19 May 2021

Draft history curriculum misses 600 years of Aotearoa New Zealand's past

9:29 pm on 19 May 2021

An expert panel has criticised Aotearoa New Zealand's Histories curriculum draft for omitting topics, including women, labour and economics, and the single largest block of the country's human history - the 600 years of pre-European Māori life.

The Treaty of Waitangi. He Tohu, a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand. Treaty of Waitangi, Declaration of Independence and Women's Suffrage Petition.

A Treaty of Waitangi document. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

In a report on the draft version of Aotearoa New Zealand's Histories curriculum, the panel convened by the Royal Society of New Zealand to advise the Education Ministry said it strongly supported the introduction of New Zealand's histories into the core curriculum and strongly commended placing Māori history central to New Zealand history.

The report said it was impossible for students to understand citizenship without knowledge of history.

However, it said the panel "has concerns about the brevity, fragmentation, and, therefore, coherence of the curriculum draft".

"While no curriculum can be comprehensive in telling all of Aotearoa New Zealand's histories, the effect of overly compacting the curriculum has led to major gaps, which in turn may make a good deal of the existing content partial or even incomprehensible," the report said.

It said the draft included almost nothing on two areas that were initially intended to be key themes in the curriculum - first encounters between Māori and Europeans, and late 20th century New Zealand and the emergence of national identity.

It said major topics were missing or very lightly covered, including women and wāhine Māori, labour, welfare, disease and demographics, and economic activity as a driver of New Zealand history.

The report also criticised a big gap in Māori history.

"Despite the prominence given to Māori history, there is a 600-year gap between the arrival of Māori and the arrival of Europeans. It is almost as if Māori arrive in New Zealand and become instantly the victims of colonialism," the report said.

"While all these topics cannot be included in detail, some of them are so essential to understanding those that are, particularly those that relate to economic and demographic change, that not to include them seriously compromises the proposed curriculum as a whole," it said.

The draft curriculum was based on three big ideas. They were that Māori history was the foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand; colonisation and its consequences were central to the country's history; and the course of its history had been shaped by the exercise and effects of power.

The panel said it should include a fourth big idea: the movement of people and ideas, technologies and institutions across national boundaries.

"The global and interconnected nature of Aotearoa New Zealand's Histories is critical to understanding almost every aspect of our past. People have been actors on a historical stage that extends far beyond these islands. The report said the curriculum should include the skill of assessing which evidence was strong and which was weak," the report said.

It also said the draft presented a series of conclusions to be demonstrated and "directs students to judge the past before allowing them to ask questions, explore and find out what the past was".

It said the panel had reservations about the curriculum's intention that students would make "ethical judgement concerning right and wrong".

The report said the New Zealand Wars were included in a way that would define them, incorrectly, as land wars, and expressed concern that it would lead to a focus on a couple of battles at the expense of other conflicts.

Consultation on the draft curriculum closes on 31 May.

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