Crown apology sought for harm done to kohanga reo

5:30 am on 19 October 2012

The co-chair of the Kohanga Reo National Trust board, Tina Olsen-Ratana, says it is essential the Crown apologise for the harm it has caused the kohanga reo movement.

In a new report the Waitangi Tribunal has called on the Crown to apologise to the country's kohanga reo because, it says, they have suffered significant prejudice from successive governments forcing them to comply with the same early-childhood education regulations as English-language services.

Kohanga reo depend on fluent speakers of Maori rather than on registered teachers, on which funding is based.

Ms Olsen-Ratana says an apology will allow kohanga to move on.

The report also recommends the Government help the centres with $20 million in essential building repairs. Property improvements are urgently needed, with about a third of kohanga likely to lose their licences unless they're repaired.

"They're in disrepair now. We need that money now," Ms Olsen-Ratana says.

Education Minister Hekia Parata says the Government acknowledges the important role kohanga reo play in education and the report will be assessed alongside the Government's current work on early-childhood funding and a plan for Maori language in education.

'Central to survival of te reo'

The tribunal's report, released on Thursday, says the Government should put kohanga reo at the centre of its early-childhood education policies for Maori.

It says government policies have failed to support the Maori language immersion centres and recognise their special role. That has disadvantaged them, it says, and contributed to a decline in enrolments at a time when other forms of early-childhood education are growing.

The report says the Crown should give them more funding, encourage enrolments and actively promote them to Maori families.

It also recommends the Prime Minister appoint an interim independent adviser who'll oversee and facilitate work between the trust board and its government partners.

Kohanga reo are so important for the survival of te reo Maori, it says, that the Crown's obligation to protect the language extends to kohanga too.

The ruling follows a claim made to the tribunal by the Kohanga Reo National Trust last year.

Implications to be discussed

The trust's deputy chair, Toni Waho, says members will study the report and travel around the country to discuss its implications with kohanga reo supporters.

The lawyer representing the trust, Mai Chen, says that will take under 5 November, and they then want to sit down and talk with the relevant ministers about implementing the recommendations.

Maori Party education spokesperson Te Ururoa Flavell says he hopes the Government will take the recommendations seriously but history shows the Government doesn't always put Waitangi Tribunal recommendations into action.