How the Maori and Basque reversed language shift and gained state funding for minority language schools

Edurne Scott Loinaz (2013).

Though the Maori people of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Basque people of Euskal Herria/Spain-France live on the opposite sides of the world, both are a brilliant example of the tenacious drive of minorities to conserve their own identity against a cultural and linguistic hegemony.  As ‘penetrated minorities’ (i.e., minorities that are locally outnumbered by another group), the Maori and Basque people have everything to lose – if their language and culture become extinct in their home country, they will vanish off the face of the earth forever – and thus it is no surprise that both minorities have made reversing language shift the main priority of minority education.  The aim of this paper is to research how both Maori and Basque political and social forces have overcome the threat of language extinction by creating their own schools outside the mainstream education system, and what educational policies allowed for the eventual public funding of minority schools in New Zealand and the Basque Country at the end of the 20th century.  By analysing the theories of Zimmer, who postulates that the nature of the state fluctuates depending on the government, and Deleuze, who states that minorities gain their power through the subjugation of the standard, this research concludes with five main findings: (1) Bilingual education has successfully reversed language shift in New Zealand and the Basque Country; (2) Bilingual and multilingual students have greater academic success than monolingual students; (3) The public funding of minority schools were due to revolutionary changes in the education system, rather than a step-by-step process; (4) Both the Basque and Maori languages, despite their institutional support systems, are still minority languages which have failed to become a part of work life and mainstream culture in their home countries; and (5) Minority schooling gives us a glimpse into the future where new generations of students are part of a global community in which membership to one culture will not be possible.

Basque/Maori Comparison


Over 2.5 million Basques (Govierno Vasco, 2008) presently live in Euskal Herria which comprises of both the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) and Navarre in Northern Spain, and the Northern Basque Country in Southern France.  The Euskaldunak, or Basque people, have inhabited the Franco-Cantabrian region since Pre-Neolithic times over 7, 000 years ago (Behar et al, 2012), a theory supported by the Basque language itself, which is not related to any other Indo-European language in the continent.  The Basque have a long history as a penetrated minority, staving off invasions from Romans, Franks, Visigoths, Moors and finally the successful annexation of the centre of the Basque country, the Kingdom of Navarre, by the Spanish in 1512. Despite this, the Basque were still able to maintain a relative degree of autonomy with the creation of the Fueros, which, for instance, granted the Basques regional autonomy and excluded all Basques from military service or torture by the Castilian Crown.  At these times, like before, Basque was still the lingua franca of the region whilst Spanish (as its previous Romantic variety) was used as the language of formality and letters. Basque’s hegemonic linguistic position, however, was challenged in further decades by an array of factors, including ‘the industrial revolution and urbanisation, transportation and universal education [and] non-Basque speaking immigration.’ (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p.6) By the time the Fueros were abolished by the Spanish in 1876, which rendered the Basque mere subjects to the Spanish, and the Falangist regime won the Spanish Civil War in 1939, the State language policy insisted on the outright ban of Basque (along with other regional dialects such as Catalan and Galician) and replacing it with Spanish as the lingua franca.  

Thus by the first half of the 20th century, the Spanish State had condemned the Euskaldunak to a linguistic and cultural death, ‘Basque was expelled from public life (Basque names of people, shops and hotels, for example, were banned), official life (the registry office), the church (services and doctrine), and the streets (use of Basque was forbidden in the market, the bars or the bus)’ (Aiesteran & Baker, 2004, p.9).   The remnants of this monolingual policy can be witnessed in the present day, primarily since Basque is still a minority language within the Basque Country itself. For instance, Basque is most prevalent in the Basque Autonomous Community (consisting of 70% of the population of Euskal Herria), where 26.8% of the population are Basque-dominant speakers, bilinguals account for 28.2% of the population and Spanish-dominant speakers are still the majority at 45% (Basque Government, 2003).  Thus, in Euskal Herria, most present-day inhabitants cannot even speak Basque, but despite this fact, there has been an increase in Basque speakers in the 16-24 age group which has almost doubled from 25% to 48% in less than 10 years (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008) – a clear success story of bilingual education. Presently, there are 720, 000 Basque speakers as recorded in the last Basque Government census (Gobierno Vasco, 2012).

The first Basque schools, named Ikastolak, began in the late 1950s, the first of its kind established in Donostia/San Sebastian by Elbire Zipitria, though it was not till the 1960s that they came to the government attention, and though ‘these schools were not officially recognised in the beginning … the Franco government was eventually forced to accept them because they had attracted so many students that they could not be ignored’ (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p.7).  It was not till the 1980s, however, and after the death of Francisco Franco, the Spanish fascist leader, that the new ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘D’ Ikastola models, as they are called, were introduced in Euskal Herria: Model A solely taught in Spanish with Basque as a subject, Model B taught in both Basque and Spanish as the language of instruction, while Model D is the reverse of Model A, where only Basque is used as a language of instruction and Spanish is taught as a subject.  In the Basque Autonomous Community in 2007, for example, roughly 25% of students studied in Group A, 20% of students studied in Group B and 55% of students studied in Group D (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p. 10). This table by Zalbide & Cenoz (2008) highlights the immense changes in Basque minority schools over the past forty years due to the Ikastolak:

(Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p. 10)


Over 620, 000 (Statistics New Zealand, 2006) of New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori, currently live in the country they call Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud), an island region in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.  When New Zealand became a colony of England in the 19th century, the Maori had already inhabited both islands of New Zealand for approximately seven centuries, having arrived themselves from Eastern Polynesia in a series of canoe voyages between 1250 and 1300 AD.  A small number of renegade Europeans had already been settling in New Zealand since the end of the 18th century – a cultural exchange which radically changed the Maori way of life – but it was the following century’s loss of Maori lands, which saw Maori retain 4.7 million acres of freehold land by 1920 out of a total 66.3 million acres (Boast, 2008), that effectively turned Maori into a penetrated minority.  In the beginning of the 20th century, the Maori endured an assimilationist agenda which saw their language teeter towards extinction; in less than 30 years, Maori-speaking children declined from 96.6% of the population in 1930 to only 26% of the population in 1960 (May, 2013). Though this was partly due to the effects of urbanisation which wreaked havoc on rural Maori communities, and the Maori falling prey to diseases introduced by the colonialists, no one argued against its inevitable conclusion: language and cultural death.  In New Zealand today there are 60, 000 native Maori language speakers as recorded in the 17th edition of the Ethnologue (2013), although the latest official New Zealand government census cites that 157, 000 speakers are conversant about everyday things in Maori (Statistics New Zealand, 2006).

The state education system in New Zealand, which began in the 1860s and 1870s, furthered the State’s assimilationist agenda of the time, and as Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) concludes, ‘schooling came to be seen as a primary instrument for taming and civilising the natives and forging a nation which was connected at a concrete level with the historical and moral processes of Britain’ (p. 60).  It was not till the 1960s that the re-introduction of Maori as a separate subject in high school was propositioned by a State review, the Currie Commission, though, as May (2013) states, the Commission, ‘itself remained deeply ambivalent about any greater role for the Maori language in the educational process. It certainly did not envisage the development of Maori-English bilingualism in schools’ (p. 314).  The first truly bilingual schools only emerged in the 1980s, starting with the Maori-medium pre-schools named Te Kohanga Reo which were formed outside the mainstream education system by a small number of Maori parents. The first Maori school was Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Hoani Waititi established in 1985, and it was not till 1990 that the Maori immersion schools, called Kura Kaupapa, were given funding from the New Zealand government in accordance with the new Education Act of 1989.  Today there are three levels of Kura Kaupapa schooling: Kura Tuatahi (primary school), Wharekura (secondary school) or Kura Arongatahi (a primary/secondary overlap). Maori language is also taught in English schools through bilingual classes, and arrangements exist between mentoring schools (Kura Tuakana) and mentored schools (Kura Teina) (Ministry of Education, 2011).

Language shift – Maori/Basque comparisonThe important question with both Basque and Maori near-extinction, aside from the effects of state policy, is why parents would not speak their native tongue to their children or their children’s children, and much can be blamed on the bilingual deficit theory: the belief that knowing a minority language, such as Basque or Maori, would hinder the learning of the lingua franca, be it Spanish, French or English.  This theory, as Grant (1988) states, was conventional wisdom for centuries, ‘many parents acquiesced in the language being taught out of their children—even, in some cases, beaten out.’ (p. 158)  The bilingual deficit theory has been widely proved false, and in fact its opposite has been demonstrated by studies performed in Euskal Herria schools: bilingual pupils achieve higher results than monolingual pupils throughout the academic board (Baker, 2003; Lasagabaster, 2005; Sierra, 2008; Cenoz, 2009).  These studies have highlighted two interesting conclusions for the new millennium of bilingual and multilingual schools: ‘the use of the minority language as the language of instruction results in more balanced bilingualism’ (Cenoz 2009, p. 109), and Baker (2003) who concluded that even three languages for content delivery (Spanish/Basque/English) can be achieved resulting, ‘in no loss of linguistic achievement and increased metalinguistic awareness’ (p. 105). 

These positive research findings in defense of bilingualism help the cause of all minority schools, most of them susceptible to being labelled as separatist, which is the case in New Zealand, still deeply embroiled in race politics, and the Basque/Spanish conflict, where Ikastolas are still linked to the actions of armed Basque nationalists by mainstream Spanish media.  Thus, a future problem for minority language schools, and the children that attend them, is coping with attitudes towards the lingua franca of their respective countries, and how the majority culture perceives the minority languages in turn. Some Maori immersion schools, for example, have banned English altogether and only allow Maori to be spoken by both teachers and students.  As scholar Hornberger quotes Hamilton who visited a Maori-only Kura Kaupapa school in 2002, “The prohibition is controversial in a nation where English is socially and educationally dominant and highly desirable for academic and social advancement; and all the more controversial considering that the Maori children attending the school arrive as English speakers” (Hornberger, 2006, p.21).  This pendulum movement back to the minority language is the building of attitudinal fences to protect linguistic rights (Lasagabaster 2005). In Basque dominant areas of Euskal Herria (usually in towns with populations less than 100, 000 people), there has been a backlash against the use of Spanish too, and as Lasagabaster warns, ‘the political situation undergone during the dictatorship (1939-1975) is responsible for this situation … [yet] schools should endeavour to avoid the rigid isolation of languages and implement language awareness courses in the curriculum that can offer considerably greater pedagogical implications to expand students’ language attitudes’ (Lasagabaster, 2005, pp. 310-3011).  The greater academic achievement of bilingual and multilingual pupils vis-a-vis monolingual pupils proves that the answer is not to teach solely in a minority language, but to foster strong bilingualism using both the majority and minority tongue so the child can benefit from both.

It is also important to note, as is always the case when discussing the possibilities of education, that schools cannot compensate for society; the Maori and Basque have used education to make up for a lack of family reproduction of the minority language after all.  But as Baker (2003) warns, ‘Language revival requires other institutional support systems than bilingual education to succeed …  institutionalisation, legitimisation, corpus planning, language reproduction in the family, an economic or instrumental value to the language, and an integrative value such as in cultural, leisure, social, community, and religious activities’ (p. 96).  The main problem, according to Baker, has been the over-optimism of education policy at revitalising a language, which disregards the importance of minority language mass media, language rights and bilingual employment (Baker, 2003).  The next part of this research thus wishes to highlight what policies allowed for Ikastolak and Kura Kaupapa schools to gain state funding, and what Education Settlements resulted from the ideological conflicts and compromises of each government.  

Theory 1: Zimmer

According to scholar Zimmer’s theory, there is a pendulum movement in the state’s affairs and treatment of particular groups which coincides with governmental changes – this theory is proved by the changes in educational policy by both New Zealand and Spanish states, which flip-flopped dramatically from actively repressing minority languages to granting them official status and subsidising their schools in little more than three generations.  Zimmer’s theory is described by the scholar himself as a state-centred theory, compared to a culture-centred theory, and as he claims, ‘The civic nation, so the argument goes, is primarily a political reality. As such, it is rooted in the institutional framework and administrative apparatus that underpin the modern state, resulting in a near equation of ‘nation’ and ‘state’’ (Zimmer, 2003, p. 176). To analyse Zimmer’s theory further, this section will highlight not only the distinction between policy making and policy implementation, but the importance of the internal conflicts of the State which can usually explain the contradictions of state educational policy agenda.  Such ideological conflict can result in ‘Education Settlements’:

Depending upon the nature of the compromise achieved, an education policy settlement may be more or less stable. It may achieve a considerable internal consistency of principle, in which case it is likely to be a relatively long-lasting policy settlement. On the other hand, it may, as a result of various exigencies, be characterized by internal contradictions which will soon provoke another crisis. (Grace, 1991, p. 28)

As both the Maori and Basque political contexts prove, every major education policy in the last 35 years has been a compromise between competing interest groups, yet despite this, both the New Zealand and Spanish States have created relatively stable Education Settlements which exist to this day, despite mixed results for minority schools.  

Euskal Herria / Spain

In 1979, four years after Francisco Franco’s death and forty years after its public banning, the Basque language regained its rights by becoming the co-official language of the Basque Autonomous Community (BaC).  In fact, since Spain’s adoption of democracy, the Basques of the BaC, ‘virtually govern themselves in sectors such as education, health, culture and housing. Other sectors, including research, industrial policy and transport and communications also contribute to a high degree of autonomy, financed by an economic agreement struck with the Spanish central government’ (Aranguren et al, 2006, p.259).  The first educational policy drafted by the BaC was the Law for the normalisation of the use of the Basque Language (1982) – the law which was followed by the Bilingualism Decree (1983) that set into motion the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘D’ model of bilingual schooling discussed above, which, at the time, was simply a solution to the biggest problem for Ikastolak: a lack of fluent Basque-speaking teachers and the need to fulfil their new objective, ‘the public authorities have to guarantee that all students have a sufficient practical knowledge of both official languages by the time they finish their compulsory studies’ (Law for the normalisation of the use of the Basque Language, 1982: article 17).  With power to create their own educational policy and allocate funding through their own public institutions, the number of Basque-speaking teachers rose dramatically; though there were on average 5,093 teachers in Basque-language training in the school year of 1981-1982, for example, this number had risen to 13,575 by 1990-1991 (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p. 10).

(Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008, p.10)

What this pendulum movement in policy proves, as Zimmer’s theory states, is just how different the State works depending on who is in power – in this case, the radical change between a fascist state, which could ban a language and push it to the brink of extinction, and a democratic state, which could give Basque co-official status and create a new generation of bilingual speakers.  As hard as it may be to believe, the delegation of education by the democratic Spanish state to the BaC was not particularly revolutionary either as it continued the long-held tradition of the Spanish state to pass the responsibility of education elsewhere. As scholar Bonal (2000) explains, ‘One of the most significant features of Spanish education has been the historical retreat of the state from its provision … public authorities delegated the control of education to the Catholic Church and did not make relevant efforts either to finance or regulate the education system’ (p. 203).  It was this system that created the public versus private schooling divide in Spanish education which solidified the class difference between rich and poor – whilst the well-to-do could provide a good education for their children through the Catholic Church, the poor were ‘subject to a cultural transmission model based on ideological control rather than on instrumental knowledge’ (Bonal, 2000, p. 203). The minimum educational standards were raised by the 1978 Constitution, though this too was a negotiation between the socialist Left and conservative Right who both had to renounce some of their principles to set up the main goals of article 27 of the Constitution and create the first democratic Education Settlement of Spain- whilst the Left were able to make religion a non-compulsory part of the curriculum in both private and public education, and allow for the empowerment of the educational community and teacher’s rights, the Right were able to grant significant public financing to the private education sector along with a parent’s right to choose a religious education for their child (Bonal, 2000).

Despite the existence of language rights and institutional backing, the Basque language, according to many loyalists, has yet to leave the classroom and enter both the mainstream culture and the working world, which, as Sierra (2008) concludes, ‘is one of the reasons why the use of Spanish is found in every place and situation, while there has been little increase in the use of Basque in everyday situations’ (p. 40).  This was obvious to me whilst I was living and working in Pamplona/Iruña during 2008-2010: though all my friends and co-workers were bilingual in Basque and Spanish, they all used the latter to speak to one another; on another occasion, a family friend was told to either translate or take down his notice written in Basque from his work’s staff board in case it was related to any type of ‘terrorist activity’- the offending note simply asked his fellow employees whether they would like to join him mountaineering on the weekend, a popular Basque pastime.  

To understand why Basque has yet to penetrate mainstream culture, scholars Zabilde and Cenoz (2008) believe that one must return back to the tenets of bilingual education itself:   

(1) Schooling is the basis of reversing Language Shift (rLS): school is the means whereby Basque bilinguals are being created or will be created.  After that, it will be possible to spread the use of Basque throughout geographic and sociofunctional space.

(2)  If it is properly organised, the school will be able on its own and unaided to achieve fully balanced bilingual new generations in the BaC.  In this formulation, ‘proper organisation’ means, above all, school subjects (as many as possible) being taught and learnt through the medium of Basque.  The amount of exposure to the language, although not the only factor, is regarded as paramount.

The scholars believe these tenets to be over-ambitious- it is one thing to be immersed in a minority language in the classroom, and another altogether to replace it for the lingua franca in everyday life.  It is no surprise then that the majority of grants given by the BaC government to promote language use have been to fund extracurricular activities (Zalbide & Cenoz, 2008).

Aotearoa / New Zealand

It was not till the year 1990 that the first Kura Kaupapa Maori school was publicly subsidised by the New Zealand State – three years after Maori had been granted co-official status along with English in 1987, and one year after the Education Act of 1989 became law, the result of a radical reconstruction of New Zealand’s education system.  The late 1980s in New Zealand politics are thus a great example of Education Settlements in action: though the mainstream education system was changed by a Left-wing Labour government, the policies the party proposed were initiated by the Right, or more specifically, the New Zealand Treasury which had become a vehicle for promoting New Right Ideology (education was not a public right but a market commodity; schools are providers and students are consumers; the State was not capable of providing a better education service than one controlled by the free market system) (Grace, 1991).  The main example that the treasury used to prove that the state was failing to provide an optimal education to New Zealand’s youth was the low academic achievement of Maori, and as Grace (1991) states, ‘An education system which failed such a cultural and political community, in such evidence and dramatic ways, was highly vulnerable to both internal criticism and to external ideological attack’ (p. 32). Labour had no choice but to make education their main re-election policy or face losing to their rivals, the Right-wing National party.

By highlighting the crisis of minority academic achievement, the treasury thus created the main policy which both Labour and National adopted for their election campaign: the reform of education to benefit Maori and other disaffected minorities.  Despite this, the triumphant Labour party had to go back on many of its historical policies, the most evident being the reliance on large educational bureaucracy. This Education Settlement allowed for the empowerment of parents through their positions in Boards of Trustees and members of the community through Community Forums, yet more drastic still was the abolition of the Department of Education itself which was replaced with a smaller Ministry of Education which only had policy rather than administrative functions; this solidified the new powerbase of parents and community leaders, rather than far away centres of bureaucracy to manage schools (Grace, 1991).  This rejection of educational bureaucracy was of course a policy pronounced by the Right, but ‘any particular education policy settlement is a compromise among competing interest groups who perceive in it ways to realise their own socio-political, educational, cultural, or economic agendas’ (Grace, 1991, p.28).

The Maori had everything to win from the abolishment of an educational bureaucracy in New Zealand, even if it was by the Party who had established it in the first place (which proves that the colour of government, as Zimmer describes it, changes not only from party to party, but from cabinet to cabinet).  The changes made by the Education Act of 1989 allowed for the empowerment of parents which in turn fostered greater community power, the very fuel that had created the Kura Kaupapa schools to begin with. The Maori Language Act of 1987 also allowed for the use of Maori language to be used with government and legal agencies which added greater institutional support systems to the language.  Since then, the New Zealand state has had to take on the added responsibility of being the main agent of Maori language preservation after the 1994 ruling by the Privy Council of the United Kingdom – a responsibility that the state has upheld by, for example, funding two Maori Television channels launched in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Despite these state-backed developments, the last New Zealand census shows that only 23.7% of the Maori population are able to converse in Maori, which is a slight drop from past census results, solidifying the English language as the lingua franca for Maori people for the time being:

(Statistics New Zealand, 2006)

Theory 2: Deleuze

According to scholar Deleuze, minorities prosper not by attaining the same power as the majority, nor by pushing themselves to become a new constant within the hegemonic framework, but by becoming a non-denumerable force, ‘The power of the minorities is not measured by their capacity to enter and make themselves felt within the majority system, nor even to reverse the necessarily tautological criterion of the majority, but to bring to bear the fore of the non-denumerable sets, however small they may be, against the denumerable sets’  (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 471). In other words, the only way Basque and Maori populations have been able to assert their language and its continued teaching is by creating their own codes of identification: Basques recognise their country’s independence, continue to fly its Ikurriña flag and have defined its borders as Euskal Herria, despite the Spanish and French States refusing to recognise them to this day; the Maori, too, have their own Tino Rangatiratanga flag, continue to fight the validity of land confiscations by the British 150 years ago, and have their own successful party in the New Zealand parliament (the co-leader, Dr. Peter Sharples, being one of the prominent Maori figures in the late 1980s helping to investigate alternative schooling models that would benefit Maori).  

(top) Basque Ikurriña, the flag of Euskal Herria and (bottom) the Maori Tino Rangatiratanga flag, meaning ‘absolute sovereignty’

As Deleuze further explains, “Becoming-minor involves the subjection of the standard to a process of continuous variation or deterritorialisation” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.106).  This beautifully describes the constant repositioning of identity, especially vis-a-vis the majority culture, that the Basque and Maori need to mitigate in the present day, a task which is helped by the fact that minority and majority labels do not have to be mutually exclusive.  As Grant (1988) concludes, ‘Conscious membership of one culture need no longer rule out any of the others… we live in an increasingly international, interdependent world community [and] it follows, though it is taking some an unconscionable time to realise it, that we are all minorities now’ (p. 164-165).  Basque and Maori minority schooling thus gives us a glimpse at the future where various identities will have to be mitigated by a new generation that is part of a global, as well as local, community.


Penetrated minorities, like the Basque of Euskal Herria and the Maori of Aotearoa, have been able to reverse language shift by using their native tongue as the lingua franca of a public-funded classroom – a revolutionary development that has been possible due to great changes in the education system of both countries and historical Education Settlements like Article 27 of the Spanish Constitution, and the New Zealand Education Act of 1989.  The positives of bilingual minority schooling have shattered what was once conventional wisdom in the form of the bilingual deficit theory, and stand as symbols of the institutional support that can be obtained for a minority culture and language when a community joins together in solidarity. Despite this, it was the efforts of Maori and Basque parents that created the Ikastolak and Kura Kaupapa outside the mainstream education system, and it will be the efforts of the next generation of parents that will decide whether or not their language will be used in everyday life rather than the classroom; in Skype calls rather than formal speeches; in popular literature rather than road signs.  The challenge for the future of minority schooling is to help students deal not only with the attitudinal fences against their language from mainstream culture, but their own also, bringing language attitudes – of both the majority and minority tongue – to the forefront of the syllabus. Education can only go so far in reversing language shift after all, regardless of whether a minority tongue shares co-official status or not. It is also important to look at the future – a world so interconnected and interdependent that membership to simply one culture will be unthinkable – and it is this fact that puts into focus Deleuze’s theory that the whole world is in the process of ‘becoming minor’.  The Basque and Maori are thus the vanguard for the bilingual minority schooling of the future.


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