“Kia ngātahi ai te tū
e pakari ai te tuarā”

To stand with the strength of our forebears
is to stand strong, to stand united.

The transition from learning in Māori to learning in English

More than a decade ago many Māori medium educators were concerned about the lack of consistent information and resources available to guide the transition of students who had been learning in Māori medium into learning in English medium.

One of the most challenging transition points for these students can be from primary school to secondary school. In general, teachers in Māori medium settings appeared to be implementing one of three options:

  • do nothing to interfere with on-going Māori medium education, and wait until the student enters English medium, before dealing with any issues that might arise following transition;
  • teach English transition once students reach a specific age group;
  • teach English transition to all students within a specific class (year) group.

However, none of these options appears to take into consideration the identified level of language proficiency of the individual student. All three options assume that a cohort of students is all at the same level of preparedness for transition to English.

Teachers in the secondary schools that these students are transitioning into may have been doing even less. Failure to recognise the impact of transition to English on the lives of students who have been immersed in and learned through the medium of Māori language can be undermining and detrimental; to te reo Māori and to the students themselves.

Recently we found evidence to show that unwittingly, this situation is occurring in Te Kotahitanga schools.

Of concern is that none of these options utilise the language skills and knowledge of members of the home community. Many school whānau are concerned about the lack of consistent application of transition practices, active monitoring and evaluation of specific transition practices, and informed sharing of information between home and school. For example, what impact does transition to English have on the lives of the students and their whānau?

Are current transition practices effective, or even adequate? How have students benefited from these types of practices? How can we do things better?


The response of one school and its community

The modules on reading and writing strategies contain the strategies used effectively by one school and its community in response to these concerns.

These strategies are detailed more specifically in the following thesis:

  • Berryman, M., (2001). Toitū te whānau, toitū te iwi: A community approach to English transition, Masters of Education Thesis. University of Waikato.

In her Masters thesis Berryman outlines an effective collaborative partnership amongst the whānau (immediate and extended family), the kura (school), the students, and the researcher, that took place in this community during 1998 and 1999, as part of a community initiated whānau and kura programme to improve students’ transition from learning in Māori to learning in English. The researcher became part of the whānau when she was invited by the community to help in developing a suitable programme to assist a group of fluent Māori immersion students to begin their bilingual secondary schooling (the only option available in their community).

The whānau wanted students to begin their secondary schooling with improved competence in reading and writing in English, but without compromising their competence in Māori language. This is a strong platform upon which to ensure the Ka Hikitia strategy expectations continue to be addressed.

This school and its community devised a 10-week intervention focused on reading and writing in English using Pause Prompt Praise, Responsive Written Feedback and Structured Brainstorming. This kura and community continued to maintain their transition programme each year with their Year 8 students.

The students continued to enter secondary school able to read, write, and talk fluently in Māori. Importantly, they could also read and comprehend at age appropriate levels in English, and write with increasing confidence and voice in English. One such student came first in English among all Year 9 students.

Just as important is the tutors’ continued use of the procedures with younger family members.


Video 3: Transition

Key thoughts

“Students coming from Māori medium education into English mainstream settings can often be problematic and one of the reasons that it can be problematic is that because students have been taught in Māori medium and Māori language they haven’t been formally taught in one language and then transitioning into another language, then these students can be seen in deficit terms.”

“We didn’t want him falling into the gaps and be one of their statistics ... I need him to have a good life ... it’s really important.”

Key questions

  1. What are the challenges for Māori students as they transition from Māori medium contexts? What does your school currently do in order to address these challenges?
  2. What are the strengths of Māori students transitioning from Māori medium contexts?
  3. What does the parents’ korero in this clip suggest they want for their rangitahi?

Given that the issue of transition continues to challenge, Berryman and Glynn have agreed to update their monograph in 2014 and will seek to republish it in module as well as book form. Meanwhile the following monograph is still available:

Berryman, M. & Glynn, T. (2003). Transition from Māori to English: A community approach. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Education Research.