The rise and decline of Kohanga Reo

The beginnings of the Kohanga Reo movement as we know it was to stay the decline of te reo Maori and to address issues of socio-cultural disruption and concerns of identity loss (Skerrett-White, 2003). By bridging the sociolinguistic gap between the native older speaking generation and the younger generation/s some of the socio-cultural disruption associated with language loss would be alleviated whilst also contributing to a socio-culturally rejuvenated iwi (Maori people/tribes) Maori. In this respect Kohanga Reo has been the leading light in terms of spearheading a bilingual/immer- sion stream of education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is a movement led by the people, for the people, in the Maori language. However, by its very nature Kohanga Reo is swimming against the tide and constantly having to resist the hegemonic politics of capture as overviewed herein.

The chapter The rise and decline of te koohanga reo: The impact of government policy (Skerrett-White, 2001) overviewed its development in a context of rapid reform, centralized (State) controls, and neoliberal restructuring under the guise of “devolution.” Further, in a presentation to the TKR National Trust Board in 2002, Skerrett stated:

In terms of policy that supports whanau involvement and policy that supports the dual language, care and education roles—the gap is glaringly obvious—there in none. In fact public policy has been introduced which deliberately undermines the revernacularization goals of TKR—the subsidy cuts of the 1990s for a start, which took parents out of Kohanga because you had to be either in full-time employment or a full-time student in order to access the subsidy. One does not have to be brilliant to see how that policy would affect young Maori parents, especially in rural areas. (p. 19)

Within a very short time of the inception of TKR, the apparatus of the state proved to be antipathetic to what Kohanga was trying to do- revitalize the Maori language at the unit of whanau (the smallest unit of Maori tribal structures). Skerrett-White (2001) argued, “This New Right or Neo-Conservative ideology is about the coupling of the neo-liberal views of ‘individualism’ with a traditional conservative view of ‘power to the state’ ” (p. 12) and documented the subsuming of Maori aspirations in the “rush of reform” with the acquiescence of the TKR national representative body. Not much has changed. The following is a critique of policies that have impacted on TKR with, perhaps unintended, negative outcomes.

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