Late last year the Kohanga Reo Trust lodged an urgent claim with the Waitangi Tribunal. The claim alleged that the Crown, or more accurately the Ministry of Education (MOE), was guilty of discriminating against Kohanga. The claim argues, among other things, that Kohanga should not be classed as early childhood centres (ECC) and separate legislation should be created to separate Kohanga from the MOE.
The hearing into the claim opened on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, the Trust is in the right. Kohanga should not be classed as ECCs. They were never intended to operate as ECCs and, in fact, do not operate as ECCs. Kohanga aren’t babysitting clinics or, strictly speaking, education centres - Kohanga are language incubators.
When defined as an ECC Kohanga are unable to operate according to tikanga. For example, if the kohanga is located on a Marae it must be fenced off and separated from the main complex. This is inconsistent with the spirit in which Kohanga were created and, as I said, tikanga Maori. And this is the central issue; the rules that straddle ECCs do not take into account Maori cultural needs.
As such, the Trust and their supporters are arguing for new legislation that will separate Kohanga from the MOE. I don’t know if this is entirely necessary, but the logic behind the call is clear. Rather than create a new act, the MOE could create a new category that would treat kohanga as autonomous entities with separate regulations governing their operation. However, I understand that there’s resistance to this idea. Under the MOE kohanga received funding increases 200% less than mainstream early childhood education centres and the number of kohanga have halved. This is a source of considerable tension.
I’ve no idea what way the Tribunal will fall. But for what it’s worth the Trust has engaged Chen Palmer and, from what I’ve seen, I think the Trust has a strong case. The Trust will continue to present their arguments this week and the Crown will respond next week. I’ll keep you updated.