'We've lost any opportunity to share something of our past' - teacher

7:33 pm on 20 June 2018

Most students think that learning their own history, including the Treaty of Waitangi, is boring and over-done, an Auckland history teacher says.

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.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Northcote College History teacher Graeme Ball took a case to the Māori Affairs committee today calling for New Zealand's colonial history to be taught in schools, and said the reluctance of students to choose history as a subject was a huge problem.

"Talk to any student who comes into social studies, when you might start on a topic on the treaty, and they'll say two things: one of them will just be a groan [and] the second one will be, 'we've done it endlessly'.

"Dig a little deeper and you'll find that understandings are either nonexistent or incredibly limited and most often, wrong. So for those students who are not going to have any further New Zealand history, let alone anything on the treaty in their schooling, that's it.

"As they exit year ten we've lost any opportunity to really share something of our past."

Mr Ball said the negative perceptions around learning New Zealand's colonial history puts pressure on teachers to actually teach it, and students were missing out.

"There's a group who are very interested in this, there's another group who are mmm, okay, maybe, and then a number that I have to really convince and I manage to get most into year 13 history. When I survey them at the end of year 13 there's a 95 percent satisfaction rate," he said.

"Our problem isn't actually that New Zealand history is boring, or any other perceptions that they have, it is just that, the perception that is the problem."

Currently, there's only one achievement objective in the social studies curriculum which says teachers need to cover the Treaty of Waitangi.

On the same document is a provision that also says not all achievement objectives need to be covered.

Mr Ball said the history curriculum was autonomous, and didn't require teachers to choose New Zealand history as a topic.

"The problem is that the history curriculum is not compulsory, so after year 10 there's no requirement to learn history. So you're competing against some other, very worthy, subjects."

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the government could do more to support history teachers.

"I think we could do better, but I think that's a question of making sure that we're providing better resources for the schools rather than compulsion."

Mr Ball said that New Zealand was ready for change and it was time people knew about the history of Aotearoa.

"We're ready for it, here in New Zealand. I think the Ōtorohanga school girls who presented the petition on commemorating the land wars and the number of signatures they got and the fact that actually in the end they succeeded in getting that commemorated, is a sign.

"I think the number of people enrolling in te reo courses is a sign. I think the fact the the likes of William Gallager, Don Brash and Bob Jones coming out with provocative statements which perhaps 10 years ago would've got some traction, now they've been pretty much derided widely," he said.

"I think this is a sign that we're moving on and we're ready for what I consider to be the next step, which is that we actually learn about our past."