Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Te Reo Māori in schools: let's just start

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    What percentage of school students will end up in a role where they author academic papers in the sciences? One in a thousand?

    There's a fallacy in education policy that, because most policy-makers have postgraduate qualifications, everything should be geared to the needs of the tiny minority that will go on to postgrad study.

    Most people will never go near an academic paper, and for them the purposes of teaching science involve developing literacy and numeracy through working with interesting subject matter, as well as gaining an overall understanding of the scientific method. Secondary to that is preparing those students who will take science or engineering at degree level with the skills to commence university.

    All of that can be done in any language you choose. I believe the NZ science curriculum, at least up to year 11, is fully supported in Te Reo.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Here in Japan, I quite often hear arguments such as “it’s more important for children to learn proper Japanese than to spend time talking in English”, or “Children need to learn to think logically before they can benefit from learning English”.* It’s a common trap to think of teaching one set of subjects (especially, languages) as coming at the expense of others (especially, science and maths), as if different subjects involve exclusive and competing uses of time and resources.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way, if a curriculum is properly integrated. One could, for example, have science presented in English (including English communication activities), but then use some classes in te reo to revise or revisit the same material from a different perspective.

    (* one hidden undercurrent here is the idea that a fluent speaker of English cannot be “truly” Japanese. Which is absurd [unless you think that Japanese national and cultural identity is uniquely tied to the exclusive use of Japanese language]; but is it any better to suggest that a nonfluent user of English cannot be a “truly” effective scientist?)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1923 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Hannah,

    Lastly, all of us need to realise that the desires we have for our schools and students, need to be modelled and lived in our communities and in our wider society.

    Oh yes this. My local school is 1/3 kura kaupapa. My naive assumption was that te reo would pour out of the those classes and 'infect' the rest of the school. After seeing the place for around 5 years I'm pretty convinced that that isn't really happening, the rest of the kura seems about on par with standard schools (um, I think, maybe my perception is skewed).

    I think that's because the tamariki from the kura speak Māori in class, but they don't really use Māori with non-Māori speakers. And why would they? Why should they? - easier to speak English.

    For those of us who want our kids to learn more te reo than we did, the onus is on us to encourage them to use it - at home, in the community.

    Schools can support that, but if Māori is taught and used only in school it will largely stay only in school. The best thing we can do is become more proficient ourselves.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yes I know that’s unfair but it really is the language of science at this time.

    I tend to agree, with a caveat, I only know five noble gases on the periodic table. I suppose that English being what is, can acquire from Te Reo, words such as Pukateine--which is a chemical compound from the Pukatea tree. English is already a hybrid language. Hybridizing Te reo in order to use it in contemporary science, might be missing the point. Which is to save an endanger language from extinction.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Petyt,

    TL;DR the comments today. Sorry everyone.
    I just want to say hear hear to Russel’s last call to action.
    My son is three and growing up bilingual. At the moment his English is lagging behind his Japanese but both improve every day. I can’t wait to bring him home so that he can learn te reo and go on to pick up as many other languages as he wants.

    Japan • Since Apr 2014 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to steven crawford,

    (threadjack alert!)

    Do any chemists reckon you could cleave off the extra benzene rings from Pukateine and get 1-3-benzodioxole?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to linger,

    Here in Japan, I quite often hear arguments

    That seems to be common across East Asia, or at least variations on that argument. One version common in China is "Why teach the local dialect? The kids need good Putonghua and English." That extends to the teaching of minority languages, and not just "dialects of Chinese" (no, now is not the time and place for that discussion). And now they're starting to de-emphasise English, and part of me thinks "About time. The world has a multitude of languages" - the common assumption that "foreigners" are all white-skinned, English-speaking Americans is frustrating. Part of me is hoping this isn't a symptom of a further retreat into petty nationalism.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Josh Petyt,

    My daughter's the same: 3, fluent in Mandarin as much as any 3-year old, English lagging. But that's only natural for the time being. Given time, and in a few months the tables will be turned and we'll have to work on keeping up the Mandarin input.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    What percentage of school students will end up in a role where they author academic papers in the sciences?

    People finishing high school should know the basics of academic writing, the fundamental principles common to all branches of academia, so that they are prepared to begin their studies. Whether they go into the humanities or sciences doesn't matter, they'll learn the particular conventions of their field of study in due course, but they need the basics before they begin their university career. This is a particularly big problem in the Chinese system, but I see precious little evidence it's being taught well anywhere. And it doesn't actually matter which percentage of them, or whether any of them, do go on to university or polytech or any kind of further education, these are skills that can be applied in many other areas. Imagine how much better the op-ed pages of the NZ Herald would be if the likes of John Roughan and Bernard Orsman were capable of examining and analysing the evidence, including that which contradicts their opinions, and building a rational argument based on that.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    What percentage of school students will end up in a role where they author academic papers in the sciences? One in a thousand?

    If that. Furthermore, the one person I know of with whom I went to school who's been published in the sciences, in an international field, was the same guy who topped the Te Reo class all the way through school.

    It's one data point, but it undermines the original thesis that too much language can squeeze out fluency in English-dominated academia.

    (edit - working out what I'm arguing with helps).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    People finishing high school should know the basics of academic writing

    For sure. (Although bear in mind that a percentage of people leaving high school would have trouble reading a newspaper, and a majority cannot calculate a weekly wage based on an annual salary).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    further retreat into petty nationalism

    seems to be how it's playing here, though hilariously, nekminit, the Ministry of Education is doing a full headless chicken routine on how to introduce English from elementary school up so Japan can be prepared to handle OMG Teh Forrinahz! in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (More hopefully, most elementary schools have already introduced English programs -- albeit minimalist and not "communicative" in any meaningful way -- independently of the Ministry, at the request of parents.)

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1923 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    I've gone back to learning French, after many attempts over the past 25 years. I've found what really helps is having cool music and TV and films to watch. Stuff to obsess over on its own terms, with the language acquisition being a bonus.

    But is there stuff like this with Maori? I know there's content in te reo on Maori TV and there are no shortage of musicians writing lyrics in te reo, but to work for me it would have to be stuff that I can fangirl over, not just tolerate.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Bart, I'm going to have to disagree strongly with your assertion that science should be taught in English. From all I've heard and read, many Maori students feel better included and "at home" when they learn in Te Reo. Conversely, learning in English, they can feel alienated. If that alienation discourages them from developing a love of science, then the curent low Maori representation in the sciences will only continue.

    As a fellow scientist, I work with people from all over the world. For many of them, English is their second language. It doesn't seem to be holding them back.
    I also studied overseas (that school in Canada) with people from all round the world. Some of them had minimal English when they arrived, and thus only started learning science in English then, at the age of 16-17. Again, many of them have gone on to successful careers in science.

    Last, English is the main publication language for other fields besides science, which also have their own specific vocabularies, and which also include many scholars who presumably came to English later in the piece. So I can't see that science has any claim to being a special case.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    But is there stuff like this with Maori?

    Mr Edd the talking horse is pretty funny now that it has been voiced over in Maori.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4411 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I also studied overseas (that school in Canada) with people from all round the world. Some of them had minimal English when they arrived, and thus only started learning science in English then, at the age of 16-17. Again, many of them have gone on to successful careers in science.

    Conversely, I have a now-graduated labmate who grew up speaking English in Swaziland, went to a university in Taiwan that taught in Mandarin (which she didn't speak when she started), then got her doctorate in the US. Now THAT's some language flexibility in the sciences. OTOH, I know that at least some European universities teach the sciences in English at a postgraduate level, presumably on the grounds that it saves time if people will publish in English anyway.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    For many of them, English is their second language. It doesn't seem to be holding them back.

    much like Maori

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    Spongebob? Dora?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19706 posts Report Reply

  • Francisco Blaha, in reply to Sacha,

    thanks brother!

    Since Dec 2006 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Maz,

    Just get on with it - for a million reasons.
    We have two (main) languages, two cultures, and we should be proud of both. How can you do that without learning Maori?
    It's not a myth that children learn faster/easier. For instance, my god daughter, who lives in Denmark with her Canadian mother, Danish step dad, and visits her German father, spoke three languages fluently before she turned three. She was never taught, she just picked them all up like you'd normally learn only your mother tongue.
    It opens your world to other languages, and other cultures, making you a citizen of the World, not just some backwater. You will connect with people and open your own mind. You may even learn to pronounce French place names with emphasis on the correct syllable.
    It's fun! Did you see those over joyed pupils on Campbell Live Thursday evening? They were engaged, thrilled, soaking up knowledge, learning and laughing.
    It's shameful to let Te Reo Maori languish or even die out.
    There's huge intrinsic value in learning other languages. We're so incredibly pragmatic in NZ; everything has to be "good for something", "have practical value", etc. No! Do it just because it's a pleasure, it's fun, it makes you laugh and smile.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 30 posts Report Reply

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