Kaumātua lead by example: ‘it’s never too late to learn’
Kaumātua proud to be NMIT students
Twelve Māori elders from Ngāti Koata iwi studying Te Reo Māori as part of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s first “kaumātua class” are setting an example it’s never too late to learn.
The kaumātua, most aged in their 70s and one in her 80s, have enrolled at NMIT’s School of Māori Studies – Te Tari Māori, and are studying the Certificate in Te Rito o Te Reo which is one of two Te Reo and tikanga Māori programmes offered by NMIT. The adult students started the course in May and attend class once a week on Mondays.
“Our whānau think it’s great that at our age we’re going back to school,” says NMIT Te Reo student Aunty Lovey, who is in her 70s. “We never had the chance to learn Te Reo at school and now that NMIT has given us the opportunity to learn it – we’ve seized it. We don’t believe in “it’s too late” because, it’s never too late to learn.”
NMIT’s Director of Māori Education Tākuta ‘Doc’ Ferris says Te Tari Māori established the kaumātua class this year after Ngāti Koata approached NMIT for help in developing Te Reo and tikanga Māori for their iwi.
“At first we thought about offering the course for them out in the community, but the kaumātua wanted to come to school, they wanted to enrol as students at NMIT,” says Mr Ferris. “For some of them it’s their first time as tertiary students and they’re pleased and proud to be students at NMIT.”
Mr Ferris says it is the first time NMIT has offered this type of programme to a whole iwi group at once, but its success means it will not be the last.
“Ngāti Koata is leading the way but it’s just the beginning and other iwi are already looking at doing the same.”
A big motivation and inspiration for the kaumātua to improve their Te Reo skills was this year’s opening of the first Māori language immersion school in the Top of the South – Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tuia te Matangi, which was launched in July to coincide with Te wiki o te reo Māori or Māori Language Week. Several of the students’ mokopuna or grandchildren will be attending the new kura.
“These kaumātua are part of a generation who were raised without the Reo and, now that it’s become part of the future, they know that they need to do something to keep up with their mokopuna,” says NMIT Te Tari Māori tutor Keri Tākao.
“They’re setting a positive example that it’s never too late to learn the Reo, enrol in tertiary studies and learn something new.”
Mr Tākao says the students are all enjoying the experience and while most knew limited Te Reo to start with, they are all improving.
“Some have come with a little bit and others with no Te Reo, but they are all seeing the improvement in each other from week to week and their confidence in using the language is also growing.”
Mr Tākao understands how hard it can be to learn Te Reo as an adult, having only learned it himself ten years ago. Deciding to take the plunge is the hardest part.
“For some it can be all about timing and when to get on the waka and learning the reo, the years can go quite quickly before the timing is right.”
For Aunty Lovey, it is not the first time she has tried to learn Māori “but back then I didn’t have the time to sit and concentrate – now I have more time”. She was raised Māori but never had the opportunity to learn her language growing up.
“The whānau keep saying I’m a kuia but I say I don’t feel it because I haven’t got the language – it’s the missing link,” she says. “When we go to pōwhiri we can’t understand what they’re saying and when people laugh we don’t get the joke, but the more I’m learning at NMIT, the easier it’s getting.”
The kaumātua are attracting a lot of interest on NMIT’s campus in Nelson, particularly with whānau studying other programmes there.
“They always stop in for a kōrero – it helps that every Monday there’s a good kai here,” says Aunty Lovey.