By: Simon Collins

Watch: Former education Minister Nikki Kaye’s launching a new bill, with the aim of sparking a national debate on the issue.

Should every Kiwi child learn a second language? The National Party is saying ‘yes’ in a controversial new private member’s bill.

National’s education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye will release a draft bill today that would require every primary and intermediate school to offer at least one second language from a list of at least 10 “national priority languages”.

She wants to spark a national debate about how to change New Zealand’s monolingual culture. Only 19 per cent of New Zealanders in the 2013 Census could speak more than one language, including only 4 per cent who spoke our second official language, Māori.

“The case for languages is really clear around cognitive ability,” she said.

“We need to legislate for this, it’s not an optional thing to provide that access to languages, and that is a big shift as a country.”

Her bill, which would give legal teeth to a National Party policy unveiled in the party’s election campaign opening last August, would dramatically ramp up what is already a trend towards offering more languages since a revised school curriculum in 2007 said schools should be “working towards” offering languages in Years 7 to 10.

The proportion of all primary and intermediate students learning a second language, in addition to English and Māori, has more than doubled from 13 per cent in the year 2000 to 29 per cent in 2016.

At least some study of te reo Māori has also become almost universal, increasing from 79 per cent of all primary and intermediate students in 2000 to 95 per cent.

However the number studying foreign languages in secondary schools has dropped from 24 per cent of students in 2000 to 19 per cent.

Kaye’s bill would empower the Education Minister to issue a “national language policy” and to prescribe “a minimum of 10 national priority languages, which must include te reo Māori and NZ Sign Language”.

When she first announced the policy in August, she said Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese and Korean were “likely to be included”.

She is now calling for cross-party agreement on a long-term policy.

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