New NZ history curriculum 'not pushing agenda or narrative' - teachers' association chair

The Government will on Thursday make an announcement about putting New Zealand history officially into the country's school curriculum.

Early last year, the Ministry of Education finished its draft of the curriculum and sought public consultation on it. It came after a 2019 announcement by the Government that it would make changes to the curriculum, in order to "make clear the expectation" New Zealand history is taught in all schools and kura from 2022.  

Previously, the curriculum allowed schools to make decisions on how much New Zealand history was covered.

Massey University history professor Michael Belgrave said New Zealand had developed "a great degree of maturity" on teaching historical issues - unlike our US and UK counterparts.

New Zealand History Teachers' Association chair Graeme Ball said that maturity was why, as a society, the country was ready for the curriculum.

In the US, for example, "critical race theory" - a concept that rests on the premise that racial bias is baked into United States laws and institutions, became a fixture in a fierce debate in 2020 over how to teach children about the country's history and race relations. The debate came about after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a White police officer in an event that sparked worldwide outrage. 

It led then-US President Donald Trump to direct agencies to cease any training around the theory, calling it "divisive, un-American propaganda".

New Zealand doesn't have any such hostility around introducing our new curriculum, Ball said.

Within the curriculum, there's also a big emphasis on how history should be taught, he said.

"In other words, critical thinking skills… this curriculum's not pushing an agenda or a single narrative - it's actually empowering students and teachers with it to question critically."

The content will then be taught in schools and kura in 2022 from entry-level in year 1 to year 10. It will be optional from year 11 - when students start electing the subjects they take.

Ball said he doesn't expect the curriculum released on Thursday to be "hugely different" from the draft released last year.

The themes included in the draft were the arrival of Māori, early colonial history, Treaty of Waitangi, the New Zealand wars and New Zealand's role in the Pacific.

Belgrave said teachers had already been teaching much of this material.

"The curriculum is being put in place to make sure that we know and have an orderly way of knowing what students are being taught over these first 10 years of schooling," he said. "The curriculum actually just brings into an order and structure things that were already being done - and it certainly adds to that as well."