The Kuia Cloud – Musings On Te Reo

Maori Language WeekThis week Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori or Māori Language Week. This is an important cultural week for all New Zealanders as we collectively work towards preserving the taonga (treasure) that is our native language. If you’re wondering about the relevance of my blog post as “The Kuia Cloud”, please do persevere and keep reading as it will become evident (kuia is Māori for elderly woman or grandmother). As an added word association, Aotearoa literally means “land of the long white cloud” so we are perfectly situated to build out a Granny/Kuia Cloud!

In my previous role, I helped organise a Digital Treasure Hunt for students to encourage them to kōrero Māori (speak the Māori language) and after visiting the beautiful Orakei Marae last week with the Microsoft kia rite kick off, my mind has been whirring again around the importance of promoting Te Reo. I admit that this has a personal interest too, with my oldest daughter having now competed twice in the Ngā Manu Kōrero speech competition (you can read her 2017 speech here) and she has expressed a desire to progress her Reo competency so she can become more fluent.

The challenge is, her current secondary school does not offer any tuition in Te Reo and I’ve been using my wider Professional Learning Network to explore options to support her (and to some extent me!) in learning more of the Māori language. It was all of this triggered some long dormant memories of mine about the work of Sugata Mitra and his “hole in the wall” project in New Delhi. If you’re unfamiliar with this, then this summary is a good read, but the key part is as follows:

In early 1999, some colleagues and I sunk a computer into the opening of a wall near our office in Kalkaji, New Delhi. The area was located in an expansive slum, with desperately poor people struggling to survive. The screen was visible from the street, and the PC was available to anyone who passed by. The computer had online access and a number of programs that could be used, but no instructions were given for its use.

What happened next astonished us. Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They couldn’t get enough. They began to click and explore. They began to learn how to use this strange thing. A few hours later, a visibly surprised Vivek said the children were actually surfing the Web.

The findings from this “experiment” led to Mitra delivering an award winning TED talk about his thoughts on the future of learning and his views that students directing their own learning was a critical pathway forward in education. He promoted this with his idea of Schools In The Cloud – have a watch of the following TED talk to learn more:

The extension of Schools In The Cloud was “The Granny Cloud.” Mitra quickly realised that for the illiterate children of the slums of New Delhi, without English even their best learning through playing/experimenting with a computer would inherently be limited if they did not understand the global language of English. To remedy this, he started to build out “The Granny Cloud”, the idea being that retired people (often grandmothers) would give up their time on Skype to simply have conversations with these children and through practicing spoken conversational English, they would improve their opportunities in life.

So far, so good.

The Kuia Cloud


Kingi Tawhiao Potatau te Wherowhero Credit.

So I’m wondering aloud whether something as simple as building a Granny Cloud could be replicated in New Zealand, this time using the kuia (elderly woman) and koro (elderly man) to be the support network for people of any age wishing to learn how to kōrero Māori. Undoubtedly the internet is shrinking our world and being able to connect more or less instantaneously to speakers of the Māori language significantly reduces the barriers to entry for learning the language. My daughter wrapped her Ngā Manu Kōrero speech around the following whakatauki (proverb)

ki te kāhore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi (without foresight or vision the people will be lost)

Further on in her speech she talked about the challenges faced in New Zealand over the years with declining numbers of people able to speak Te Reo:

Another major period of Māori history when this whakatauākī, without foresight or vision the people will be lost, was highly applicable was in the 1980s, when it became widely recognised that Te Reo Māori was dying out. Yes, dying out. Prior to this, there had been years of Te Reo being banned in schools and Māori children being punished for speaking it, which in turn led to some parents not teaching their children Māori because they didn’t want their children suffering at school the way they did. If this had continued, who knows how close Te Reo could have come to extinction- it might have even happened, but for a few groups of individuals who were in possession of some foresight. Two initiatives that began in the 1980s to try and revive Te Reo Māori were the Kohanga Reo movement and the Kura Kaupapa.

It would seem to me that perhaps a further opportunity exists now to couple Technology and Te Reo together and build out a “Kuia Cloud” – a network of volunteers who would be willing to give up some of their time to kōrero Māorwith those interested in learning more of the language. In doing so, this would demonstrate the foresight and vision that Kingi Tawhiao Potatau te Wherowhero talked about in the mid 1800s and further help preserve this taonga which is absolutely unique to Aotearoa (New Zealand).

I am not sure where to go from here with this idea, although two things do come to mind:

  1. Share this idea and blog post as widely as I can, starting with the #TeReo hashtag on Twitter where incredible educators like Te Mihinga Komene regularly support people with their questions around Te Reo Māori
  2. See if there is anything that the company I work for (Microsoft NZ) can do to help build a network or provide the technology to make this happen. Skype is a Microsoft product and there are a few different versions of this service, and Microsoft NZ has long worked with and supported Dr Te Taka Keegan to add more Te Reo into Microsoft products.
    1. One idea could be creating a Microsoft Team that could host the Kuia / Koro Cloud as this would allow additional resources to be utilized (although it would need to wait until the feature of adding External Users is available).


If you’re reading this during Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori 2017  (or even afterwards) and would like to be involved in some capacity, feel free to reach out to me. The three easiest ways would be:

  1. Drop a comment in the area below – I’d love to hear from you!
  2. Ping me on Twitter – @samuelmcneill
  3. Connect with me on LinkedIn – my profile direct link is here

Much like the revival of ANZAC Day dawn service attendance from people across all generations, there is a growing number of younger people who are keen to learn Te Reo Māori. Just possibly, through the application of foresight and vision, along with a healthy dose of technology, we can connect these eager students with those that would be only too eager to pass on their aroha (love) for Te Reo Māori.



  1. Rachel Whalley September 12, 2017
    • Sam McNeill September 13, 2017

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...