Policy and Inhibiters of Bicultural/Bilingual Advancement

Mere Skerrett

Abstract: This chapter frames the context in which Kaupapa Maori education, particularly that of Te Kohanga Reo (bilingual/immersion early years language nests), has emerged. It commences with an exploration of some of the socio-historical legal and political developments defining the context of Maori education broadly, and bilingual/immersion early childhood care and education (ECCE) specifically. It provides an analysis of policy documents, principally the first early childhood strategy Pathways to the Future (Ministry of Education, 2002). It asserts that this strategy was designed to shape the direction of both Kaupapa Maori ECCE and the whitestream sector, but that it was more about coercing the Maori medium sector back into the mainframe of whitestream provision. It also emphasizes the long-lasting effects of colonialism on Maori societies and culture, the intergenerational disruption of knowledge transmission, and the devastating effects on Maori language loss. Maori language education is in crisis.

Ritchie J., and M. Skerrett. Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. doi: 10.1057/9781137375797.0006.

E nga rangatira, whakarongo mai!

Kaua e uwhia Te Tiriti o Waitangi i te kahu o Ingarangi, engari kia mau ano ki tou kahu, te kahukiwi o Aotearoa nei.

Na Aperahama Taonui, 6 o nga ra o Hui Tanguru, 1840 (Cited in Nga Haeata Matauranga, 1994)

(To all dignified gatherers, take heed! Do not veil Te Tiriti o Waitangi with the shroud of England, but hold on to your unique cloak, the kiwi-feathered cloak of Aotearoa)


Bilingual immersion centers in early years’ education within Aotearoa/ New Zealand are transformative (Skerrett-White, 2003). There is now a full stream of Maori immersion education spanning what we call the non-compulsory sector (early childhood education—ECE) and compulsory sectors (primary/elementary through to secondary). Defining the terms “bilingualism” and “bilingual education” is difficult. May (2010) clarifies the term bilingual education because he asserts that it has widely different understandings. He places bilingual education on a continuum. At one end of the continuum there are those who would classify teaching bilingual students as bilingual education, irrespective of their educational aims (fostering bilingualism or not). At the other end of the continuum are those who distinguish between assimilatory (subtractive) programs and strong bilingual (additive) programs. Teachers need to understand the distinctions between weak and strong bilingual education in order to differentiate provision. Maori immersion settings are bilingual settings, not because they use two languages in the program, but because they are supporting bilingualism as an outcome (Skerrett-White, 2003) in Maori-medium programs. This is often misunderstood in New Zealand. Immersion programs are bilingual programs with bilingual aims and outcomes; the optimum percentage for quality early years’ immersion education in the Aotearoa New Zealand context is between 90 and 100 percent in the target language (May, 2010).

That said, public policy has been slow to keep up with the rapid pace of change, resulting in a paucity of support, policy, and curriculum development, for bilingual/immersion settings, the largest provider of which is

Kohanga Reo (Maori immersion language nests). This is what has come to be known as a “flax-roots” movement, and is now partially state-funded under the Crown'-regulated mainstream ECE sector (Waitangi Tribunal, 2012). This chapter explores some legal and political developments together with several relevant policy documents impacting on the context of Maori education broadly and Maori immersion ECE specifically. It is argued here that the hegemonic policies of the past have had negative influences on the bilingual/immersion education sector, such that the whilst the new Maori Language in Education Strategy 2013-2017 (Ministry of Education, 2013b) is meant to provide a glimmer of hope, the policy does not go far enough in my view, and therefore is unlikely to have any meaningful impact or influence for Maori bilingual/immersion provision in early years’ education. This chapter commences with an overview of the colonial context of Declaration and Treaty signing and the ensuing discourses over the intervening years.

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