Researchers bringing Te Reo to West Christchurch primary students

A passion for normalising te reo is driving two researchers from University of Canterbury (UC), whose next project with school children at Burnside Primary School will take te reo out of the school and into the west Christchurch community.

UC PhD student Teariki Tuiono and UC lecturer Nathan Riki, who both specialise in culturally responsive practice in Te Rāngai Ako me te Hauora | College of Education, Health and Human Development, created Aotearoa Rockstars in 2019.

The programme prepares a group of selected students to take te reo out to participating local businesses and community organisations where they will help people to learn new phrases.

Trialled at Breens Intermediate last year, Aotearoa Rockstars proved a hit, says Riki, who was teaching at Breens as well as leading responsive practice for a cluster of around 24 local schools and early childhood settings. He saw students grow in confidence and practical skills.

“It is really powerful for the children, especially the tamariki Māori, who have gone through life and have hardly had the opportunity to celebrate their culture,” he says, “I saw an increase of mana because they felt that their whakapapa, their history, was being respected and they were the face of that. They really liked that.”

“At the beginning they were quite shy interacting with people, but by the end it was amazing to see the difference and how confident they became. It was because they were talking about their passion and in the past they haven’t had the opportunity to do that.”

Te reo is becoming more and more present in schools, however beyond the school gates its integration is more challenging. Community members, however, have also responded positively to the chance to engage with te reo.

“There was a local man at the Bishopdale library during the 2019 programme and at first he didn’t really see the point of learning te reo Māori. But by the second and third week, he was coming in specifically to learn more from the kids and by the end he was inspired to go and increase his knowledge more.”

“There were a couple of stories like that. Sometimes you have to ignite the flame. That’s what happened to me. I couldn’t speak te reo Māori; it was a flame that was lit within me that made me go out there and pursue it.”

The programme helps the students to build their resilience and sense of belonging, Tuiono says. “The most powerful thing is the kids. They are the success of this programme. We’re in the background, we’re the safety net if they need us.”

Tuiono’s PhD research will “add to the language revitalisation literature”, however he wants to deliver the practical outcomes that Aotearoa Rockstars can offer as well. His previous projects include bilingual books for Manurewa, South Auckland, where he is from, and online haka resources being launched next month.

The students participating in Aotearoa Rockstars, six of whom are Māori and six non-Māori, will get together at UC on 24 July for an induction into the five-week programme, with input from previous participating students.

The programme culminates with a celebration for the whole school.

The organisations involved, including the YMCA, Bishopdale Library and the greengrocers from the first programme, also benefit with free workshops based on everything to do with the Māori world, including te reo Māori, which are given by Riki.

Now at UC, Riki made the switch to university so that he could influence new teachers before they graduate, with culturally responsive practice and te reo Māori skills.

Riki and Tuiono have provided Aotearoa Rockstars on a voluntary basis while working and studying, but hope future funding will allow them to expand the programme into more schools and communities.

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