NZ history in schools content revealed: Students to learn 'struggle for land', 'origin and meaning of name Aotearoa'

Students will soon learn about the "struggle for land and sovereignty" and the "origin and meaning of the name Aotearoa" at schools across New Zealand. 

The Government has released the final content for teaching New Zealand's history in schools, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced three years ago would become a key part of the curriculum in every school and kura. 

The Ministry of Education has been working with history and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students and ākonga, parents and whānau, and other groups to shape how New Zealand's histories and Te Takanga o Te Wā will be taught.

The draft curriculum content was tested in 2021 in schools and kura staff rooms, classrooms, and with the public through a survey and general submission process. 

"The feedback the Ministry received was wide-ranging, clear, and at times confronting," Education Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday. 

"New Zealanders have a lot to say about how our nation's histories should be examined and discussed, and that is a good thing.

"Testing of the content with kura, schools, kaiako, and teachers has been very positive. We are confident the final curriculum incorporates the feedback and ideas that were provided."

While some parts of the curriculum will be taught right throughout the country, schools and kura can decide on what histories to include from their local area, in partnership with whānau, iwi, mana whenua and local communities. 

What will students learn?

Schools and kura can start planning now to teach the new New Zealand histories curriculum from the beginning of next year. 

The Ministry of Education has published three featured resources to teach students across their primary and intermediate years at school. 

The first, titled 'A Sense of Place', is for students in years 1-3. They will learn about how places got their names, including the "origin and meaning of the name Aotearoa", and the impact of colonisation on New Zealand and how it shaped the course of the nation's history. 

Tamariki will also be taught traditional Māori tales, like that of navigator Kupe, said to be the first Polynesian to discover the islands of New Zealand. It's said that as Kupe chased a giant wheke (octopus) around Aotearoa, he explored the new land. 

In years 4-6, students will learn about Polynesia and "Connections across the Pacific", with a focus on Māori voyaging through the Pacific Ocean and the discovery of Aotearoa. 

"Waka Tapu", which describes the journey from Aotearoa to Rapanui (Easter Island) and back, will be taught. The crew of the two waka used traditional navigation methods to complete the 10,000-nautical-mile journey, the teaching resource says.

Students will be encouraged to discuss voyaging and discovery stories. Teachers will prompt discussion about "Māori perspectives" on the arrival of James Cook's HMS Endeavour and the events that followed, as well as how "stories of discovery and travel are woven into our collective and diverse identities". 

NZ history in schools content revealed: Students to learn 'struggle for land', 'origin and meaning of name Aotearoa'
Photo credit: Supplied

In years 7-8, students will learn about the New Zealand Land Wars that took place from 1845 to 1872 between the New Zealand Colonial government and allied Māori. The teaching resource is called 'A Struggle for Land and Sovereignty'.

Tamariki will learn how Māori were "forced to defend their lands" and "despite being vastly outnumbered and having less access to fire power, the collective actions of communities coupled with skilled and strategic leadership meant that Māori often maintained the upper hand against British and settler-government forces".

Students will learn about how in November 1881, around 1600 armed constabulary and volunteers led by the Native Affairs Minister John Bryce invaded the pacifist settlement of Parihaka.

"Their goal was to destroy the Parihaka community and put an end to non-violent protests against the Crown's large-scale confiscation of land," the resource says. 

Students will be asked to "identify and record examples of Māori leaders protecting their mana and ways that Treaty promises to uphold Māori mana weren't kept by the Crown".

'Takes us backwards'

ACT MP and education spokesperson Chris Baillie argues that the new history curriculum "leaves huge gaps in our true history, excluding science, technology and the women's movement". 

"It's all about colonisation," Baillie, a former teacher, says. 

"We want children to be empowered and equipped with knowledge of the world they live in, not a narrow fragment of it promoted by the Ministry of Education," Baillie says. 

He pointed out there is no mention in the teaching resource of New Zealand being the first nation in the world to give women the vote in 1893. 

"The great promise of New Zealand is that everyone's equal. For generations people have travelled long distances to give their children a better tomorrow in this little country where everyone gets an equal chance," Baillie says. 

"Today, Labour is trying to make New Zealand an unequal society on purpose. It believes there are two types of New Zealanders: Tangata Whenua, who are here by right, and Tangata Tiriti who are lucky to be here."

New Zealand History Teachers' Association chair Graeme Ball told AM the new curriculum was "not pushing an agenda or a single narrative".