Critical English Online

English in a bicultural society

A symptom of the recent emergence of biculturalism (and the discourses surrounding) as a dominant, identifying ideology in the New Zealand context is the absence from the 1983 Statement of Aims of any mention of Maori culture, Maori literature or Maori constructions of literacy. Nor was the Treaty of Waitangi mentioned.

All that changed in the 1994 ENGLISH in the New Zealand Curriculum which has more to say about "English for Maori Students" than it has about literature. The demand is made that "Programmes must be planned so that Maori students are able to achieve confidence and excellence in English." Reference is made to the growing use of te reo as a medium of instruction and the growth of kura kaupapa Maori and the implications of these for the English curriculum.

Maori achievement rates in public examinations continue to lag behind "European" New Zealanders. In its 1996 publication, Reading & Speaking: Assessment results, the Educational Assessment Research Unit, contracted by the Ministry of Education to run the National Educational Monitoring Project (NEMP), reported that for both year 4 and year 8 students, Maori were outperformed by non-Maori students in all reading tasks. However, in its 2000 update on Reading and Speaking, EARU reports more favourably that while year 4 Maori students perform comparably to non-Maori students on only 6% of reading tasks, by year 8 this increases to 47%. Still, despite a marked improvement from year 4 to year 8, comprehension at year 8 is still a worry.

What it actually means to design an English programme responsive to the needs of Maori students is a matter of debate. Most teachers would acknowledge the dangers of tokenism. Most would probably say that contemporary Maori writing has become a strong presence in the de fact canon represented by the texts to be found on the shelves of New Zealand English department resource rooms.

More contentious are questions about the culture of the classroom and the culturally constructed nature of pedagogies (teaching approaches and styles). The best resource to address this issue is Te Ara hou/The new path : an approach to teaching English which draws on Maori traditions, written by Jenny Lee and others and published in 1990 by the Christchurch College of Education (and now sadly out of print). A scan of the Index to articles in English in Aotearoa locates articles by both Jenny Lee ("The Treaty of Waitangi and the Teacher of English", No 11 [May: 1990], 21-24) and Paul Howe ("Towards a pedagogy for Maori students", No 19 [May: 1993], 13-34).

For a Pakeha response to biculturalism and identity, check out "The indigenous Pakeha: An interview with Michael King" (English in Aotearoa 41 [September, 2000], 72-77).