Kahore Anania works with children at Te Kura Kaupapa Ma-ori o Te Ra – whitiroa in Whangarei.

Maori children do better in schools when they are strong in their cultural identity and language, says NZEI Te Riu Roa Matua Te Riu Roa Takawaenga Laures Park. “It is important that the Government continues to give strong support to Maori language initiatives in schools. We want to ensure that te reo Maori is here for your mokopuna and mine.”

To find out more, Heeni visited Kahore Anania (Nga Puhi, Ngati Whatua) at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rawhitiroa in Whangarei and this is what I heard: “Korero Maori i nga wa katoa, kua tae mai te pirihimana o te reo!” (Speak Maori, the language policeman has arrived!)

But the phrase is used with a smile, as Matua Kahore is well respected and his personality is warm and supportive. Often the first person to meet and greet visitors to the school, and a leading speaker in pawhiri, he is sometimes even mistaken for the tumuaki/principal! He is also one of the best known people at the kura amongst his tribe, Nga Puhi.

Kahore is one of the youngest kaiarahi i te reo at only 31 years old, but he was brought up with his grandmother in a Maori-speaking home in Mangakahia, west of Whangarei, learning English only when he went to primary school.

And then he often missed school, as his Grannie believed it was more important that he attend hui by her side. In doing so, he extended his knowledge of te reo, tikanga, and his local community whakapapa, history and inter-whanau/hapu dynamics. He was eight years old when she died, and he was then cared for by his mother in an English-speaking environment.

At the age of 16 he began working in kahanga reo, and gained his Tohu Matauranga Whakapakari Tino Rangatira (level 7) during the five years he worked there. When his mother died he moved to Whangarei, and in 2002 began working at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rawhitiroa as a kaiawhina. He became a Kaiarahi i te reo in 2007.

Kahore works with both primary and secondary students at the school, in a one-to-one or small group basis, to improve their spoken and written Maori language skills. A senior student was soon to travel to Hawaii to an international indigenous hui and needed help with his speech. Another girl needed help with her essay about her trip to Australia in the holidays.

Kahore monitors the classroom environment and reports regularly to the Board of Trustees and iwi on whether each class is a Maori-only language environment, bi-lingual or English only.

He also works with each teacher to extend and improve their reo. He will listen to their use of the reo in the classroom, and have sessions with them later to comment and advise. He also assists senior staff in the school with translation of documents, such as official reports. “Our language is so unique and picturesque, I prefer translating Maori into English, than English into te reo.”

Kahore enjoys the opportunity to share his strength in the reo, particularly the Nga Puhi dialect, and loves seeing and hearing the tamariki using the reo. “Me taku mohio ka whiti te ra, nga ra kei te haere mai, na nga tamariki nei, nga tino rangatira mo apopo, na te kaha o tatou ki te ako i a ratou, ki te whangai i a ratou,” he says. (I know that the sun will shine in the days to come, from these children, the leaders of tomorrow, by the strength of our teaching and our care for them.)

Kahore’s rich knowledge of his local tribal community is applied in his work. It is Kahore whom people contact when they want to visit the school and discuss appropriate kawa to do so. It is Kahore who organises school meetings with whanau, and liaises with kohanga reo to ensure they understand the school’s expectations in relation to the reo and disciplined behaviour.

“Me mohio te tamaiti ki te tuhi, ki te whakatau i a ia, me te whakarongo.” (Children should know how to write, how to settle themselves, and how to listen.)

It is Kahore’s responsibility to assess the language of children coming into the kura to ensure they have an appropriate level to enable them to gain from being at the kura. They will usually have attended kohanga reo and if not, they will be from a Maori-speaking home.

The Kura kaupapa Maori o Te Rawhitiroa at Tikipunga, Whangarei was established in 1993 and now has 220 tamariki and rangatahi, from new entrants to year 13 ( NCEA level 3). The only kura kaupapa in Whangarei, students travel up to 50kms to attend because of their whanau commitment to te reo.

Yet it is not always possible to find Maori-speaking teachers for subjects like maths and science at the senior level, and Kahore finds it sad and frustrating when staff are sometimes employed who speak no Maori language in the classroom. He can assist them only when asked.

Formally trained to teach in the early childhood sector, Kahore also has extensive experience in teaching adults” he works as a teacher of te reo for Te Wananga o Aotearoa three evenings per week (some of the parents also attend). He teaches up to level 5 (Diploma level) Maori language courses.

Kaiarahi i te reoi te reo can gain a Limited Authority to Teach, allowing them a limited number of teaching hours per year, but only if they are studying towards becoming a trained teacher. This results in a drop in pay because they shift to a trainee teacher pay-scale, according to Kaiarahi i te reo advocate Putiputi Temara.

Some of the other factors inhibiting kaiarahi i te from entering teacher training are the cost (for example, Putiputi has four children); the perception that many colleges are limited in their teaching and understanding of te reo Maori; and the time commitment involved (three years to complete a teaching qualification).

Kaiarahi i te reo were first established in the education system in 1986 to support students graduating from kohanga reo to kura. They are predominantly native speakers who were tasked with the role of enhancing and extending the reo of students and teachers. In 2009 there were 63 kaiarahi i te reo in the country, half in immersion and half in mainstream schools.

Kaiarahi i te reo were initially seen as filling a temporary need, as it was thought that the pool of qualified teachers fluent in the reo would grow, and hence the need for kaiarahi i te reo with their special expertise in the reo and tikanga, would diminish. However, most teachers emerging from Colleges of Education today are still second-language learners of te reo, and so having the support of native speakers to work with both students and teachers is still considered essential by many schools.

Principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rawhitiroa in Whangarei Meri George is passionate about the need for kaiarahi i te reo, even in an immersion context like a kura. “We would always find someone to be kaiarahi, kia whakakaha te reo o nga kaiako me nga tamariki,” she says. Without a kaiarahi i te reo, the quality of the language would suffer.

She believes the work of a kaiarahi i te reo is equivalent to that of teachers and they should be paid at similar rates. Initially kaiarahi i te reo were centrally funded, but they are now funded from the schools operations grants, using the schools equity funding. As the funds fluctuate so do the hours of work for the kaiarahi i te reo. This makes them feel less valued and more insecure.

There has been a decline in the number of kaiarahi i te reo employed in recent years. Some of the reasons are the funding for schools to afford them; there is a scarcity of native speakers of te reo; and employers have also commented that the pay rate for kaiarahi i te reo is low in relation to the value of their skills on the open market – they can often get higher pay elsewhere.

The Crown’s obligation to protect the Maori language was affirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986. Maori became an official language of New Zealand, a commission was set up to promote and support it, and the Tribunal stated that all children who wish to learn Maori should be able to do so. But despite the popularity and success of Maori television, other broadcasting initiatives and wananga which support and promote the reo, the Maori language is still considered by experts to be at risk.

Ministry of Education data shows a recent decline in primary and secondary student engagement in Maori language – from 21.9 percent in 2003 to 19.7 percent in 2008. In 2006 figures published by Te Puni Kokiri – less than a quarter of Maori could hold an everyday conversation in te reo, with those over 65 most likely to be able to do so. Only one sixth of those aged under 15 could speak te reo; in total only 4 percent of New Zealanders could do so.

With the current emphasis on schools being self-determining, there is more flexibility in the curriculum. Schools are encouraged to teach a language other than English, but it does not have to be te reo. NZEI Te Rio Roa policy, however, is to recognize the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi in education, and to assert that Te Reo Maori syllabus should be part of the core curriculum – all schools should teach at least level one.

A request for comment on this policy from Associate Minister of Education Pita Sharples was unsuccessful (he said he could not comment while negotiations with teachers are underway). However, a poll recently released by Research New Zealand found growing support for te reo in schools. Thirty eight percent of New Zealanders, particularly the young, now think that Maori should be a compulsory subject; with 58 percent opposed.

“It is clear that if the Maori language is to flourish, conscious effort at all levels” individual, whanau, community and state” remains a necessary requirement, ” says a Te Puni Kokiri report on the language.

The NZEI Te Riu Roa believes that retaining and valuing the Maori language experts in schools – Kaiarahi i te reo contributes significantly towards this goal. A work programme has been established to look at their roles, and determine how to support them better.

We would like to see a reversal in the trend for Kaiarahi i te reo to diminish in number” we need more, not less! Ko te reo Maori te mauri o te mana Maori.