Sunday, October 21, 2012
Mike Butler: Te reo, funding, and hurt feelingsLabels: kohanga reo, Mai Chen, Mike Butler, Waitangi Tribunal
A report on kohanga reo released by the Waitangi Tribunal has already been snubbed by the government so any serious consideration of its contents is unlikely. Since few are likely to have the time or inclination to wade through the 424-page report, here is what it is all about --- a never-ending story about negotiating with the government, funding, and some hurt feelings.
The first point to make is that although kohanga reo look like early childhood education centres, they are in fact language nests in which children are intended to learn and speak Maori to revitalise the language. The movement puts the survival of the language above the interests of the children at the centres.
If kohanga reo and Maori immersion schools aim to revitalise the language, have they succeeded? Census results point to a decline in the proportion of Maori speakers among Maori children aged under 10, from 21 .9 per cent in 1996 to 18 .2 per cent in 2006 in the under-five age band, and from 22 .1 per cent to 18 .8 per cent in the five-to-nine-years band.
However, these figures are a dramatic improvement on 1975, when fewer than 5 percent of children could speak Maori, according to the Waitangi Tribunal’s Te Reo report. (1)
Kohanga reo are early childhood education centres for children from birth to five years of age and their families which involve a total immersion in the Maori language. Close to 9000 children and members of their wider family attended the 471 kohanga reo across the country in 2012.
The first kohanga reo opened at Pukeatua Marae in Wainuiomata in April 1982, and by 1985 the number was approaching 400, taking in more than 6000 children. By 1990, there were 616 kohanga reo with 10,108 students.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said that over a billion dollars has been directed toward funding kohanga reo over the past 20 years. (2) The umbrella Kohanga Reo National Trust receives $2.643-million a year for administration. There had been a kind of revolving credit scheme used for property purchases. That scheme was stopped.
The 20 hours ECE subsidy comprised 20.9 per cent of total Government funding for kohanga reo in 2010–11. Licensed kohanga reo are eligible for “standard” early childhood education funding rates of $7.70 per funded child hour up to 20 hours a week.
Kohanga reo could also access equity funding, which was targeted at reducing educational disparities, as well as. the childcare subsidy, which contributed a higher share of Government funding than for the rest of the early childhood education sector.
Kohanga numbers have declined. The kohanga reo share of total Māori enrolment in early childhood education dropped from 33 percent in 2002 to 26 per cent in 2007 and 22 per cent in 2011. In contrast, the share of Maori children enrolled in education and care centres rose from 32 per cent to 47 per cent over the decade.
The question remains whether this decline is a result of parents deciding general education is better for their children, or, as kohanga claimants argue, as a result of failures on the part of the government.
Matua Rautia: The Report on the Kohanga Reo Claim (3) alleges that the Crown has acted in a manner inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi with respect to a range of issues affecting the relationship between the Crown and kohanga reo and the ability of kōhanga reo to operate effectively in ensuring the transmission of te reo me ngā tikanga . The report upholds the claimants’ view that actions and omissions of the Crown, have led to a decline in the number of kohanga reo and the number of children enrolled in kohanga reo.
Unsurprising is the fact that the Waitangi Tribunal demands that the government appoints an interim independent advisor of sufficient standing, treaty knowledge, reo, and policy acumen to oversee the implementation of the tribunal’s recommendations; complete a policy framework, participation targets, quality improvement, supportive funding, a more appropriate (ie less demanding) regulatory and licensing framework, and collaboration on policy development for kohanga reo; research how kohanga reo contribute to language transmission; promote kohanga reo to Maori families; and apologise to kohanga reo and its trust for its failures.
Does the tribunal’s reasoning have a treaty basis? Good question! The link to the treaty is tenuous at best. There is no reference to the Maori language in the treaty because in the 1840 environment where everyone in New Zealand had either to speak and understand Maori, or know someone who could, it was inconceivable that at some stage, government support and funding for the language would be demanded.
Therefore, the Waitangi Tribunal summons up its distorted and self-serving interpretation of the treaty, in which sovereignty is ceded and not ceded, to argue that protection for the language would derive from the Article 2 promise to guarantee Maori rangatiratanga plus the obligation to actively protect taonga (all their valued possessions).
Mai Chen for the claimants puts the case, complete with tortured logic, that the government was “obliged to actively protect kohanga reo, to enable Maori to exercise of rangatiratanga over these taonga, to formulate good, wise and efficient policy, to make informed decisions about kohanga reo, to give an effective remedy for any past breaches of the treaty.”
Aside from the high-sounding rhetoric, the report indicates a parting of the ways between the kohanga reo trust and the government when an early childhood education taskforce report, An Agenda for Amazing Children, was published in June 2011. The trust says it was neither informed nor afforded the opportunity to respond to the strongly critical remarks made by the taskforce.
The tribunal detailed taskforce criticism thus: "The kohanga reo movement, it asserted 'has, for some time, been viewed as too hot a political issue to touch'. It questioned the quality of ECE provision in kohanga reo and 'national body leadership for all children who attend kohanga reo, and whether the trust is a key barrier or contributor to the original aspiration of the movement'." (4)
The taskforce continued: "In its view, 'meaningful change is overdue and must be addressed'. Having pointed to the high incidence of ERO supplementary reviews as an indicator of poor quality in kohanga reo, it exhorted the Government to 'think seriously about the way it invests in kohanga reo', highlighted the amount of ECE subsidy expended on kohanga reo subject to supplementary reviews, and recommended generally 'that a service without a satisfactory performance report not be able to access Government funding'.”
Criticism of, funding questions about, and declining participation in kohanga reo are behind the row that has escalated into this latest case of Waitangi Tribunal pressure on the government.
1. Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Te Reo Māori Claim. http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz/reports/viewchapter.asp?reportID=6113B0B0-13B5-400A-AFC7-76F76D3DDD92&chapter=8
2. Tribunal: Kohanga reo in crisis, NZ Herald, October 18, 2012.http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10841293
3. Matua Rautia: The Report on the Kohanga Reo Claim. http://www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz/doclibrary/public/report_pdfs/Wai2336-download-report-18102012.pdf
4. Ibid, p69
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