Teachers have made another push to make New Zealand’s history a mandatory part of the school curriculum.
The New Zealand History Teachers’ Association has urged the Government to ensure schools “teach our own past” to students.
Chairman Graeme Ball appealed to the Education and Workforce select committee last week, recommending a compulsory framework on New Zealand’s history be introduced.
He said at present, young people knowing their own past was based on luck.
“It’s rather like basing your financial well-being on a visit to the Lotto shop each week. Will your child strike it lucky with a school and social sciences department that overcomes the various obstacles, perceived and real, and so learn about our own shared past? Only luck will determine that.”
Knowledge of the past is empowering and would allow us to move forward as a truly bicultural country, he said.
We needed to “look at the wrongs, especially those that befell iwi and hapū”, as well as the beliefs, expectations and background experiences that underlay them, Ball said.
“While this may not excuse those actions, at least we’ll be able to understand the complex motivations behind why they occurred.
“In other words, we can understand the historical actors as people, with all the flaws and foibles that people in any time and place have, that’s what history does. What it does not do is pass judgement.”
He said it was a valid concern about whose ‘version’ of the past would be taught.
“This is why proper historically-based critical analysis tools need to underpin the sort of teaching programme advocated by the Association.”
However, the Ministry of Education said the curriculum was a framework, rather than a prescribed syllabus.
Acting deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver said this gave schools the “power and flexibility” to design and deliver a local curriculum.
“None of the learning areas in the curriculum are optional, but schools can determine how on balance they cover these in their own curriculum programme which reflects the character of the school, community aspirations and the needs of their learners, in consultation in their school community.”
However, Ball said both the science and math areas of the curriculum were “bursting” with prescribed content.
“And rightly so. For these subjects, a platform is needed at one level before students can progress to the next. This is a desirable expectation. Students knowing their own past is an equally desirable expectation.”
The Ministry was currently creating resources for schools and teachers through Te Takanga o te Wā – Maori History Guidelines.
Ball said resources were important.
“But without a coherent framework to which they can be applied, it’s like having a whole bunch of ingredients but no recipe to guide the application of them to a worthwhile outcome.”
New Zealand was in “a zeitgeist moment,” he said.
“This change will happen, but whether it is under this Government’s watch is up to it.”
Cleaver said education minister Chris Hipkins expected to have more to say on the topic soon.
“The Minister has said that New Zealand history is an area the Government is specifically looking.”
A petition by the association gathered more than 3600 signatures. It was tabled in Parliament in June.
The petition called for legislation to make compulsory “the coherent teaching of our own past across appropriate year levels in our schools”, with professional development and resources to be provided.