With falling enrolment and centres closing, poor reviews from the Education Review Office and criticism from the ECE Taskforce, it appears that the Kohanga Reo movement is in decline. It is unclear what is to blame for the falling numbers and poor performance, but Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board is placing the blame on the Government.
In an urgent hearing at the Waitangi Tribunal this year, the Trust claimed the Crown has undermined Kohanga Reo by applying the same ECE policies and accountability standards as all other ECE services.
In its claim, it has asked that Kohanga Reo be separated from other ECE services and funded separately in order to continue working with Maori.
Kohanga Reo was designed as a way of passing on Maori language and culture and of the whanau working together to learn and develop, but since its inclusion in the Ministry of Education, its supporters say it has been treated like any other early childhood education service and that this is doing the movement irreparable damage.
The Trust says that ECE policies cannot be properly applied to Kohanga Reo, which is about whanau development and passing on Maori language and culture rather than simply caring for and teaching children. It says Kaumatua, the experts in culture who teach the children are not recognised because they are not qualified teachers, and that some aspects of policy such as separate sleeping areas for children go against cultural practices.
The claim has highlighted the issue of whether the early education of different ethnic groups is best run by the government, or by the people themselves.
Through its counsel Mai Chen, the Trust argued at the Tribunal that Kohanga Reo needs separate legislation and greater funding in order to survive, and that treating it as an ECE service is to misunderstand what Kohanga Reo is all about. It has also argued that the Tohu Whakapakari, the Kohanga teacher qualification, should not need to be approved by the Teacher’s Council.
However, the Crown hit back at suggestions that the treatment of Kohanga Reo was risking the future of Maori language and said that the Crown had not breached its Treaty obligations in any way.
The Crown’s counsel Ben Keith admitted it had been an oversight not to allow the Trust any input before the ECE Taskforce’s critical report was released, but said the Crown had given Kohanga Reo extra funding. If the Government was funding a programme, then it had to have some kind of input and there had to be standards across the board. While Kohanga Reo was administered under existing policies, Keith said these were flexible and changing the legislation would not change the fact that both the Trust and the Government needed to work together.
Mediation and working groups have previously been set up to try to work out a solution for the future of Kohanga Reo but they have so far not been successful.
The Waitangi Tribunal is due to report on the hearing but nothing has yet been released (as at 25th July 2012) and no date has been set for the report to be published.