Te Reo and Binary Combine to Win Prime Minister’s Supreme Award

 |   Bob Glancy

Dr Te Taka Keegan Talks about Māori, Microsoft, and Sharing the Love
Photo courtesy of Ako Aotearoa.

Dr Te Taka Keegan Talks about Māori, Microsoft, and Sharing the Love

New Zealand’s top teaching excellence honour was awarded to Dr Te Taka Keegan, senior lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Waikato.

Presented by Prime Minister, Bill English, the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award acknowledges Dr Keegan’s sustained commitment to teaching over a 30-year career where he has skillfully woven his love for te reo Māori with his love for computers.

Combining his passion for computer science and te reo, Dr Te Taka Keegan has worked with Microsoft New Zealand to introduce the Māori language into both Microsoft’s hardware and software, ensuring that Māori is available to many Kiwi school children.

From 2000-2004, Te Taka worked with Microsoft to macronise the keyboard, which is now a Microsoft standard. In 2005, Te Taka also worked with a team on the translation of Office 2003 and Windows XP into Māori.

When asked about his award and his work with Microsoft, Te Taka rarely uses the pronoun, ‘I’, always favouring ‘we’, as he emphasises again and again the fact he worked with many teams of talented people to make the translation a reality.

‘Microsoft should share in this celebration and in my award, they really should,’ said Te Taka. ‘They were very open to the idea to not only adapt the keyboard but also to translate Office and Windows into Māori. Because of the work we did together, all schools in New Zealand can now offer computing facilities in te reo Māori to children. That’s an awesome thing.’

Microsoft Schools Manager, Anne Taylor, who works closely with Te Taka, was delighted by his win, ‘So well deserved. Te Taka’s passion is inspiring. Time and again the hard work of people like Te Taka shows that culture thrives when it’s interwoven into modern life, and Māori on Microsoft is a strong example of exactly that. We look forward to interweaving te reo into all our technology.’

Humbled by his win, Te Taka said that he accepted the national award, ‘On behalf of our discipline, and, of course, my students,’ attempting at every turn to deflect the glory from himself to his students, to his faculty, to Microsoft, to almost anyone but himself. Insisting more than once that he did not translate everything himself, but that he managed and consulted a team of specialists in order to ensure the accuracy of the translation.

But Te Taka’s humility belies a great passion for te reo and for technology, a passion that resonates in all he does. ‘It was incredible for me to be sitting there awaiting my award. At the ceremony, I looked up and saw written on the TV screen titles and texts written in Māori. And because of the work we all did, those texts were written with correct orthography, the macrons indicating lengthened vowels were all in place. That tiny detail, well, yes, it really made me proud, but again, to be clear, this was a team effort.’

And all this for a University of Waikato computer scientist who never planned to be a teacher and who has no formal training as a teacher.

Te Taka has now been teaching for more than 30 years and is the only person known to have taught a computer science paper completely in Māori.

Te Taka continues to consult for Microsoft around ambitious AI, The Translation Hub, which will one day offer real-time translation from te reo to English and vice versa.

Te Taka ends on a note about his teaching method, which sums up well the man himself: ‘My teaching philosophy is based around important Māori principles, including kia hiki te wairua – lift the spirit – kia hihiko te kaupapa – incite the passion – and kia hora te aroha – share the love.’

Link to the awards page https://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/ako-aotearoa/2017-tertiary-teaching-excellence-awards