Story: Te reo Māori – the Māori language

Page 5. Revitalising te reo, 1970s and 1980s

All images & media in this story

Māori in secondary schools

Following the 1972 Māori-language petition, Māori was offered as a subject in some secondary schools – with limitations. The subject was usually taught for four hours a week, with a focus on grammar and written Māori. Ruatoki Bilingual School opened in 1978, and by 1980 there were four officially approved bilingual schools. These schools were successful because they were located in communities that still predominantly spoke Māori in the home. They used varying amounts of Māori language in the curriculum, but were able to demonstrate an increase in Māori students’ self-esteem and willingness to participate in education.

Te Ataarangi

Te Ataarangi programmes are taught using the coloured plastic Cuisenaire rods known in Māori as rākau. Dr Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira adapted the ‘Silent Way’ language learning methodology, developed by Egyptian educationalist Caleb Gattegno for Māori. Working with Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi, Mataira trained a number of native Māori-language speakers, who went into communities and taught adults to speak Māori.

Te Ataarangi aimed to support and encourage the development of oral proficiency in Māori. In the 2000s Te Ataarangi continued to be taught throughout the country. It has been instrumental in supporting the revitalisation of the language in homes. Over time, the range of programmes has developed from informal, voluntary community-based learning initiatives through to degree-level programmes.

Right from the start

During a review of kōhanga reo in 1988, an elder commented, ‘Whānau ana te tamaiti, me rarau atu, whakamau ki te ū, kei reira ka tīmata ki te kōrero Māori (when the child is born, take it, put it to the breast and begin speaking Māori to it at that point).’1

Kōhanga reo

As Te Ataarangi was becoming established, the plight of the Māori language remained an issue. Richard Benton’s extensive survey of the Māori language in the mid- to late 1970s highlighted the perilous state of te reo.

Māori elders from around the country attended the Hui Whakatauira, a series of meetings at Waiwhetū marae in Lower Hutt. At one of these meetings a decision was made that for the Māori language to survive, language learning needed to start from birth, and kōhanga reo (pre-school language ‘nests’) were initiated. At the first Hui Whakatauira in 1979, Sir James Hēnare encouraged kaumātua to consider the legacy they were leaving behind, and there was a consensus that the language must be a priority. This was reaffirmed at the wānanga in 1980.

Kaumātua and kōhanga

The influence of kaumātua has been a core element in kōhanga reo from the beginning. Elders’ knowledge of the Māori world and its concepts are deeply embedded in kōhanga reo, and their continuing role is equally important. Kaumātua enabled the development of kōhanga in Māori communities. They provided guiding principles that made the initiative uniquely Māori and an indigenous pedagogical model for developing the whole whānau. The first kōhanga was Pukeatua, set up in Wainuiomata in 1982.

The framework of kōhanga reo is based on the traditional whānau structure and incorporates Māori cultural concepts. These principles allow for intergenerational learning, both to educate a child in an immersion setting and to encourage language revitalisation in the household. With the expectation that parents participate in their child’s education, many kōhanga trained whānau members in these roles and in te reo Māori.

  1. Kathie Irwin, ‘The politics of kōhanga reo.’ In New Zealand education policy today: critical perspectives, edited by Sue Middleton, John Codd, and Alison Jones. Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1990, p. 115. Back
How to cite this page:

Rawinia Higgins and Basil Keane, 'Te reo Māori – the Māori language - Revitalising te reo, 1970s and 1980s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Rawinia Higgins and Basil Keane, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Sep 2015