Review: The History Curriculum Changes

Review: The History Curriculum Changes

What do you know of New Zealand History? What did you learn at school? A lively conversation about what we have been taught and what we have not learnt took place when Gregor Fountain and Leah Bell interviewed each other about the introduction of the Aotearoa New Zealand Histories Curriculum which will be taught in schools from 2023. How did this come about? How did two young students manage to make such a change happen?

Leah and Gregor shared their personal stories of history at school. Leah, growing up in the Waikato, as Pākehā/Tangata Tiriti, was aware of a disconnect between what was being taught and the history of her classmates of Māori descent. Leah and her friend Waimarama Anderson “were shocked and horrified at the stories told by the kaumatua, who were distraught sharing their ancestors’ stories about innocent women and children and elders being burned alive,” she said. They gathered signatures for a statutory day of remembrance, “having decided that it was our responsibility now to take action and be proactive about our history.”

How that led to the change in the history curriculum became clear after we’d heard first from Gregor Fountain, who taught history and was chairperson of the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association as well as a College Principal. Aware of the deficiencies of the curriculum, he followed the example of a colleague in providing opportunities for students to explore and research the history of their local area, with the aim of encouraging them to become empathetic citizens. As one of his students, Jacinda Ardern, later commented, not every student had the same opportunity to learn about New Zealand history in school that she had.

Leah and fellow students doggedly collected almost 13000 signatures catching the attention of  Tukoroirangi Morgan who provided publicity by challenging the government to respond with the cause taken up by more than 400 Maori elders. When petition for a commemorative day was presented to Parliament in 2015 it was with some 500-700 people present in support but then Prime Minister John Key ruled out adding an extra holiday in commemoration. Leah was despondent when invited to Parliament in September 2019 to unveil a commemorative plaque about the New Zealand wars, feeling there had been very little action. It was a “captain’s call”, that took her and everyone else by surprise when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the introduction of the new curriculum.

Our speakers explained how individual initiative, persistence and commitment, coupled with changing attitudes in and outside government and community support led to this change. They then talked about their hopes for the change it will bring. Gregor explained how students can be taught the way of thinking of the discipline of history, can learn to be researchers and historians, analyse events and hold multiple perspectives. He explained how the curriculum can be scaffolded and showed examples of  type of resources that are being developed.

We were left, at the end of a stimulating session, with hopes and aspirations like those of Leah and Gregor, for the widening perspectives that the new curriculum has the potential to provide to students in Aotearoa.

Alison Kuiper