Te reo Māori taught in Australian primary school

By Tumamao Harawira

An Australian school is showing New Zealand how it incorporates te reo Māori into its students' learning.

St Thomas Aquinas primary school in Geelong, Australia, is teaching the Māori language to all its students as part of its curriculum. The idea started in 2018 to teach te reo as a subject because of the number of Māori children there and it has grown to even hosting a pōwhiri for Defence Minister Peeni Henare during a recent visit to Australia.

Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, is the second-largest city in Victoria with a population of just over 270,000. St Thomas Aquinas is situated in Norlane, which principal Rod Simms says is a low socio-economic area.

"It's a pretty disadvantaged community and we have about 160 children here at school. Of those 160 children, we have about 20-25 children from a Māori background."

Reo Māori teacher Matekino Olsen has spent 14 years in Australia. She was brought on board to help with the lessons. She says the school teaches all their students te reo, from 5-12 years of age.

Te ao Māori being taught in the Australian curriculum. 

'Every culture learning'

"It's been a privilege being able to share basic te reo Māori with our local kids here, Māori kids and all walks of life. You've got every culture you can think of learning our language and some of them are absolutely brilliant at picking it up."

Olsen can't believe that te reo isn't already a compulsory subject here in Aotearoa.

"For home, it should be in every school. Just sharing our language with everyone. Because it's not just the language, it's the backside that comes with it."

The school recently got to show its wares with the visit of Defence Minister Peeni Henare.

"It was the kids actually that said, 'we want to do the haka, we want to show our culture,' and I was like, okay, let's have a practice and they were better than I thought they were going to be because we hadn't done any of that mahi for a while," Olsen says.

Simms also says that more can be done to teach students about the language of tangata whenua in Australia.

"We also have around 20-25 Aboriginal children as well, and we didn't have all of those children here when we decided to start with Māori and our Aboriginal education worker is helping our children also understand the Wadawurrung language."