Should Te Reo Maori be made compulsory in New Zealand schools?

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Compulsory Te Reo Maori in schools, it's a policy that divides opinion but not at one of New Zealand's premier private schools.

Christchurch's Christ's College has made Maori compulsory for year nine students.
Source: Seven Sharp

Christ's College in Christchurch, a school almost as old as the Treaty of Waitangi itself, is breaking the mold.

The school with a roll of 95 per cent non-Maori students has taken the bold step and made Te Reo compulsory for year nine students in the hopes of starting a national debate.

Joe Eccelton from Christ's College says the move is to enhance the cultural perspective of students.

"Particularly the bi-cultural perspective, and it was really important for us that our boys had a sense of who they were as New Zealanders, we wanted our programme and our curriculum to reflect contemporary New Zealand."

They’re hoping to make it compulsory beyond that and say there wasn't much push back from parents.

"No there really wasn't. The community were really ready for it, particularly our boys and our parents - even the old boys," said Eccelton.

Across town at Shirley Boys' High School, Te Reo Maori is also being taught in year nine.

However there's one big difference - resources.

Despite having 1300 students, with one in five identifying as Maori, Shirley has only has one Te Reo teacher.

"I'm the sole Maori teacher here currently. I'm very passionate. The course since I've been here in the last year and a half has tripled in numbers," said Te Rau Winterbottom.

The school's headmaster John Laurenson lamented the situation.

"I've got a very special teacher of Te Reo, but I won't have him for very long".

That's because teachers such as Te Rau are in great demand, but the need - according to John Laurenson, is in early childhood and primary education.

"They need to be in with the tiny little ones because that's where it's going to make a serious difference.

A difference, he believes, is required in New Zealand's education system.

"When I went to school, in standard two in those days, my best friend was given the strap for speaking Maori in class. An astonishing thing for me to see and looking back now - the consequences of all of that we're living with but we've still got the opportunity to do something about it."

Compulsory Te Reo won't happen immediately but the conversation is coming out of the shadows.

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