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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 22. 14th September 1972

He Maori Ahau

page 11

He Maori Ahau

By way of reply.... these are extracts from an address that Koro Dewes, lecturer here at Victoria University, gave at the 40th Anzacs Congress, 1968, in the section "Educational Needs and Problems of the Maori Community."

I am sick and tired of hearing my people blamed for their educational and social shortcomings, their limitations highlighted and their obvious strengths of being privileged New Zealanders in being bilingual and bicultural ignored. I believe that there persists in New Zealand a type of linguistic imperialism, and exponents of this are convinced of the superiority of English language over Maori. Polynesian and Asian tongues. Teachers with such convictions are likely to possess negative attitudes to the mother-tongues of minority groups with which they are faced in the classroom situation.

My frustrations are not minimised when my attention is drawn to the fact that even in predominantly or wholly Maori schools, Maori language as an optional subject is not taught as widely as it could be. The reason I believe is a complacent or indifferent attitude, or prejudice on the part of State School Headmasters and Educational authorities against Maori language.

A Very Brief Historical Review

The early Missionaries irrespective of denomination set out to replace the indigenous moral and spiritual values by dogma, creed and moral philosophy of Christianity. And the means to achieve these ends was familiarity with Maori language and its use as the medium of instruction. It might well be that this policy facilitated the adjustment of early Maoris to Christianity and commerce; there is no doubt that literacy amonst Maoris was high.

In 1844, the language policy was changed so that the native population might be assimilated as rapidly as possible into the Pakeha. In 1858, the Administrative policy declared that the native missionary schools could only become eligible for a financial grant if English were made the language of instruction.

The aim to Europeanise the Maori people as fast as possible remained official policy until the early "thirties" of this century. Numerous Maoris can testify to being beaten soundly for speaking Maori in the school grounds. It was not until the establishment of the first few Maori District High Schools in 1940-41 that the teaching of Maori language was encouraged and it was included as a subject for School Certificate. Practically all the teachers in Native schools were Pakeha who did not themselves know the language. The reason given for the little encouragement of Maori language at this time (and also prior to it) was there were no teachers of Maori.

In 1955 the Minister of Education set up the Committee on Maori Education, whose recommendations became the basis of the Maori schools policy. So far as Maori language was concerned the Committee supported the teaching of the Maori language and recommended that everything possible be done to implement it; as a minority group with Pakeha children, the Maori child should feel personal worth, security, and a sense of identity.

In 1967 Maori language was taught in 6 District High Schools,

10 State Secondary Schools,

10 Private Secondary Schools (or Church Maori Boarding Schools).

It is estimated that in 1967 some 2000 students out of 14,000 were taught Maori at Secondary School, half of this 2000 was taught at Private Schools, and over a third of those attending Stale schools were taught in District High Schools.

To answer adequately the question of the place of Maori language in the education of Maoris, let me read to you some of the material which I collated from the replies of 6 private schools, two State Post-Primary Schools and two District High Schools, nearly all of which have rolls which are predominantly Maori.

1. Maori language is an integral part of a great heritage. It stimulates pride of race, self respect and self confidence. Without these a minority group can easily become depressed. Many ideas deep feelings, patterns of thought can be expressed adequately in Maori, but would sound banal in English.

2. It is believed that respect for and knowledge of Maori language plays an important part in the development of the student's personality and character.

3. A person who knows his own language and traditions feels more secure and is not likely to suffer from an inferiority complex.

4. In being able to communicate or participate on official Maori occasions a student's education does not alienate him from his own people.

5. An opportunity is provided for all students, European or Maori, to study a living language as opposed to a dead one.

In addition, one who knows the language or the customs of the Maori people, is a more complete New Zealander than he who has no such knowledge.

6. On the more practical plane, it is realised that for those going on to University a language is often needed and Maori suits a Maori student best, for those going to teachings the language can be most helpful, and there are many openings in legal work and Government departments for those who know Maori.

Parent Attitudes

The majority of Maori parents that send their children to Private Schools are delighted that Maori is taught, more so when they experience the advance in their own children's knowledge. Many literally leap with joy to hear their sons give a speech in Maori, not only do the parents swell with pride but so do all the elders Parents have often failed to pass on their own knowledge of Maori, but if the school can stimulate interest, they will help quite considerably at home or during the holidays.

For a very few the language as a subjects lacks prestige and it is not unusual for derogratory remarks to be passed about it e.g. "That Hori (hoary) language". This attitude does not seem to persist, especially when the pupil concerned makes a success of it.

Many Headmasters consider that Maori language is of no value; they argue complacently that French, Latin and German, which are part of Pakeha cultural heritage, are more useful for Maori students. I or this reason also Maori is not made available to Pakeha students in lieu of another language subject.

In her brief reply to me, the Principal of Queen Victoria School wrote this — "I do not understand why official Education Department policy seems to give little encouragement to the specialisation in Maori that is often desired by our senior pupils when they are considering teaching careers. Far more could be done in the schools if the opposite were true."

I would like to quote three propositions made by H.V. George of Victoria University of Wellington, which appeal to me very much and which have relevance to my topic, these are:
(1)"the child whose mother tongue is not English is basically a privileged child;
(2)his privilege becomes a social handicap when the teaching of English is unskilled, or is associated with indifference to or prejudice against the mother longue;
(3)investment in these children is not a regrettable duty but a profitable venture."

Kia ora koutou.