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Te Kupenga te reo Māori findings in a wider context

Tirohia tēnei whārangi i te reo Māori

This chapter discusses how the findings from this report relate to the overall patterns and trends on the ability to speak te reo Māori. Specifically, we look at an increase in the number of Māori who could talk about simple/basic things in te reo, which was largely driven by Māori aged 15–44 years.

Increased propensity to identify with Māori culture

No comparable data exists to show changes over time for the Māori culture measures in Te Kupenga. However, other (limited) data suggests an increase in the engagement in and identification with Māori culture since 2004. Census data shows that the proportion of Māori who identified with at least one iwi has increased from 75.5 percent in 1991 to 82.9 percent in 2013. Kukutai and Rarere (2013) suggest this increase may partly reflect a higher propensity to identify with Māori culture.

In particular, the proportion of younger Māori who identified with at least one iwi has increased since 2001, more so than older Māori. Given the relationship between proficiency in te reo and engagement in Māori culture, any increase in the number of Māori who could talk about simple/basic things in te reo could be part of a larger shift for Māori to become more engaged in their culture.

Graph, Proportion of Māori descent population reporting at least one iwi, by age group, 1991, 2001, and 2013.  

Participation in Māori-medium education

The first kōhanga reo opened in 1982. Growth in the number of children that attended continued throughout the 1980s, and peaked in 1993 with over 14,000 enrolments. At this time kōhanga reo were responsible for close to half of all Māori enrolments in early childhood services. By 2001, enrolment numbers had declined to around 9,500, where they remained until 2012. However, with over 60,000 Māori having attended kōhanga reo since its inception, these institutions continue to play a crucial role in reviving te reo Māori.

In 2009, 6,267 students were enrolled in kura kaupapa Māori, up 9.3 percent since 2002 when 5,428 were enrolled. This rise compared with a 9.5 percent increase in the total Māori student population over the same period.

Since 2004, wānanga have led the provision of te reo Māori classes at the tertiary level, focusing on immersion classes and using the Māori language in a range of situations. Between 2001 and 2005, an unprecedented level of te reo Māori students went through tertiary education (Earle, 2007). This peaked in 2003 with over 60,000 enrolled that year in te reo Māori courses. Most of these learners were enrolled in level 4 certificates at wānanga.

A marked decline occurred in tertiary-level te reo Māori learners from 2003 to 2006, largely because fewer courses were offered through two of the wānanga. This was a result of funding reviews of lower-level qualifications, organisational change, and reduced demand (Ministry of Education, 2013). In 2012, around 10,000 learners were enrolled in te reo courses at tertiary providers.

Earle (2007) suggests that the main contribution of te reo Māori learning through tertiary education has been to increase substantially the number of people with a basic understanding of the language. This is supported by Te Kupenga findings (Statistics NZ 2014), which showed large increases in the number of Māori with lower-level speaking ability.

Tertiary education courses are not sufficient on their own to build conversational proficiency in te reo Māori. Students also need to be able to access a range of environments inside and outside the home where the language is used and supported.

All this should not set aside the importance of first language speakers in revitalising te reo. We found a strong relationship between te reo Māori being the first language and the ability to speak it very well or well. A relatively unchanged rate of first language speakers (8 percent) over the last decade is mirrored by those who are able to speak te reo very well or well.

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