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Language Use Drops In Rarotonga, Rises In "Sister" Islands

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (April 5, 2002 – Cook Islands Star/Auckland)---Maori language use among school children may drop to less than 10% of current numbers in less than a third of a century if decline continues at current levels.

The numbers of children passing Grade 4 Maori tests dropped from about 47% in 1999 to about 44% in 2001.

"By region, Rarotonga shows a steady decline in Maori," reads the Budget Policy Statement.

"This appears to complement the Rarotonga English results."

But teachers appeared to have turned around an even faster decline in Maori language use among southern group children.

Maori grades dropped dramatically between 1999 and 2000, from more than 55% in the first year to near 35% in the second.


"At the national level, Maori has shown the most significant decline," reads the policy statement.

"The most striking feature of these trends is an increasing preference to speak English on the main island of Rarotonga, given the steady decline in the Maori results. This is less evident in the Sister Islands."

Advice is also given that "due to small sample sitting each year, wide fluctuations can be expected and interpretation should be treated with caution."

Maori language studies are not specifically singled out as a concern in the current education budget of NZ$ 6.6 million (US$ 2,922,018). Focus instead goes on overall standards, including Maori, in curriculum and training.

Language is highlighted in the Ministry of Cultural Development budget, with overall ministry funding of NZ$ 664,477 (US$ 294,184).

Policy Body

Ministry officials identify the main issue facing language as being "The lack of a Maori language policy coordinating body in the Cook Islands."

Their work plan calls for the drawing up and passing of a proposed Official Languages Act.

The same page only lists a "draft" Official Languages Act as a result, although it then goes on to list the act as being passed as a performance measure.

An Interim Maori Language commission is to be provided with administrative assistance by the ministry, including for 12 meetings a year, with monthly reports to be made available.

The ministry was also supposed to assist the commission with the hosting of a Polynesian Languages Forum, assist with translations when requested, and develop a program for the creation of "a new Maori terminology."

An impressive list.


However, government has only voted NZ$ 43,915 (US$ 19,442.50) to achieve all that. It is perhaps not surprising that very little has been heard from the Official Languages Commission, interim or otherwise.

Nearly five times that amount was voted for travel-heavy activities like dance teams attending the Edinburgh Tatoo and the annual constitution celebrations, Te Maire Maeva Nui.

Spending in this area was budgeted at NZ$ 205,521 (US$ 90,990.30).

While language remains a concern, the education ministry recovered well from a disastrous 1999 year.


That was when only a quarter of all papers were passed at the New Zealand School Certificate level.

Now pass levels are back up to about 40% – something education officials admit still leaves "scope for improvement" as stated in the June 2001 Education Sector Review.

"The ministry of Education has over recent years reviewed their monitoring systems and introduced an advanced system that monitors student profiles at the grade 4 and grade 6 levels.

"It is so well developed that it could rival monitoring systems of developed countries," reads last week’s Budget Policy Statement.

"At the secondary school level, the current bursary and school certificate approaches are being phased out and replaced with a unit standards system. This new method shifts focus to achieving pre-defined standards in a wide area of subjects."

However, more specific steps to improve use of Maori language may have to wait for the next budget.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands Star, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands Star.

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