Teaching New Zealand History

The Education Gazette asked me to comment on the recent announcement that New Zealand history will soon be taught in all schools.


The announcement that New Zealand’s histories will be taught in all schools by 2022 is a crucial step in ensuring future generations leave school with at least some level of understanding of our nation’s past – including “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, as Rahui Papa of Waikato-Tainui said at the time.

But it also opens up important discussions around what exactly should be taught and how.

For me, a vital first principle is that iwi and hapū are at the forefront of those conversations.

Connecting with mana whenua history will empower rangatahi to better understand the places they call home.

Speaking to students at Otago Girls' High School, October 2019

Begin close to home

Students should be encouraged to engage with the histories of their own communities, but without forgetting the wider context.

Rangatahi in the Gisborne district, for example, should learn about the 1865 siege of Waerenga-a-Hika. But they should also be equipped with the skills to understand how this fits in with the bigger picture of the New Zealand Wars as a whole.

Those conflicts were defining ones in our nation’s history and deserve to be prominent in The New Zealand Curriculum. Many other areas also warrant attention.

Let the conversations begin.

Importance of critical thinking

In terms of how these different topics are taught, it is less a case of filling young minds with endless lists of dates and other facts than equipping them with the critical thinking skills to understand how broad historical processes played out in New Zealand.

Knowing exactly when particular events took place is ultimately less important than understanding why they still matter today. Analysing and critiquing historical sources, primary and secondary, should be a core part of that.

Site visits to places of importance and inquiry-led student activities are also important.

Many dedicated teachers are already leading the way with the teaching of New Zealand’s histories in innovative and inspirational ways.

The challenge now is to put the systems and support in place to roll this out across all schools. We know that many rangatahi have been calling for this for some time.

Now is the time to deliver.


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