New research from the University of Auckland seems to show that pupils in kura kaupapa Māori-language immersion schools can benefit from the introduction of English into their learning earlier than is currently the case – but Myles Ferris, principal of Whangarei’s Te Kura o Otangarei, and vice president of the executive of Te Akatea Māori Principals Association, says that further study is needed, as he and the executive of Te Akatea have questions about the methodology of the research.
The research was conducted by Dr Sophie Tauwehe Tamati of the Te Puna Wānanga School of Māori and Indigenous Education at the Faculty of Education and Social Work.
Dr Tamati’s research was conducted for her PhD thesis, Transacquisition Pedagogy for Billingual Education: A Study in Kura Kaupapa Māori.
Under her theory, instead of kura kaupapa Māori students having English introduced at secondary school level, it would start when the pupils are aged 11 and 12.
“The introduction of English is better placed when the children are in years 7 and 8,” she says.
Dr Tamati believes that her pedagogical theory could stem a trend she says results in parents taking their children out of kura kaupapa Māori schools at year 8 and sending them to mainstream high schools, so that they’re able to start learning in English.
Dr Tamati carried out her research in two kura kaupapa Māori and used her 'transacquisition' teaching approach with 24 year 7 and 8 students, over an 8-week intervention programme.
For one-and-a-half hours in weeks 1, 3, 5 and 7 the students read story books written in te reo Māori to retell using their own reo Māori. Then they would revoice their reo Māori story in English. Some even managed to rewrite the original reo Māori story in English. In weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8 the students did the opposite. They read English story books to retell in English. Then they revoiced their English stories in te reo Māori to then rewrite in Māori.
After the 8-week programme, the kura students had improved their English literacy at a rate that was 5.87 times faster than a similarly abled group in a decile 10 English-medium school.
Questions and doubts
Dr Tamati’s research has met with resistance from some Māori.
“At first, my PhD topic was very, very unpopular. It challenged the need for the Māori language to be used exclusively in kura kaupapa Māori in order to revitalise the language. It addressed the reality of kura children who don’t live in an exclusively Māori world,” said Dr. Tamati in a press release from Auckland University.
Myles Ferris, principal of Whangarei’s Te Kura o Otangarei, and vice president of the executive of Te Akatea Māori Principals Association, said today in a statement from Te Akatea’s executive that, while they are supportive of “detailed and comprehensive” research, they would like to “see further research from independent Māori researchers that support these findings.”
“We feel that the sample size indicated is too small to rule out other variables that may have influenced these results.”
Te Akatea also questions the comparison to the English-medium school that Dr. Tamati’s research used, but reiterated their willingness to engage with any well-intentioned research in the area.
“The comparison that was provided against the Decile 10 English-medium school is potentially misleading as the students’ initial levels are not identified. We know anecdotally that many of our kura kaupapa Māori see similar acceleration when introducing English as a subject even at later year levels. The comparison needs to [be] against those kura who implement their English programs at Years 9-10.
“That being said, we would be interested in working with the researchers to look at a larger study and also on a longitudinal study that will look at the impact of this program over time.
“We are open-minded and willing to engage with any program that supports language and cultural regeneration - mana reo, mana Māori - and one that increases the number of tamariki and their whanau choosing the Māori-medium pathway through to Tertiary education.”
Dr. Tamati is now in the process of publishing her thesis as a book.