National's Paul Goldsmith hits out at 'identity politics' in proposed NZ history curriculum

The National Party has hit out at the Government's proposed New Zealand history curriculum, arguing it is mainly about "identity politics" and that there are other elements to Aotearoa's past.

The Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday it had finished the draft of the new curriculum and it is calling on the public for feedback.

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

But National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says the proposed curriculum lacks balance.

"The themes are mainly about identity and identity politics. That's part of our story - but there are other elements to New Zealand's history," he says.

Questions such as "how did we make a living as a country and grow to attain one of the highest living standards in the world" don't feature prominently, he says, and deserve "much more than a passing reference".

"New Zealand is also one the oldest democracies in the world, with strong traditions of freedom and the rule of law - which is rare in this world. How did those institutions develop? Again, this is not a central theme."

In September 2019, the Government announced its plan to clarify that NZ history should be taught in all schools and kura from 2022.

Previously, the national education curriculum allowed them to make their own decisions over how New Zealand history is covered, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it left too much to chance.

National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith. Photo credit: Getty Images

Auckland University of Technology history Professor Paul Moon says the proposed curriculum is "a major step in nation-building".

"For the first time in several generations, there will be an opportunity for New Zealand students to learn about their own country in a thorough and systematic way. This will certainly help our sense of how we have evolved as a nation," he says.

"The design of the curriculum allows students to develop a knowledge of the past, but also to appreciate that there are very different interpretations of that past."

Professor Moon says it is great the curriculum emphasises the role students can play in figuring out the meaning and significance of historical events for themselves rather than rote-learning dates and names.

"This curriculum will strengthen the overall study of history in New Zealand. It is knowledge that is vitally important to all. In one sense, it serves as a sort-of instruction manual for how the world works."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said over the past year, the ministry has been working with educators and leaders to draft the content for Aotearoa New Zealand's Histories.

It was tested in select schools in Term 4 of 2020 and now they want to know what the public thinks of it.

"This year the Ministry is seeking input from all schools and kura and the public before the content is finalised."

From Wednesday, the public will be able to read the draft content and complete an online survey. It will run until May 31.

The content will then be taught in schools and kura in 2022 from entry-level in year 1 to year 10. From year 11, when students elect their subjects, it will be optional.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Getty Images

The seven themes the Government agreed to in 2019 were:

  • The Arrival of Māori to Aotearoa New Zealand
  • First encounters and early colonial history of Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Treaty of Waitangi and its history
  • Colonisation of, and immigration to, Aotearoa New Zealand, including the New Zealand Wars
  • Evolving national identity of Aotearoa New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries
  • Aotearoa New Zealand’s role in the Pacific
  • Aotearoa New Zealand in the late 20th century and evolution of a national identity with cultural plurality.

Hipkins said he expects in the curriculum, students will learn about stories from across the country to "help students get a stronger sense of how the past has shaped who we are".

"In practice, learners across New Zealand will explore the stories that are unique to us. In Te Tai Tokerau, for example, I know people will be interested in learning about the battle that took place in Ruapekapeka during the Northern Wars in the 1800s," he said.

"In Waikato, ākonga may learn about the invasion of Waikato led by Governor George Grey and the implications this had for people living in the region...

"We want all New Zealanders to have their say on the draft content and we are hoping to hear from as many people as possible. I urge all New Zealanders who are interested in our history and kura to provide feedback."