Hēmi Kelly, of Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Tahu-Ngati Whaoa descent, is a TEU Te Uepū member and lecturers in Te Ara Poutama at AUT Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau.  Hēmi is the author of A Māori Phrase a Day (2020), and here, he shares his views on the challenges and opportunities of online learning during lockdown, and discusses the success of his ‘A Māori Phrase a Day’ Facebook Group.

In many ways I’ve felt quite fortunate over the lockdown period. Living with just one other adult and with no dependents, I’ve had plenty of time to focus on my mahi, even if it at times there have been challenges working from home.

At AUT, with the university moving the holiday forward, we were given 4 weeks during the initial lockdown period to allow kaimahi and tauira time to prepare for online learning, with classes beginning in the 5th week of lockdown. As kaiako, we were fortunate to have this time to prepare and come to terms with the new challenges.

Teaching te reo Māori, it’s difficult to replicate many of the activities we do in class around language aquisition. In the classroom environment, these activities give tauira the opportunity to kōrero and to practice with the kaiako and with their peers. Adapting to the online environment where interaction takes place differently has been challenging, but the extended time we had to prepare has helped both tauira and kaimahi.

Teaching and learning online requires a lot of patience from both kaiako and tauira. Dialogue in an online classroom is not immediate. There is no longer the immediacy of simply asking a pātai and getting an answer. Working through platforms like Zoom, or communicating via email, it takes time to communicate. In online platforms or applications you’re also working with a lot of people who often experience technology differently, and who have different levels of online proficiency. I think a big part of the role of online kaiako is ensuring there is understanding and patience and the tauira I work with have been really accommodating of differences in learning and patient with delays.

Teaching and learning online is different and poses a new set of challenges, but I have enjoyed it. Of course, for kaiako and tauira alike, online teaching and learning must compete with the many other committments and challenges posed by lockdown.

I often start my online classes by checking in on tauira to see how everyone is coping. For some, online learning has worked really well. For those who have to commute across town and back for lessons, the online space has removed a barrier to their learning. The place of face-to-face teaching, learning, engagement and connection – kanohi ki te kanohi – cannot be understated, but I can see in online learning a space for people who want to learn, but for whom time and access act as a barrier.

For other tauira it has been a real struggle juggling and finding time for their various committments.  As well as mahi, whānau, study and the anxiety of lockdown, the at-home learning environment has been a real challenge.

During the early period of lockdown, and with a little extra time on my hands, I saw an opportunity to adapt the kaupapa and principles behind A Māori Phrase a Day for social media. For me, the two most significant active barriers preventing people from learning te reo Māori are a lack of time and a lack of access. In creating the Facebook group for A Māori Phrase a Day, through use of a public platform, the barriers of time and access were removed. Anyone can join the group, with no committment or expectations. It’s open to everyone.

Educational content within the group page is kept to manageable bite-sized clips that are simple and accessible. I know from my own experience that busy people may not want to sit down to a 10 minute tutorial as they juggle committments. Instead, the Facebook group provides short, 2-3 minute bite-sized clips that again removes the barrier of time.

Removing access and time as barriers was clearly a winning combination. Within a week of starting the Facebook group, membership had grown to 7 000. In the weeks since, this number has grown to over 20 000 members.

In adopting A Māori Phrase a Day for Facebook, I’ve tried to convey the message of just how easy it can be to learn and engage with te reo Māori. I try to break down the misconceptions that learning a language is necessarily really difficult, involving a lot of time and energy. I try to highlight how easy and uncomplicated it can be, and how we don’t need to be actively and formally ‘studying’ to say we are learning te reo Māori.  

We dont have to be attending a class every day with our heads in textbooks to be learning. It can be as simple as watching a 2 minute clip on Facebook. It can be about taking a more passive approach and learning through exposure. It’s about understanding how difficult the committment to formal study can be and instead saying it can all start with simply learning a phrase a day, and putting that learning into practice.

It’s about changing peoples’ perceptions about learning te reo Māori and highlighting the fact that te reo Māori is our language as New Zealanders.

Te reo Māori belongs to this land, it belongs to us. It belongs to our places and people, our bugs and our birds. Te reo Māori is everwhere and all around us. People feel that it’s okay, and that they do have a right to learn te reo Māori when they know and understand the significance and importance of te reo Māori to all of us.

Looking forward, and as life returns closer to normal, I hope that people continue to enage with the Māori Phrase a Day group, and continue to practice and use te reo Māori. There is a difference between learning, and practicing what you have learnt. I hope people find ways to implement, practice and improve on what they have learnt in their daily lives and continue to practice te reo Māori in their interactions with others.

The revitalisation of te reo Māori continues as we as a country increasingly realise its value and significance to all New Zealanders. I hope this continues. I can’t see it going backwards, but it must continue to move forward. Okea ururoatia!

The message is there. As we continue to grow as a nation, the ways we value te reo Māori will continue to grow as well.