 1988; Walker, 1986). Elsewhere I have argued that recent changes in policy initiatives and curriculum statements indicate that new indigenous aspirations and iwi-based frameworks are re-shaping the relationship between Maori and the Crown, and, as a result, reframing biculturalism (Lourie, 2011). The processes that have resulted in shifting interpretations of bicultural policies have also surfaced shifting attitudes towards the role Maori language plays in the bicultural relationship. I argue that the question of whether bilingualism is an ideal for all New Zealanders, or only for those of Maori ethnicity, is particularly ambiguous, and suggest that this is because policy continues to attempt to accommodate two increasingly disparate understandings of biculturalism.

The lack of discussion about whether bilingualism should be an ideal for all New Zealanders may be explained by a general lack of interest in 'as-a-subject' Maori language learning which occurs in mainstream education. Prevailing beliefs that Maori-medium education offers a more effective means of language learning (May, et al., 2004), and limited resources, especially in the form of competent Mäorispeaking teachers, appear to have resulted in a focus of attention on this type of education. While there are non-Mäori students participating in Maori-medium education the majority of non-Mäori students learning Maori language are enrolled in 'as-a-subject' Maori language (Education Counts, 2011). Hence, the focus on Maori-medium education whether intentionally or not, also tends to mean a focus on Mäori students learning Maori language.

My purpose here is not to challenge the effectiveness of Maori-medium education, or to deny that there are genuine concerns related to the resourcing of Maori language education. Instead I want to suggest that the apparent lack of value placed on as-asubject Maori language education, may signal a fundamental ideological shift. The view of te reo Maori as a national language may be in the process of being replaced by a view which identifies the language primarily as the cultural taonga (treasured possession) belonging to those of Maori ethnicity.

Two different approaches towards Mäori language policy

Elizabeth Rata (2007) has identified two approaches towards Maori language education policy. She refers to these as the neotraditionalist approach, in which culture is viewed as tied to ethnicity, and the bicultural approach which ties culture to national identity. …

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