MĀOR110 Te Reo Aptitude Assessment gets the Axe

MĀOR110 Te Reo Aptitude Assessment gets the Axe

Questions raised about which “unfair advantages” the Uni moderates

For the first time, Health Sci First Year (HSFY) students can take “Intro to Conversational Māori” (MĀOR110) as an optional eighth paper. Last week, the University repealed an entrance requirement to the paper barring students with virtually any te reo background, lest they have an “unfair advantage”. Students we heard from felt this effectively barred any Health Scis that had ever demonstrated interest in te reo, regardless of their actual aptitude.

Up until last week, the Uni required anyone wanting to take MĀOR110 to do a self-assessment declaring that they did not have a “strong background” in te reo. According to an email sent out by the Uni, this included taking te reo at NCEA level, or having learned te reo at Te Ataarangi, Kura kaupapa Māori, wharekura, or any other tertiary institution: backgrounds that are predominantly Māori. It was the only paper that students had to self-assess for, as it was the only language paper on offer.

The pre-screening was designed to prevent students with strong backgrounds from having an “unfair advantage” in the fiercely competitive HSFY course. However, students like Tuakana* pointed out that no other papers had these requirements, even those subjects also available at NCEA level. “Students who took chemistry, physics, or biology in secondary school [also] have an advantage over those who did not,” said Tuakana, even though the optional eighth papers in chemistry, physics or biology have no pre-screening assessments. Ellie*, another student, pointed out that there was no pre-screening for papers like “God and Ethics in the Modern World” (Christian Thought 131) either, “even if you grew up in a Christian household going to church every Sunday”. 

“The double standard of pre-screening students for their understanding of te reo Māori, but not their understanding of the other subjects on offer is the main issue here,” said Tuakana. She also pointed out that it’s pretty difficult to avoid learning at least a little bit of te reo while growing up in Aotearoa: “Decades of hard work has resulted in the revitalisation of Māori language and culture… Any student coming through from the New Zealand school system – Māori or non-Māori – will have some knowledge of the content of MĀOR110, regardless of whether they studied it formally or not.” 

Ellie had some background knowledge of the content of MĀOR110, having studied te reo at NCEA Levels 1-3. However, she was still excited to take the paper to improve her confidence in conversational te reo, because she felt like she hadn’t gotten a good grasp on the grammar yet. She said the restriction felt like “the University was preventing [any Health Scis] who actually want to learn te reo from taking the only reo course available as an optional eighth paper.” Ellie also didn’t believe the policy would effectively weed out any people who might be trying to get an easy A, because “they could just lie on the self-assessment”. She felt the only people who would become eligible for the paper, then, were those who had “never been keen or shown interest in learning te reo… It sounds so stuffed up when you say it like that.” 

According to Professor Helen Nicholson, the Uni’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), the pre-enrolment criteria were designed to cover all language papers – not just te reo. According to Prof Nicholson: “Last year, the HSFY Strategic Management Committee approved the addition of language papers as optional 8th papers. In order to include languages, the requirement to assess prior competence was added to ensure students were taking a paper appropriate to their level of knowledge.” 

She said that Te Tumu submitted MĀOR110 as an optional eighth paper “knowing there were [pre-enrolment competence assessment] criteria to meet” as a language paper, and added that if other languages had been offered they would’ve been subject to the same screening. This indicates, however, that aptitude for one of our national languages – increasingly visible in classrooms across the country – will be assessed alongside languages like French and German, to which exposure is much less likely. Prof. Nicholson continued to say that “concerns have been raised about how this process was being implemented this year”. She then confirmed that the criteria would be dropped for 2022, and apologised to students for the changes.

Tuakana pointed out that the language skills honed in MĀOR110 will help “our health professionals in Aotearoa to have a basic understanding of cultural competency and te reo Māori.” Unfortunately, for a few weeks, it seemed like the first time a te reo paper was offered in that eighth spot, some pre-screening criteria effectively barred anyone with any te reo background from taking the only te reo course on offer. This would have “further disadvantaged the already disadvantaged,” said Tuakana: “Māori students are often already confronted with the lack of Māori culture, language, and representation in Western academic Institutions, such as Otago Uni. Barring Māori students from Māori language papers only adds to this toxic narrative.” One hopes that the Uni’s backtracking of this policy will help deconstruct that narrative.

*Name changed.

This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2022.
Posted 2:46pm Monday 25th July 2022 by Skyla & Fox Meyer.