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Student-led te reo Māori classes popular with peers

Friday 17 September 2021 11:19am

Te reo image
Nic Sinnott (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) teaches fellow medical students te reo in a session for the Teddy Bear Hospital which was later expanded into an eight-week programme.

An eight-week te reo Māori class for medical students, set up by fellow students, was so popular it will be repeated in future years. The organisers explain how Te Reo Kia Ora sessions at the Hunter Centre began, the philosophy behind the classes and their hopes for the future.

Friends and third year medical students Nic Sinnott (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) and Carlton Irving (Te Whakatōhea) had the initial idea.
Nic: “I distinctly remember we were at the intersection between the Colquhoun Lecture Theatre and the Hunter Centre and Carlton was saying, ‘There must be something we can do to bring more reo into the medical school space’. We’d had te reo classes in the past in the medical school but we wanted to do something more. There are so many keen people out there but the supply wasn't meeting the demand. No one else was doing it so we just thought, who else but us?”

"There's only so many Māori that can come through that pathway, so our way of thinking was, we can only make so many of us doctors, but we can make a lot more doctors Māori. We could introduce our world, how we think."

Carlton: “I’m on the Māori Student Executive (Te Oranga ki Ōtākou) and part of the kaupapa of being a Māori medical student is you come in through a preferential pathway. And the idea is to improve health outcomes for Māori and that's something as Māori medical students we take really seriously. There's only so many Māori that can come through that pathway, so our way of thinking was, we can only make so many of us doctors, but we can make a lot more doctors Māori. We could introduce our world, how we think.

“The way you learn about our world, our culture, our way of being, is the language. The language is the gateway to our world. Everything we do is deeper than what it seems - that is a key thing to learn about Māori and Nic and I turned our hearts and our minds to how to do that.”

After a trial run teaching medical students at the Teddy Bear Hospital language skills to help them interact with kōhanga reo children, the idea for a larger class took flight. The proposal was supported by with funding from Te Oranga ki Ōtākou (The Māori Medical Students’ Association), Otago University Medical School Students’ Association (Te Rōpū Ākonga Rongoā o Ōtākou) and the Otago Medical School Dean’s office.
Fellow student Rebecca Goodman helped organise the sessions: “I did an expression of interest form and we were just inundated with people wanting to come. We actually had to close the signups. It was a mixture of staff and students and we closed it at 125. We had about 90 students in person each week, so that’s a really good retention rate, which is what we're probably most proud of.”

Nic joined forces with his friend and fellow te reo speaker Nikau Reti-Beazley (Ngāpuhi) to build the course.

“Nikau and I thought we’d smash out the workbook in a weekend but with eight weeks’ worth of content there was a lot to do. Making the workbook was probably the hardest part, making sure we had all our grammar right and the macrons and everything. A big selling point was clinical language for medical students and so that ends up just being basic foundational reo. I remember teaching the colours. ‘If someone's skin is kowhai what condition do you think they might have? If someone tells you they've got an 11th toe, you need to know numbers in Māori’. Everyday language is clinical language when it comes to actually talking to people.”

Other students who added their skills to share the workload were Leigh Albert (Ngati Hine, ngāpuhi, Te whanau-a-Apanui), Matt Tumohe (Tainui me Ngati Maniapoto), Te Reimana Parangi (Ngāpuhi me Ngati Maniapoto) and Annelisse Olsen (Ngāpuhi).

Carlton: “It’s been a real Kaupapa Māori thing where everybody brought their bits of the recipe to make the kai together.”

“It’s about that whakawhanaungatanga - understanding and existing in a Māori space, and I think what a lot of people enjoyed is discovering that it’s actually a very welcoming, fun, friendly environment. Language is just a medium that we can use to bring people into our world. Our goal from the outset was to teach people te reo but, more importantly, to put a bit of Māori in their heart.”

Nic: “From the hard work of a bunch of people, we were able to make a really cool experience for these tauira (students) and it felt Māori as well, which was probably the coolest thing about it.”

Next year it is planned to run two classes, a Level One and a Level Two, with several of this year’s participants becoming tutors to begin to build future capacity.

Carlton: “The idea is that we can build on people's knowledge and add a level above. If people who have become proficient want to go and teach the next year, you've got that resilience in the model.”

Rebecca: “We've got the funding that's been renewed for subsequent years. This isn't a one-off programme. What we really wanted to do is start people on their journeys.”

Nic: “Seeing people make progress was one of the most rewarding parts. By the end of it we were playing Simon Says all in Māori with no English needed.”

Feedback from student participants was overwhelmingly positive. OUMSA Education Officer Jackie Hazelhurst praised the language classes, which were offered free of charge, in a glowing letter to medical school leadership. “The enthusiasm that has greeted this course is evidence that Otago Medical School students and staff are not only receptive of, but are actively wanting, programmes to further their cultural competence.”

Carlton: “It’s about that whakawhanaungatanga - understanding and existing in a Māori space, and I think what a lot of people enjoyed is discovering that it’s actually a very welcoming, fun, friendly environment. Language is just a medium that we can use to bring people into our world. Our goal from the outset was to teach people te reo but, more importantly, to put a bit of Māori in their heart.”