Discovering our histories

Issue: Volume 100, Number 2

Posted: 25 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAHFZ

The focus on the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum is an opportunity for students to discover and reconnect with some big ideas about how our history, and the stories we tell ourselves, has shaped the country and its people, say Dr Nēpia Mahuika from the University of Waikato and Hēmi Dale from the University of Auckland.

The focus of the new Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum is to help ākonga become more critical learners and thinkers, says Dr Nēpia Mahuika (Ngāti Porou), who is convenor of history at the University of Waikato and a member of the writing team for The New Zealand Curriculum.

“As New Zealanders we’ve known for a while that we need to do this better, but maybe we weren’t sure how to go about it. If we can accept the baggage of the uncomfortable parts of our history, it’s going to help us heal our past and inform where we want to see ourselves going in the future.

“We’re challenging generations of history learning and programming about New Zealand’s past that has been done a particular way over a long time. It’s not easy to do that,” he says.

Connecting with history

The Ministry of Education has collaborated with a wide range of people and worked with academic, curriculum and sector expertise to update histories content across the national curriculum.

Nēpia specialises in New Zealand history, Māori and iwi histories, oral history, historical theory and methodology, indigenous histories, and history and ethics. He trained as a secondary school teacher and became an academic with a deep interest in pedagogy and the way history is taught, rather than simply the ways history is produced.

The curriculum content aims to support learners to understand the past to make sense of the present, and to learn history from a local, as well as a national perspective, he says.

 “We wanted all New Zealanders to be able to see themselves in the curriculum and not feel like they are studying a history that’s unrelated to them.

“We wanted to ensure that your history journey begins with yourself and the relationships you have to local iwi and their land. So, your story begins with what you see around you immediately in your day-to-day life and that includes Māori and iwi landmarks and histories,” explains Nēpia.

 “That was really important for us because that gives a voice back to hapū in each community. Then as you start to progress through the curriculum, you start to see the layered moments of history: the original and ongoing names and ancestors of our local hills, rivers, and valleys, to when the first native school was here, when the first rugby and netball clubs arrived. You can explore some really big national concepts through local contexts,” he says.

Some big ideas for The New Zealand Curriculum

The updated Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories will help learners understand there are multiple perspectives on historical and contemporary events and help them develop their critical thinking and inquiry skills.

With different passions and specialties, it was difficult to hone the framework to the required three big ideas.

“We had to make some really serious calls!” says Nēpia.

“We wanted to remind New Zealanders that they are living on land and seascapes that are deeply Māori and that this history is ongoing – Māori haven’t disappeared.

“We’re hoping they will develop even stronger relationships with schools and our next generation of learners so we can bring that history into the classroom.”

Value of local stories

One of the best ways to challenge the nation state is to do it from a local community-driven perspective, says Nēpia.

“Having that local story allows us to assert histories of belonging in New Zealand, which is really important. I think this history curriculum gives us an opportunity to tell those stories.

“These local histories are there to show how the state and ‘nation’ is something that is problematised and thought of in nuanced ways across the country. Local histories give us complexity as well as critical depth that gives voice to those lost or marginalised by currently accepted nation-state histories,” he says.

Interrogating power narratives

Nēpia says that to become critical thinkers, students should understand how power works in history and how the past is often made and deliberately shaped by those in power.

“We want teachers to engage with some of these difficult narratives of power and how people make history as a way of creating identity.

“For example, how do we deal with women’s histories that have been silenced? Or include the histories of the queer and gay communities, the history of the Chinese poll tax and the many and different stories of immigrants who have had to endure injustices, such as the Pacific community and the Dawn Raids?” he asks.

A key goal of the updated curriculum is to teach students to think about contested stories and narratives, he says.

“Locally we’re hoping you will be able to see example after example of history as a product of power and how local communities had to navigate the power of the state, big corporate power, or other powerful ideas, technologies, and discourses as it changed the world that we live in.”

Comfortable with being uncomfortable

For the curriculum writers, some parts of the curriculum couldn’t be left to chance, such as teaching about Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The aim is to create critical thinkers who are comfortable talking about the Treaty and other difficult histories, he explains.

“If it’s uncomfortable, rather than feeling weird and uncomfortable about it, we’re hoping they will start to own that stuff so they can better understand how it truly matters historically and in the present. And we can be people who understand that the Treaty is important and matters to every New Zealander.

“If we can get five-year-olds to understand that the Treaty applies to them and is ‘theirs’ today, and is an important basis for a lot of things that go on in Aotearoa; that’s all they need to know as a start for a new learner. Later on in their schooling years, we hope they will get to a point where they can feel comfortable critiquing the Treaty and their place in it,” he says.

Reconnecting with the notion of ‘us’

“I don’t know if people realise how important history is. If you don’t know your past and where you came from, you can’t know yourself. In many, many ways, this curriculum is a new look at ourselves. It’s an opportunity for ourselves to reconnect with ‘us’ on both a personal and collective level,” says Nēpia.

“What’s most important for me with this curriculum, is it gives us an opportunity to re-story ourselves as a country, not just individually, but collectively,” he says.

Māori stories and perspectives

In 2014, a class from Otorohanga College went on a school trip to the site of an attack at Rangiaowhia during the New Zealand Wars. This opened the eyes of students Leah Bell, Waimarama Anderson and classmates, who took a petition to Parliament requesting a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars.

The aim of the petition was to raise awareness of the New Zealand Wars and to introduce the history into the national curriculum. In 2016, it was announced that October 28 would be the New Zealand Wars commemoration day.

It’s this kind of active citizenship that Hēmi Dale (Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri), director of the Huarahi Māori immersion teacher training programme at the University of Auckland, hopes to see more of.

Hēmi is a curriculum writer for the Māori-medium Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum. He’s taught in the Māori medium training pathway since 1997 and has had a long engagement in the Tikanga ā-Iwi social sciences learning area of  Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

New strand added to Te Marautanga o Aotearoa

In reshaping the Tikanga ā-Iwi curriculum to increase the opportunity for students to learn about hapū and iwi histories, a new strand, Te Takanga o Te Wā, has been included. Schools, communities, hapū and iwi will be able to design a school’s marau ā-kura to enable learning about the history of Aotearoa from a local and national perspective.

“History is an important part of citizenship education – the main aim of Tikanga ā-Iwi is providing learners the opportunity to become actively engaged in shaping society and that needs to be built on an understanding of our history, also to enable students to develop the thinking and inquiry skills to interrogate some of the multiple perspectives they are going to encounter.

“History has a key part to play in terms of informing our learners regarding the relationship between the past and the present and how learners can engage in that process of shaping our future. Knowledge of our history is a key part of how we understand the world,” he explains.

Multiple perspectives

The updated histories curriculum will be underpinned by the learning pedagogy within the Tikanga ā-Iwi learning area, which is around social inquiry, explains Hēmi.

“Learners collaboratively generate questions, work out how they are going to find the answers, and communicate the knowledge and understandings they develop about the people, places and events they learn about. In doing that there’s ample opportunity to engage in values’ exploration, which is looking at the different perspectives of people and groups involved in particular events – who thinks what and why.

“Being able to think critically about multiple perspectives in history and on the basis of having knowledge about those people and events, is an important 21st-century skill in a world dominated by fake news and opinion presented as fact. Creating opportunities for learners to apply what they learn about the past to their own lives and communities is also a vital part of the social inquiry process.”

Hēmi says that history engages students in the construction of new knowledge and understandings that contribute to an ever-expanding view of the world.

“I think the benefit of learning about our history whether it be on a local level, or a place-based kind of way is understanding some of the broader themes as a way of having conversations and developing a broader understanding of how Aotearoa has been shaped in the past and the impact of those things on the present and future. We can look at things and locate them in terms of their historical context.”

Māori voices and stories

Hēmi has a particular passion for aspects of Māori history that haven’t had a light shone on them in the past.

“People like Kate Shepherd are well known, but there were early Māori suffragettes, like Meri Mangakāhia, who were passionate advocates for women’s suffrage. Over the last 20-30 years, we’ve seen the emergence of multiple Māori voices and perspectives within history, which provide a rich corpus of historical resources for teachers and learners,” he says.

The Three Big Ideas framework will provide the contexts for schools to be able to focus on aspects of local Māori history, key places and people and ensure there’s input from hapū and iwi as part of the process of shaping the local curriculum of each kura, he says.

“In providing opportunities for our kids to learn about Aotearoa’s history, we don’t want to polarise our communities. Learning about our history is about owning the ways that we move forward to a more equitably and socially just Aotearoa.”

View more information and videos featuring the curriculum writers: Aotearoa New Zealand's histories – Education in New Zealand(external link)

Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories in The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Takanga o Te Wā in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa

The three big ideas

The content for Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum will focus on three big ideas:

  1. Māori history is the foundational and continuous history of Aotearoa New Zealand.
  2. Colonisation and its consequences have been central to our history for the past 200 years and continues to influence all aspects of Aotearoa
    New Zealand society.
  3. Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories have been shaped by the exercise and effects of power.

Learners will be encouraged to understand these three big ideas, know national contexts, learn through local stories, practice inquiry and think critically.

Te Takanga o Te Wā

The new whenu Te Takanga o Te Wā will support kaiako and tamariki to expand their knowledge, develop critical skills and look critically at Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories. This can be aligned to all areas of learning within Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. However, Te Takanga o Te Wā is most explicit when explored through the learning area of Tikanga ā-Iwi.

Bicultural foundation, says NZEI

The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) is delighted to see the introduction of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories, and says it will be a collective task to ensure the English and Māori medium curricula are implemented properly, says NZEI President Liam Rutherford.

He senses a mood change, not just across the education workforce, but in New Zealand society as a whole and believes that the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum is an opportunity to be leaned into.

“We think it is such a good opportunity to build that bicultural foundation in our schools and ensure that students that come through the education system have an understanding of the kind of warts-and-all history of our country. We see that as the best possible way for us to learn from our history and use it to inform the type of future that we want to have.

“I don’t think the introduction of this is going to catch teachers and principals off guard – schools have been increasingly moving in this direction for a long time. What this does do is come in behind them as a support,” he says.


Q: When will the Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum updates be introduced?

Teaching Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories will be part of The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa from 2022 onwards.

Q: What support will be provided for schools and kura?

A package of support will be rolled out for schools and kura to help them implement the updates.

Q: Will this mean Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories will become a compulsory subject?

Histories is already part of social sciences in The New Zealand Curriculum and Tikanga ā-Iwi in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. It is expected that Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories will be taught as part of the local curriculum and marau ā-kura at every level of the curriculum, and be available as an option from Year 11. Both these learning areas will be refreshed to accommodate the new curriculum content.

Have your say

This is a great opportunity to give feedback on how the draft curriculum content will become part of each school’s curriculum. The detailed draft curriculum content and an online survey, for feedback, is available at:(external link)

Aotearoa NZ histories – Ministry of Education(external link)

Public engagement on the draft curriculum content runs until 31 May. All New Zealanders with an interest in our histories are encouraged to give feedback on the draft curriculum content. Consultation information packs include support for schools and kura to engage with whānau and their community.

The Ministry of Education hopes all schools and kura who have the capacity will test the draft curriculum content in term 1 and early term 2. If you can help with either staff testing or in-classroom testing, contact

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:51 am, 25 February 2021

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