Chris Hipkins: Learning about New Zealand’s past

Opinion 13/09/2019

By Chris Hipkins, Minister for Education, Labour MP for Rimutaka.

Why do we learn about Tudor England and not our own history? As Minister of Education that’s a question I get asked all the time. Our students learn about Vikings and the Queens and Kings of England. It’s important and interesting but so too is our own story.

For me, it was only when I got to travel overseas and see and hear about the good, bad and other parts of how nations came to be that I really started to reflect on my own country’s history.      

I’ve heard a similar story from many New Zealanders. They’ve said they want to see more of our own history taught in all of our schools, and not rely only on the passion of some teachers in some schools.

they want to see more of our own history taught in all of our schools

Since being in government we’ve been working to make that happen and this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and I announced changes that will see New Zealand history become part of the local curriculum and marau ā kura in every school and kura.

It was a very proud moment for us, and I’d like to express my gratitude to the students, teachers, communities and people whose great passion sparked our actions.       

It doesn’t mean we’re going to be overly prescriptive about it – that’s not how the curriculum works.

Schools will still have discretion, so for example if you live in the Waikato, you should have the opportunity to learn about the Waikato land wars. If you’re in the North, you should be able to learn about the Treaty Grounds and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  What our changes will do is make sure there is more detail at each level of the curriculum about the kinds of New Zealand history that needs to be taught.

This can extend to current events too. This week, we mourned the passing of Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva - a great friend to New Zealand. This sad occasion might prompt a discussion about democracy and our own role as a leader in the Pacific. Of course, some schools are already doing this, but we need to do better as a nation and ensure all our learners and ākonga have the opportunity to learn about our country’s history in detail.

So what we’re doing immediately is being really clear about the requirement that schools teach New Zealand history, not just in bite size chunks, but throughout our children’s education. We’re involving experts, all of the people with the knowledge of our oral history, to make sure we have the right resources available for schools so teachers can engage students in new topics and projects.

that change will take place over the next two years

Our curriculum changes will take time to scope and bed in. That change will take place over the next two years, ready for implementation in schools and kura from the 2022 school year. My hope is that our young people will get to a place where they can leave school fully aware of key events in our nation’s history – of where we have come from and the ways people have experienced our history differently.

Armed with knowledge of our past, I think they’ll be better prepared to chart a course for the future.

Chris Hipkins is Minister for Education and Labour MP for Rimutaka.