Blog | Multiple Sides to Every Story: Revamping the New Zealand History Curriculum

By Simran Sonawalla

After three years in the making, Hon Chris Hipkins announces the release of Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum, which will be compulsory in every school throughout years 1 to 10 [1]. The programme — officially known as Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā — is part of the social sciences learning area of The New Zealand Curriculum, which will be taught in all schools and Kura from 2023 [2]. 

Announcing the new curriculum, Hon Chris Hipkins says that ‘All young people will understand key aspects of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and how they have influenced and shaped the nation’ [3]. Input from academics, teachers, historians, the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and the Royal Society Te Apārangi were all included in a broader overhaul of the national curriculum [5]. 

A Glance at the New History Curriculum

Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā is centred around three elements — Understand, Know and Do — all weaved together within this new curriculum [4]. These three elements aim to provide an understanding of the events that have shaped the local and national contexts and encourage critical thought about how the past has shaped the present. [5]

Themes include the arrival of Māori, colonisation, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, He Whakaputanga (Declaration of Independence), and understanding New Zealand’s role in the Pacific and how immigration has shaped Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural identity [4]. Furthermore, this new curriculum allows communities and schools to focus on their local contexts to understand how the historical contexts of the places students inhabit are shaped by people, events and exchanges important to their area [4]. 

Change Welcomed and Criticised 

Launching the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā has caused a lot of excitement within schools but mixed reactions amongst members of the Parliament. 

Many educators critiqued the existing history and social sciences curriculum as Eurocentric and insufficient with a limited focus on Aotearoa New Zealand’s pre-European histories [7]. Thus, the new curriculum was met with excitement and passion for engaging with Aotearoa New Zealand histories when piloted in some schools in 2021 [3]. 

Upon launching the curriculum earlier this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that this curriculum gives New Zealanders a ‘better understanding of another, through learning more about Māori, about the migrant history of Pasifika, and our Asian communities’ [6]. Furthermore, Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis supports the Prime Minister saying, ‘the curriculum opened opportunities for children to learn about their own backyard, which many generations of Kiwis had been denied’ [7]. 

However, on the other side of the political spectrum, the decision to implement this curriculum did prove somewhat controversial. National Party Spokesperson for Education Paul Goldsmith raises concerns about the politicisation of the curriculum [3]. He argues that the focus on ‘exploring the same themes for 10 years is a recipe for boredom and disengagement. Māori history, colonisation and the effects of power in our country, year in year out, will elicit only groans by years 6 or 7 unless the teacher is a miracle worker’ [8]. In support of this, ACT Party’s education spokesperson Chris Baillie says ‘the curriculum divides history into villains and victims, contains significant gaps, and pushes a narrow set of highly political stories from our past’ [8]. 

What’s Next?

Implementing Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum from 2023 is part of a more extensive overhaul of the New Zealand Curriculum [10]. These changes will be phased until 2025 to allow schools and Kura to implement this new curriculum [11]. The changes are in response to criticism of the current curriculum from many experts and educators who point out the incongruencies between what the New Zealand curriculum expected of children and what children could achieve [12]. Changing the curriculum aims to see students succeed in an inclusive environment [11]. Furthermore, it aims to teach concepts that are relevant nationally and globally while honouring the mutual obligations to Te Tiriti o Waitangi [11]. 

Closing Remarks 

While Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories/Te Takanga o Te Wā has been met with great excitement, it has also been met with much criticism. While many may enjoy learning about their own histories, it is important to consider what counts as history? What should that history be? And who gets to decide what is and is not history? 

References

[1] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/463479/aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-launches 

[2] https://www.schoolnews.co.nz/2021/09/finalised-aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-nears/ 

[3] https://thespinoff.co.nz/live-updates/17-03-2022/schools-prepare-to-teach-refresh-nz-history-curriculum 

[4] https://aotearoahistories.education.govt.nz/content-overview 

[5] https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/18-03-2022/whats-in-the-new-new-zealand-history-curriculum 

[6] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/463547/aotearoa-new-zealand-history-curriculum-sign-of-a-mature-society 

[7] https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300543923/most-parties-celebrate-the-new-history-curriculum-but-act-criticises-it-as-divisive 

[8] https://www.national.org.nz/national-submits-on-new-zealand-history-curriculum 

[9] https://www.act.org.nz/history_curriculum_takes_us_backwards 

[10] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/436183/government-announces-five-year-overhaul-of-school-curriculum 

[11] https://www.education.govt.nz/our-work/changes-in-education/curriculum-and-assessment-changes/curriculum-refresh/ 

[12] https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/435774/experts-urge-overhaul-of-school-system-following-falling-student-achievement 

Image #1: ​​https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300543923/most-parties-celebrate-the-new-history-curriculum-but-act-criticises-it-as-divisive 

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