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A passion for revitalising te reo woven through long career

As well as “feeling honoured” by the recognition, being included in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours List has provided Michael Hollings [Ngāti Raukawa, Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi] with the opportunity to appreciate “how fortunate I’ve been with all those who have supported my journey”.

That journey – which now sees him made a Companion of the King’s Service Order for services to education and Māori – began when he was a university student energised by “the renaissance of Māori language and culture” that was occurring at the time.

An abiding passion for the revitalisation of te reo Māori was born, one that was only strengthened by the birth of Hollings’ children – “I wanted my own kids to have the experience of growing up with their own language that I didn’t” – and has been woven through a career that began in broadcasting and swiftly segued into education, including teaching at the chalkface, academia, government policy, and leading a national education provider.

Initially beginning his working life as a camera operator for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Hollings made a switch to teaching – first at Masterton’s Hiona Intermediate, then at Mākoura College – because taking up an academic position at Massey University.

He is credited with providing significant leadership in the revitalisation of te reo Māori within the public service during a stint back in broadcasting as the chief executive of Māori-language programming funder Te Mangai Paho from 1996 to 1999, as well as when he subsequently held various senior roles within the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office, and the University of Waikato.

Hollings has led the establishment of a kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori in his local community in Wairarapa, and from 1997 to 2013, was the chairperson of Taki Rua, a theatre company producing te reo Māori performances to schools and kura kaupapa Māori.

He has also been appointed chairperson of the boards of Volunteer Service Abroad and Mākoura College.

But when asked what he’s most proud of during his career, Hollings is quick to nominate “what we achieved with our amazing team at Te Kura”.

From 2006 to 2023, Hollings was chief executive and principal of Te Kura – more formerly, Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – New Zealand’s state distance education provider.

During his tenure, he delivered transformational change to ensure the delivery of equitable and excellent outcomes for all students, particularly those of Māori and Pacific descent, with a 40 per cent increase in enrolments since 2018.

Hollings changed the focus of the school from a centralised to a regionally based delivery system, which is now a full digital distance learning system that serves 30,000 New Zealand students each year – both across the country and overseas.

“Working with kids who have fallen out of the system and encouraging them to reengage with education has been enormously rewarding,” he said.

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